Justin Trudeau a big money draw for Liberals

Justin Trudeau has been under fire from the opposition parties for his attendance at what they call "cash-for-access" fundraising events for the Liberal Party.

A visit from the PM can net the Liberals more than $100,000, according to an analysis of Elections Canada data

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poses for a photo following a town hall with high school students to mark the one-year anniversary of his government. Trudeau has been criticized recently for headlining Liberal fundraisers. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

With all of the controversy surrounding the prime minister's attendance at what the opposition parties call "cash-for-access" fundraising events, one might wonder why the Liberals are willing to risk the potential political cost for a few donations.

The party insists it's following the rules. But in the end, the political calculation might be an easy one — according to an analysis of Elections Canada data, the average event headlined by Justin Trudeau raises slightly more than $100,000 for the Liberal Party.

The prime minister and other members of his cabinet routinely attend fundraising events that come at a price of $1,500 per ticket, near the limit of donations allowed by Elections Canada. We don't know how much of the party's $12.2-million fundraising haul for the first three quarters of the year came from those events, but $1,500 tickets can pile up quickly.

Follow the money

By cross-checking a calendar of Trudeau's fundraising events (provided by the Liberal Party) with Elections Canada's records of political contributions, it's possible to estimate the amount of money these events raised. This analysis includes all contributions given to the Liberal Party in the two weeks before an event was held, if that contribution matches the price of a ticket and was contributed by someone living nearby. 

It's possible these estimates include some contributions that coincidentally matched these parameters. But these are likely to be small in number, as donations equal to the price of a ticket for an upcoming event spiked dramatically in the days before that event was held. 

Additionally, any tickets purchased more than two weeks in advance of events have not been counted.

Tickets for two of the events analyzed here were easier to identify. For example, $1,525 tickets purchased for an event attended by Trudeau in Calgary were apparently registered as contributions in the amount of $1,432.61 because costs for the event were deducted from the price of the ticket. Parties routinely do this.

Though it wasn't possible to estimate the haul of every fundraising event the prime minister attended, it was possible to estimate the money raised for six events held between January and September.

  • March 1, Surrey, B.C. Tickets: $1,000. Total: $141,000.
  • April 15, Mississauga, Ont. Tickets: $750 and $1,500. Total: $84,758.24.
  • May 16, Westmount, Que. Tickets: $1,500. Total: $81,000.
  • May 19, Toronto. Tickets: $1,525. Total: $254,675.
  • July 15, Calgary. Tickets: $1,432.61. Total: $71,630.50.
  • Sept. 14, Montreal. Tickets: $1,500. Total: $103,500. 

In total, these events raised about $650,000, averaging just over $100,000 for each event. If Trudeau raised similar amounts of money at other events he attended in 2016, his fundraisers alone could be responsible for about 10 to 15 per cent of all money the Liberal Party raises.

Privileged or crowded access?

The opposition has accused the Liberals of charging Canadians for privileged access to the highest levels of power. But the contribution data suggests some of these events aren't particularly intimate.

The  fundraiser in Surrey, for example, was attended by about 140 people. The potential for catching the prime minister for more than a handshake seems limited at such an event.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau and other Liberal cabinet ministers have attended fundraising events this year. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The crowds at appreciation events for members of the Laurier Club are impossible to estimate from Elections Canada data. These donors contribute $1,500 annually ($750 for those under the age of 35), and some of them make a $125 monthly donation (or $62.50 for younger members). These donations can be made at any time of the year, so it's not possible to link them to individual events.

The prime minister wasn't the only high-ranking Liberal who attended fundraising events this year. Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, among others, all attended fundraisers in 2016.

Tory ministers headlined similar events

In response to opposition questions on the controversy in the House of Commons Thursday, the Liberals reminded the Conservatives of similar events their ministers attended while the Tories were in power.

Jason Kenney, who resigned as an MP earlier this year to run for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, as well as Joe Oliver and Chris Alexander, who were both defeated in the 2015 federal election, were singled out by the government.

Jason Kenney is one of several former Conservative cabinet ministers the Liberals singled out for attending fundraisers back when the Conservatives were in power. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Oliver was the star attraction of a $500-per-ticket fundraiser in Toronto last year for the Conservative riding association in Don Valley East, back when he was still finance minister. Events attended by Kenney (who handled several cabinet portfolios) were advertised by two riding associations, with tickets ranging from $250 to $500. Alexander, the former minister of citizenship and immigration, headlined a fundraiser in Toronto with ticket prices topping out at $3,000 per guest.

These fundraisers took place during the run-up to the 2015 federal election, when contributions dramatically increased across the board, so it's difficult to determine how much money was raised at these particular events.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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