OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau's cross-country tour to re-engage with grassroots Canadians starts Thursday amid suspicions that it's really aimed at helping the Liberal party add details about potential supporters and donors to its massive data base.
While the government is organizing — and paying for — the tour, Liberal MPs in several of the cities Trudeau plans to visit this week have posted online invitations for anyone wanting to attend townhalls with the prime minister.
Those who want to attend are directed to RSVP online, which requires them to provide their names, email addresses, postal codes and phone numbers — all designated as "mandatory" fields.
However, a spokesman for the prime minister said Wednesday that the MPs are using their parliamentary websites to advertise the events and issue invitations, in accordance with House of Commons rules.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a town hall in Ottawa on Nov. 3, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
Cameron Ahmad stressed that "no information collected by the MP site, including event registrations, is shared with the Liberal party of Canada."
"We wanted to ensure that attendance at these events would not simply be limited to partisans or Liberals. In order to do so, MPs took the opportunity to reach out to all their constituents — regardless of political affiliation — and share information on upcoming events," he added.
Ahmad said registration is not required, but MPs have asked for contact information so that updates can be sent to those planning to attend an event in case the time or location changes. For instance, he said the venue for a townhall scheduled for Friday in London, Ont., had to be changed "due to popular demand."
Tory house leader skeptical
But Conservative House leader Candice Bergen said she finds it "almost impossible to believe'' that contact information collected by Liberal MPs isn't used for partisan purposes.
"Are they suggesting that once they get that information, they delete it all and they don't share it with the party?" she said, adding that sounds a lot like Liberal party assurances that government business isn't discussed at so-called cash-for-access fundraisers featuring the prime minister.
Trudeau has acknowledged that donors do, in fact, lobby him at fundraisers about issues of concern to them.
Bergen said the tour is "looking more and more like a partisan political event."
"Are they suggesting that once they get that information, they delete it all and they don't share it with the party?"
"It looks like it will be a rally where the prime minister will get up and be able to have people cheering for him and then send out pictures and press releases on how loved he is. Hey, that's not a grassroots townhall meeting. That's a rally."
The first leg of Trudeau's tour starts Thursday in Ottawa and winds up in London on Friday, with stops along the way at a number of small towns and cities, including Belleville, Kingston and Peterborough. The tour, which is to touch down in Quebec, British Columbia and the Prairies over the next few weeks, with later stops planned for the Atlantic provinces and the North, is to include informal discussions with Canadians at coffee shops and church basements, as well as the more traditional townhall question-and-answer sessions.
Several Liberal MPs have posted online invitations to townhalls planned for their ridings on their parliamentary websites. Suspicions about partisanship initially arose due to the fact that their website addresses include the tag liberal.ca.
While House of Commons rules prohibit partisanship on parliamentary websites, Ahmad noted that they do allow the name of an MP's party to appear. New Democrat MPs similarly use the tag ndp.ca for their websites.