Trudeau using state visit to raise money, promote lobbyist friends: Tories

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being accused by the Conservatives of using his state visit to Washington to raise money for the Liberal party and promote the interests of his lobbyist friends.

Contest for Washington event a 'deliberate blurring of the lines,' MP says in complaint to commissioners

Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc was up in the House Tuesday to defend a Liberal party contest for tickets to an event tied to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's state visit in Washington this week. The Conservatives have complained about the event to the ethics and lobbying commissioners. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being accused by the Conservatives of using his state visit to Washington to raise money for the Liberal party and promote the interests of his lobbyist friends.

Conservative MP Blaine Calkins has written to both ethics commissioner Mary Dawson and lobbying commissioner Karen Shepherd, asking them to investigate "the deliberate blurring of lines" between party and government business.

Calkins posits that the Liberals have violated conflict of interest rules, which prohibit a public office holder from furthering the private interests of a friend, and the lobbyists' code of conduct, which prohibits lobbying of a public office holder who could feel a sense of obligation to a lobbyist for past political activity.

At issue are fundraising missives the Liberal party has been sending out, urging people to join a contest to win a trip for two to Washington, D.C., and take part in two exclusive events with Trudeau being organized by Canada 2020, a progressive think-tank.

Calkins notes that some of the missives have gone out under the name of Liberal party president Anna Gainey, who is married to Tom Pitfield, president of Canada 2020 and a friend of Trudeau's since childhood.

Furthermore, he says Canada 2020 was co-founded by longtime Liberals who are principals at Bluesky Strategy Group, employees of which have registered 17 times to lobby various federal government departments, including the Prime Minister's Office.

Neither Dawson nor Shepherd had any comment Tuesday. Their offices said they had not received any letter from Calkins, although he had released it to the media.

'Social media competition'

But in the Commons, several other Conservatives MPs followed up on Calkins' letter.

Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall accused Trudeau of using his state visit "to promote his friends and raise money for the Liberal party."

Alberta colleague Rachael Harder said the Liberal party is offering access to Trudeau in return for donations, a practice that's been found dodgy by the ethics commissioner in the past.

Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc countered that no one had to donate to the party in order to take part in the contest, which he called "a normal social media competition that all parties have done."

"Drive-by smears about phoney fundraising events, frankly, are not honourable in this House," he chided the Tories.

LeBlanc further said the Liberals have complied with all political financing rules, noting that "nobody on this side has left in leg irons" — a reference to former Tory MP Dean Del Mastro, who was convicted of cheating on his expenses during the 2008 election campaign.

Canada 2020 spokesman Alex Paterson said the organization is "an independent, not-for-profit organization with a proud 10-year tradition of bringing together public policy leaders of all political stripes, including members of both the Conservative and Liberal governments."

Similarly, Bluesky principal Susan Smith said her group "complies with all federal registration and lobbying requirements."

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