Exploring the millions of dollars the Orbán government has spent in Canada

In 2020, Vinum Tokaj Canada Inc., owned by Sándor Balla, was awarded nearly C$4 million (944,880,000 forints) from Hungarian public funds to operate an office and warehouse in Toronto, as well as provide marketing services for the promotion of Hungarian businesses and products. Of all the funding envelopes allocated by the Orbán government to Canada since 2010, this was the largest.  The contracting authority was the Hungarian Export Promotion Agency (HEPA Magyar Exportfejlesztési Ügynökség Nonprofit Zrt.), which funds the establishment of partner offices in foreign countries. The Canadian partner office funded by the Hungarian government is located at 8750 Jane Street (Unit 12), in Toronto. Three Canadian companies are also registered at the same address, namely Vinum Tokaj Inc., Northstar Wall Systems Ltd. and CanImpEx Marketing Inc. All three companies are the business interests of Mr. Balla and Northstar Wall Systems is a construction firm focusing on drywall and ceiling installation.

Consul General Valér Palkovits (middle) awards Sándor Balla in 2020.

In many ways, Mr. Balla has become the face of the Hungarian community in Toronto, thanks in no small measure to his unparalleled success in winning tender upon tender from the Government of Hungary, particularly for major capital projects. Since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán came to power in 2010, Mr. Balla’s company was tasked with managing the construction of the new Hungarian Canadian Cultural Centre at 141 Sunrise Avenue in North York, which included $600,000 in Hungarian government funding, as well as the construction of the new First Hungarian Baptist Church at 7379 Islington Avenue, in Woodbridge. The Government of Hungary provided more than C$210,000 in funding to erect the new church.

Mr. Balla’s de facto leadership of the Hungarian community in Toronto extends beyond winning Hungarian government contracts for capital projects. For instance, he launched the Magyar Élet online news site (the successor to the now defunct print publication) with the financial support of the State Secretariat for National Policy of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office. Despite receiving government funding, the website has not been updated since December 29, 2020 and includes only about a dozen articles published through all of 2020. In 2019, Magyar Élet published only two print issues of a community magazine.

The Toronto businessman, originally from the Transylvania region of Romania, also works closely with Hungarian diplomats serving in Canada. In around 2014/15, Hungarian diplomats in this country actively promoted, at any opportunity, the Dry By Tokaj label, distributed by Vinum Tokaj Canada Inc. Today, Consul General Valér Palkovits has built a relationship with the businessman that seems far closer than that of any prior consul general in Toronto.

Valér Palkovits awards Mr. Balla in 2020

Nationally, Mr. Balla has been involved in the leadership of the Kanadai Magyar Kulturális Tanács, as Vice President. This organization has been both a regular beneficiary of Hungarian government funding, and has also been tasked with distributing Hungarian public monies to politically loyal diaspora organizations.

At no time since the transition to parliamentary democracy in 1989-90 has the Hungarian government transferred such lavish funds to local Hungarians and their businesses. And at no time has direct foreign government intervention in the life of the Hungarian Canadian diaspora caused such acrimony as in the past decade. In many ways, Viktor Orbán and his diplomats in Canada have returned to the tradition established under the Kádár regime of dividing the diaspora into two camps: those who are “loyal” and those who are “enemies.” Loyalty bears fruit.

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