OTTAWA — There were registered lobbyists who signed up and paid to attend a fundraiser featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Montreal, but the Liberal party says they have since been removed from the guest list.
"Individuals who were registered to lobby the special guest were informed they would not be able to attend this event, in line with the party's commitment regarding such checks in advance of ticketed fundraising events," spokesman Braeden Caley wrote in an email Thursday.
Trudeau promised political donors would not get preferential access to his government, and now the Liberals are trying to show they mean it as they revive their high-profile fundraising efforts, including an appearance by Trudeau at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal for Thursday's party fundraiser.
Anyone can go, so long as they have up to $250 to spare for a ticket, want to give that money to the Liberal Party of Canada, and are not registered to lobby the Prime Minister's Office.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gives a toast at a dinner with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at Casa Loma in Toronto on June 27, 2016. (Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Caley confirmed fewer than five individuals who were registered to lobby the PMO had bought tickets.
It is a chance for Liberal supporters to get a word or a selfie with the party leader, but it will also be a time when the Liberals can once again rely on their surest bet for topping up the party war chest as they prepare for the next election.
The Liberals brought in a moratorium on fundraising events featuring Trudeau and other ministers earlier this year as they worked to develop new rules in the wake of accusations they were providing preferential access to the prime minister and his cabinet in exchange for dollars from wealthy donors in private homes.
"There was a pause on national fundraising events throughout the first quarter while stronger standards for open and transparent fundraising events were being prepared," Caley said Wednesday.
Public places, guest lists disclosed
The new system involves holding fundraisers featuring Trudeau or ministers only in public places, announcing them in advance, allowing the media to attend and disclosing the guest list within the following 45 days.
Those measures are new, but the process of vetting fundraising lists to ensure no one registered to lobby the department of the "special guest" at the events is not.
Last November, as the stories about cash-for-access fundraising practices were piling up, Christina Topp, who was then interim national director of the party, detailed what the Liberal party avoids the perception it is giving preferential access to cabinet ministers, or placing them in a conflict of interest.
Liberals call on opposition parties
In a letter to cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries obtained by The Canadian Press, Topp said the Liberal party vets guest lists for fundraising events to "determine if any individuals are registered lobbyists with active files associated with the relevant department and, if necessary, take steps so that the individual does not attend the event."
The Liberals are calling on the opposition parties to bring in their own transparency measures.
"No other party has made a similar commitment and we challenge them to do so," said Caley.
Soon, they might not have a choice.
The Liberal government promised legislation that would require similar disclosure for events involving party leaders and leadership candidates.
Legislation planned for spring
John O'Leary, a spokesman for Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, said the government aims to introduce the legislation this spring.
One Liberal source said the legislation will be essentially the same as the measures the party brought in, which would prevent the party having to once again change the way they are doing things.
One significant difference, according to two Liberal sources, will likely be the lack of a requirement to open the events up to the media, as there is recognition of the difficulty with any law aimed at governing the press.
The Conservatives and New Democrats say they do not plan on taking any lessons from the Liberals.
"The reality is they weren't able to follow their own set of rules the first time," said Conservative MP Blaine Calkins.
"I have very, very low trust with this government when it comes to democratic reform."
New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen said his skepticism stems from the way the Liberals abandoned a firm campaign pledge to change the way Canadians cast their ballots in time for the next election.
"I have very, very low trust with this government when it comes to democratic reform," he said.
Some Liberals are pointing to that as one reason for lacklustre fundraising figures in the first three months of this year, when the Conservatives raised nearly twice as much money, from a bigger pool of contributors, even though they are in the midst of a leadership race that could be diverting would-be donations to the party.
"There's a small connection," Caley said when asked whether the lower profile played a role.