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Canada Doug Ford holds $1,250-a-head private fundraiser that industry groups said they felt pressure to attend

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Jan. 21, 2019.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

A few thousand supporters braved a snowstorm to attend a private Ontario Progressive Conservative Party fundraiser, where Premier Doug Ford touted his government’s record after eight months in office.

Mr. Ford boasted on Wednesday evening that his party sold more than 3,200 tickets for the dinner, which had a price tag of $1,250 a person, calling it “the largest fundraiser in Canadian history.” The PCs had billed it as the biggest in the province’s history.

In his speech, Mr. Ford said his government had been working “at a lightning pace” to deliver its promises, listing accomplishments from lowering gasoline prices and supporting job creation to improving health care and cleaning up “the hydro mess.”

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Mr. Ford picked up a line of attack he used during last year’s election, mentioning the recent compensation plan his government imposed on Hydro One Ltd. that caps the new chief executive officer’s salary and bonuses at $1.5-million.

“The $6-million man, he’s gone,” he said in a reference to former CEO Mayo Schmidt’s compensation package. “The old Hydro One board is gone. But then – my friends this was real interesting to me – the new Hydro board was caught trying to sneak in their own $2.7-million man instead.”

The PC Party enlisted registered lobbyists to help sell tickets to the fundraiser, The Globe and Mail reported last week. Some companies and industry groups felt pressure to attend to maintain high-level access to the government, according to sources, who were granted anonymity by The Globe because of fears of negative professional consequences.

The party, which denied that people were told government access could suffer if they didn’t attend, has so far reported 158 donations matching the dinner’s ticket price of $1,250, according to the latest available information on Elections Ontario’s website. An additional 41 people made the maximum annual contribution of $1,600. Parties must disclose donations within 10 business days of depositing the funds but do not have to report who buys tickets to fundraisers.

When asked about the discrepancy between the reported $1,250 donations and the large crowd at the dinner, party spokesman Marcus Mattinson said: “Our team has been working hard to process the thousands of tickets sold leading up to the event.”

The PC Party had been hoping to raise at least $2-million at the fundraiser.

In an online fundraising appeal earlier this week, PC Ontario Fund chairman Tony Miele asked supporters to make donations on Wednesday of as little as $1, saying the party intended to “raise more money in a single day than any party has before.”

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Protesters gathered outside the dinner to demonstrate against anticipated cuts to education as well as other issues, including the government’s overhaul of the autism program, in an event organized by a teacher’s union.

The PC fundraiser was the first sizable event since the Ford government rolled back some of the campaign-finance rules implemented by the former Liberal government after a cash-for-access scandal.

The notice for the event on the party’s website initially included a 90-minute “V.I.P. Reception” before dinner. But after The Globe asked the party about the event last week, Mr. Mattinson said the VIP reception had been cancelled “due to overwhelming demand.”

Under new rules that took effect on Jan. 1, the Ford government scrapped a ban that prevented the Premier, cabinet ministers and other MPPs from attending fundraising events. The province also removed a requirement that all contributors fill out a form certifying that the donation was “from my own personal funds and I will not be reimbursed for it.” As well, the government raised the maximum political contribution to $1,600 a year from $1,222.

The previous campaign-finance laws were enacted by former premier Kathleen Wynne’s government after The Globe revealed in 2016 that business leaders and lobbyists were paying the Ontario Liberal Party as much as $10,000 for a chance to meet privately with Ms. Wynne and members of her cabinet over dinners and drinks.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner last week asked Ontario’s chief electoral officer Greg Essensa to determine whether the PC Party’s alleged pressure on companies to sell tickets to clients is an attempt to bypass the province’s ban on corporate donations.

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