The Toronto developer and PC Party fundraiser who was just appointed chairman of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario is inviting potential political donors to a $1,000-a-head event for Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s riding association next month.
Carmine Nigro, the vice-chairman of the PC Ontario Fund, has sent out e-mail invitations for an event entitled “An evening with MPP Vic Fedeli” and scheduled for May 8 at Posticino, an Italian restaurant in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke – Premier Doug Ford’s political stronghold.
According to the e-mail, obtained by The Globe and Mail, the event will raise cash for Mr. Fedeli’s Nipissing PC Riding Association.
The Ford government recently appointed Mr. Nigro as chairman of the LCBO, one of a long list of government appointments that Opposition critics say is too heavy with PC Party or Ford loyalists.
Mr. Nigro’s involvement in the fundraiser appears to break no party finance rules. The event comes as Mr. Fedeli spearheads efforts to loosen Ontario’s alcohol regime, including allowing the sale of beer and wine in corner stores.
NDP MPP Marit Stiles wrote a letter to the LCBO’s board on Monday, warning that Mr. Nigro is in a “potential conflict of interest” and asking the liquor retailer’s directors to review whether he can remain their chairman. In her letter, she calls it “deeply concerning” that someone in a leadership role on a public board with significant business before the government would “act in such a partisan way” – particularly since it is Mr. Fedeli who oversees the LCBO.
In an e-mailed statement, a spokesman for Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, Marcus Mattinson, said Mr. Nigro participates in various party events across the province, ranging from “$25 spaghetti dinners to higher price fundraisers,” to ensure their success.
“We see no conflict as a result of his volunteer duties with the party,” Mr. Mattinson said.
Robert Gibson, a spokesman for Mr. Fideli, said the government has no issue with Mr. Nigro’s involvement in “community organizations in a volunteer capacity.” Mr. Nigro could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Nigro told a legislative committee he was called before to discuss his appointment that he would not quit his post with the party’s fundraising arm. He replaces the Liberals’ LCBO chairman, former Toronto Dominion Bank chief executive Ed Clark, who was a key adviser to former premier Kathleen Wynne.
Mr. Ford’s government, which reversed rules that restricted “cash for access” fundraisers, has faced a series of allegations in relation to fundraising in recent weeks.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has previously asked the chief electoral officer to review political fundraising practices, including the PC Party’s enlisting of registered lobbyists to sell tickets to a $1,250-a-head February fundraising dinner featuring the Premier.
Ms. Horwath also asked for a review of a loophole that has allowed Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign to continue to raise money for a year, even though it has no debt, and hand hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra donations to the PC Party.
The interim leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, John Fraser, said having Mr. Nigro raise money for Mr. Fedeli was inappropriate: “That is wrong. There’s a conflict there … You can’t be an effective chair of the LCBO and be collecting money for a political party at the same time.”
Mr. Fraser unveiled a private member’s bill on Monday aimed at closing the loophole that allows Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign to continue fundraising, which he called “Doug Ford’s double dip.”