This Thursday, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould will appear at a private reception at the Toronto office of prominent law firm Torys LLP to raise money for the Liberal Party.
Billed as a “private evening”, tickets to the 2-hour event cost $500 apiece, with proceeds going to the Liberal Party. Unlike many other receptions, this one does not appear on the public Liberal event listing website.
John Brassard, the Conservative MP for Barrie-Innisfill, thinks that Parliament’s ethics commissioner should look into this event to see if it constitutes a conflict of interest.
“You’ve got an Attorney General, the Minister of Justice, one of the top lawyers in the country, at a fundraising event with a law firm that has offices from coast to coast, that represents stakeholders that deal directly with the government, asking $500 per ticket to attend this fundraiser,” he said.
“You’re really blurring the lines here between what is Liberal Party business and what is government business.”
Global News reached out to Wilson-Raybould’s office and did not receive an immediate response.
In a voicemail message, Torys LLP partner Mitch Frazer said that the event was not organized by Torys – that he rented the space in accordance with Elections Canada rules. “It’s just me personally hosting the event,” he said.
Ontario fundraising troubles
Governments in Ontario and B.C. have recently come under fire for similar fundraising practices, where people pay significant sums to attend private events with prominent cabinet ministers.
At one such event, donors paid $6,000 for “one-on-one” access to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli at a dinner and cocktail reception, according to a report in the Globe and Mail.
Wynne admitted Friday that her ministers are expected to meet fundraising targets but said Tuesday she will “lead by example” and cancel her own private fundraising events.
READ MORE: Kathleen Wynne cancels private political fundraisers for Liberals
Federal political donation laws are much stricter than those in Ontario. Unlike in that province, corporations and unions cannot donate to political parties or candidates. An individual can donate a maximum of $1,525 in a year to a party, plus an additional $1,525 total to all registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates of a political party. Another $1,525 can be donated to a leadership candidate.
The event with Wilson-Raybould does not appear to break any of these laws but it might still be a problem, according to Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa.
“We’re not saying every fundraising event is a violation of this prohibition on gifts,” he said. But small, exclusive events that aren’t publicly advertised are different, he explained. “Because it’s a small event people are essentially getting to bend the ear and lobby the public officeholder, then we think that it’s a gift that is reasonably seen as being given to influence the public officeholder.”
This would violate the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons, he thinks. And the justice minister’s event being held at a law office is particularly problematic.
“It amounts to the minister selling access to themselves to people who are stakeholders of the minister’s department.”
A Liberal fundraiser, found, though not advertised, on the Liberal Party’s website. Liberal Party of Canada website
A Liberal fundraiser, found, though not advertised, on the Liberal Party’s website.
Liberal Party of Canada website
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on provincial fundraising scandals at an event in Edmonton on March 30.
“I think every jurisdiction has to take reflections around what is the best way to serve their citizens and demonstrate the kind of values that Canadians have indicated they expect to see.”
He said he’s pleased with what he called the “strict” rules around federal fundraising.
“I think we’ve demonstrated in this past election campaign and the lead up to it, the capacity draw from larger numbers of people, smaller donations gives a different tone to the approach and to the role that money plays in political campaigns and political operations. And I think we’re pleased with how the federal system works right now.”
The “Open and Accountable Government” guide issued to ministers by Trudeau also mentions that ministers should ensure that the solicitation of political contributions on their behalf does not target departmental stakeholders.
With files from Leslie Whyte, Global News