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Labour Minister Lisa Raitt was natural resources minister at the time of a controversial fundraiser at the centre of a federal ethics commission hearing. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

A lobbyist who helped stage a controversial fundraiser for Lisa Raitt later told associates that the minister was prepared to "push" their project under the federal Clean Energy Fund.

The lobbyist subsequently recanted his triumphant email as "self-aggrandizing" and "very boastful."

The details are revealed in a report by federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson, who concluded Thursday that Raitt broke no rules.

But Dawson suggested new "guidelines" are needed to stop lobbyists and stakeholders from raising funds for cabinet ministers whose services they require.

"This doesn't pass the smell test," said New Democrat MP Olivia Chow, who lodged one of three complaints against Raitt.

At issue were media reports that the Toronto Port Authority helped promote a fundraiser for Raitt last September that was organized through Michael McSweeney, a lobbyist for the Cement Association of Canada.

Well-connected staffer

Other "findings of fact" in the Dawson report:

  • Raitt personally informed Janet MacDonald, her former executive assistant at the Toronto Port Authority, about the fundraiser.
  • MacDonald went on to use "two binders of business cards," collected when Raitt was at the port, to put together a mailing list of invitees and send it out using her port authority email.
  • Will Stewart, a principal at the Conservative-connected Navigator Ltd. communications and lobbying firm Ensight Canada Inc., sits on the Halton Conservative Association and helped set up the Raitt fundraiser. The lobbyist registry shows he lobbied Raitt or her ministerial staff "several times" in 2008 and 2009.
  • After media published details of the event, the riding association refunded 22 of 41 tickets that had been sold, each with a minimum purchase price of $250, "due to sensitivities that had been raised about the fundraiser."

His brother was Raitt's office manager.

The port authority is a federal entity that Raitt previously led and the cement association had been actively lobbying Raitt in her role as natural resources minister.

Dawson's investigation found that McSweeney was enlisted to help sell tickets for the fundraiser by his brother, Colin McSweeney, who managed Raitt's Parliament Hill office at the time.

Colin McSweeney is a well-connected political staffer on Parliament Hill and organizer for the Conservative party in Eastern Ontario.

After helping stage the Sept. 24 event at the same downtown Toronto restaurant that Rahim Jaffer used to meet businessman Nazim Gillani, Michael McSweeney emailed the president and directors of the Cement Association of Canada.

"Mr. McSweeney reported that he had just had cocktails with Ms. Raitt and that she was excited about the particular project and wanted to have a personal copy so she could 'see how to push it,' " says Dawson's report.

Project not funded

The email also stated that McSweeney would "give a copy of the application to his brother Colin, who worked for her, to give to her personally."

Raitt, according to the report, had met previously with the cement association about the project, which was "ineligible" for the $200-million Clean Energy Fund. But she suggested it "might qualify as a pilot project."

Dawson found that Raitt received no report and that the project was not funded.

Michael McSweeney subsequently told the ethics watchdog that he "very much regretted and was ashamed of having sent that email, which he described as 'self-aggrandizing' and 'very boastful,' and said he was just trying to make himself look good."

The retraction parallels that of embattled businessman Gillani, who emailed associates after a Toronto meeting with former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer to say: "Mr. Jaffer has opened up the Prime Minister's Office to us."

When the email became public, Gillani recanted by saying he'd been "overly enthusiastic."