Liberals Defend Controversial Fundraisers By Saying Rivals Did Them, Too

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Liberals facing a barrage of questions over their fundraising practices now appear to be retorting that their rivals are no better.

For weeks, government ministers have defended so-called “cash-for-access” fundraisers featuring top players such as Finance Minister Bill Morneau and even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The government has consistently pointed out that the events do not break ethics laws.

But opposition MPs have said the fundraisers run afoul of Trudeau’s Open and Accountable Government guidelines that prohibits preferential access to the government or the “appearance of preferential access” be granted to donors.

dominic leblancFisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc speaks in the House of Commons on Nov. 24. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

On Thursday, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc tried a new tack in question period. He read out the names of former Tory cabinet ministers who attended similar gatherings and suggested NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair did the same.

Tory House Leader Candice Bergen rose to accuse Trudeau of “selling access to Chinese billionaires” by attending a private, $1,500-a-plate event in May.

LeBlanc shot back that government business is not discussed at such events and said Bergen shouldn’t be shocked by such fundraisers.

“In a minute I’m going to get up and read her a list of her former colleagues who attended events exactly like this one,” he said, setting the table.

candice bergen
Candice Bergen rips a copy of the Open and Accountable Government guidelines in the House of Commons on Nov. 24. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“I can guarantee you we did not fundraisers with Chinese communists,” Bergen replied.

LeBlanc reminded Bergen that only Canadians can make donations to parties in this country.

Then he made good on his earlier promise.

“I would assume those are the kind of Canadians that attended a $500-a-ticket fundraising event with (former finance minister) Joe Oliver on May 19, 2015. Or maybe the $500-a-ticket fundraiser with (former defence minister) Jason Kenney on Jan. 30, 2015. Or maybe the $1,500-a-ticket fundraiser with former immigration minister Chris Alexander at a private home in Toronto,” LeBlanc said, delighting Grits.

“Maybe those are the kind of events that she’s familiar with.”

Minister tries same move on Mulcair

Mulcair then rose to flag how Canada 2020, a think tank with close ties to Trudeau, was “suddenly concerned” about events it has hosted with the prime minister.

The Canadian Press reports the group currently asks donors to sign an agreement clarifying their contributions won’t buy access to Trudeau’s inner circle.

The NDP leader wondered how Liberals can deny their fundraisers are a problem.

LeBlanc said all parties raise money and pointed to a $300-per-ticket fundraiser the NDP leader attended in April in Edmonton. The cocktail event coincided with the NDP’s convention.

Mulcair said the issue was about donors getting possible preferential access to the government, as spelled out in Trudeau’s guidelines. New Democrats have never formed government at the federal level.

"Yes, Mr. Speaker, we know very well we’re the government."

“Can the Liberals please try to explain how their cash-for-access fundraisers do not break their own Liberal rules?” Mulcair asked. “They’re the government.”

“Yes, Mr. Speaker, we know very well we’re the government,” LeBlanc said, adding that Mulcair “knows that as well.” The apparent gloat about last year’s election win sparked laughter from some on the Liberal benches.

Again, LeBlanc said Liberals were happy to follow all fundraising rules.

“Just as he did when he went to Edmonton at $300-a-person,” LeBlanc said.

NDP finance critic Guy Caron remarked he found it funny that the Liberals’ best defence appeared to be that they are “as bad as the Conservatives were.”

With a file from The Canadian Press

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