Liberals under fire for expensive ‘public’ fundraisers

Chris Wattie (Reuters)


Trudeau and the Liberals have come under fire after recent reports by The Globe and Mail revealed the steep entry cost for fundraisers featuring cabinet ministers in charge of important policy decisions. For the ‘low’ price of $1,500 a ticket, anyone can buy time with Liberal cabinet ministers at these ‘public’ fundraisers. The Trudeau government asserts that these fundraisers are not exclusive, as they are “available to anybody who wanted to purchase a ticket.”

The exclusive group able to pay this fee was awarded with a closed off event with several key members of cabinet.

Records from Elections Canada revealed only 790 people out of the 93,429 individual contributors to the Liberals donated over $1,500 to the party in 2015 — when Trudeau came into power with a strong majority and high approval ratings.

“Not everybody has access. But certainly the people who are willing to pay $1,500 a piece seem to have unlimited access and it is a very small, elite group of people who have access to this government at that ticket price,” said Conservative MP Blaine Calkins to The Globe and Mail.

The fundraisers in questions include an event on October 13 featuring Finance Minister Bill Morneau. 15 corporate executives donated $1,500 each to the Liberal Party for exclusive access to Morneau while he prepares for the party’s next budget.

“It’s really a marginal fraction of the population who can afford that, but it looks like for the Liberals, if the price is right, you can have access to a minister,” said NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice.

The existence of these events seems to contradict Trudeau’s Open and Accountable Government ethic rules, which he revealed last November. They state that “there should be no preferential access or appearance of preferential access” in exchange for political donations.

The events are under investigation by federal lobbying commissioner Karen Shepherd, who has called them “pay-for-access” Liberal fundraisers. Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has also spoken out against the events, calling them “unsavoury”.

“The lobbying commissioner does not have the jurisdiction nor the mandate under the Lobbying Act to investigate ministers of the Crown,” said lawyer Linda Rothstein, acting for the Liberal Party. “[The lobbying commissioner’s] mandate is to investigate allegations of improper conduct by lobbyists, not public office holders.”

Trudeau has defended against these allegations by claiming the financial donation limits are too low for individuals to be able to purchase the ear of his ministers.

Former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps disagrees, saying these events are an opportunity for elite business to pitch ideas to ministers.

“You go and you get an envelope, ‘I need this, I want this, I want this.’ It was like the worst part of the job,” said Copps, speaking of her time under former Prime Minister Chrétien. She continued, saying these situations are why the former prime minister decided to publicly fund political parties.

Copps said Trudeau should ban such functions, and instead hold these big ticket events in the open. She also urged a return to public subsidies for political parties, which Chrétien enacted in 2004 and Harper removed in 2011.

Ontario’s provincial Liberals seem to be diverging from their federal counterparts on this issue, bringing in new rules to ban these kinds of fundraisers on Jan. 1, 2017.

2015 was a record year for the Liberals in raising donations, with $7.3 million during the third quarter of the year. This was still behind the Progressive Conservatives who raised over $10 million during the same
time span.

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