Federal Liberals to tighten rules around cash-for-access fundraisers
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose calls plan a 'smokescreen' for unscrupulous practices
The Liberal government plans to enact a new law to limit cash-for-access fundraising, a senior Liberal source confirmed to CBC News.
New legislation will aim to make cash-for-access fundraising more transparent and reportable to Canadians by requiring the events to be held in publicly accessible spaces rather than private homes or clubs.
The events will also have to be publicly advertised in advance and followed up with a timely public report detailing how many people attended and how much money was raised.
The story was first reported in the Globe and Mail Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has come under fire for attending $1,500-a-head fundraising events, often held in the homes of wealthy Canadians. News of the planned legislation comes as the prime minister faces more heat from the opposition Conservatives and NDP when Parliament re-opens Monday after a six-week break.
Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has raised concerns about events Trudeau attended involving business leaders with ties to China.
She said information to date was not sufficient to warrant an investigation, but she said she planned to "follow up" with the prime minister about his involvement in the events.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose called the Liberal plan a "smokescreen" for unscrupulous practices and urged Trudeau to simply stop holding the cash-for-access fundraisers.
"It's not about where you hold the event as much as who you are selling influence," she said during a Conservative caucus meeting in Quebec City.
"He is the most powerful person in Canada. He cannot charge people to come to an event $1,500 and talk about government business."
Opposition leaders covered by rules?
The new rules are expected to apply to party leaders and leadership candidates, but critics say the real issue is about those holding power in office selling influence.
Conservative ethics critic Blaine Calkins said Trudeau is merely enshrining into law the current "unsavoury" practices.
"The cash for access is still there. He's just changing the rules and moving it to a bigger room," he said.
"He can still invite the same people. He can still conduct the same government business that he was doing. He can still be lobbied the same way."
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair issued a statement Friday asking if this development is an admission the events were inappropriate, and if the Liberals will return the money that was raised.
"Or is this just what it looks like, a cynical game to distract from Liberals helping themselves?" his statement asks. "Let's also be clear, there is nothing here that actually bans selling access to ministers, which is the overarching problem."
No special sway
Trudeau has defended his participation at the events, insisting attendees hold no special sway on government policy.
Answering questions on the so-called "cash-for-access" controversy, Trudeau insisted he will answer questions or listen to anyone who wants to speak with him about issues that are important to them.
"The fact is, my approach continues to be to listen broadly through every possible opportunity I get and make the right decisions based on what's best for Canada," he said during a year-end news conference in Ottawa last month.
"I can say that in various Liberal Party events, I listen to people as I will in any given situation, but the decisions I make in government are ones based on what is right for Canadians, not on what an individual at a fundraiser might say."