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 âcash-for-accessâ 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 Trudeauâs Open and Accountable Government guidelines that prohibits preferential access to the government or the âappearance of preferential accessâ be granted to donors.
Fisheries 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 âselling access to Chinese billionairesâ 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 shouldnât be shocked by such fundraisers.
âIn a minute Iâm going to get up and read her a list of her former colleagues who attended events exactly like this one,â he said, setting the table.
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)
âI can guarantee you we did not fundraisers with Chinese communists,â Bergen replied.
LeBlanc reminded Bergen that only Canadians can make donations to parties in this country.
Then he made good on his earlier promise.
âI 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,â LeBlanc said, delighting Grits.
âMaybe those are the kind of events that sheâs familiar with.â
Minister tries same move on Mulcair
Mulcair then rose to flag how Canada 2020, a think tank with close ties to Trudeau, was âsuddenly concernedâ 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 wonât buy access to Trudeauâs 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 NDPâs convention.
Mulcair said the issue was about donors getting possible preferential access to the government, as spelled out in Trudeauâs guidelines. New Democrats have never formed government at the federal level.
"Yes, Mr. Speaker, we know very well weâre the government."
âCan the Liberals please try to explain how their cash-for-access fundraisers do not break their own Liberal rules?â Mulcair asked. âTheyâre the government.â
âYes, Mr. Speaker, we know very well weâre the government,â LeBlanc said, adding that Mulcair âknows that as well.â The apparent gloat about last yearâs election win sparked laughter from some on the Liberal benches.
Again, LeBlanc said Liberals were happy to follow all fundraising rules.
âJust as he did when he went to Edmonton at $300-a-person,â LeBlanc said.
NDP finance critic Guy Caron remarked he found it funny that the Liberalsâ best defence appeared to be that they are âas bad as the Conservatives were.â
With a file from The Canadian Press