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Liberals’ fundraising bill fails to quell cash-for-access charges

Bill C-50 would require all fundraisers that cost $200 or more to attend to be advertised five days in advance and for political parties to report the names of who attended to Elections Canada within a month.

Chris Bolin/Reuters

The Liberals have introduced a bill to increase the transparency around party fundraisers, but the opposition is still accusing the government of allowing cash-for-access events.

The legislation, called Bill C-50, would apply to any fundraising event featuring the prime minister, cabinet, party leaders or leadership contenders. It would require all events that cost $200 or more to attend to be advertised five days in advance, including location and contact information for the person holding it, and for political parties to report the names of who attended to Elections Canada within a month. The information would later be posted online.

However, the bill does not go as far as the Liberal Party's own revamped rules, created after The Globe and Mail reported last fall that Mr. Trudeau and senior ministers were raising millions of dollars at private fundraisers hidden from public view.

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While the Liberal Party now requires its own events to be held in public spaces and be open to the media, the bill would allow fundraisers in private homes as long as they are advertised publicly in advance.

Mr. Trudeau's mandate letter to Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould asked that the law make fundraisers involving ministers, party leaders and leadership candidates more transparent, including requiring them to be conducted "in publicly available spaces."

Ms. Gould told The Globe the changes would help give Canadians more faith in the fundraising process.

"It's important to recognize that fundraising is a part of political and democratic expression. It's a way for Canadians to show support for a party with whom they share values, ideals and policies," she said.

"We don't have anything to hide. Opposition parties don't have anything to hide. So we'll make it more open."

She said the bill would remove the "secrecy" surrounding some fundraising events while still allowing political parties to raise money.

"This is an important thing, because political parties do require funds to operate, and when Canadians go to a fundraiser for a political party, they're doing it because they're expressing themselves democratically."

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Opposition parties immediately expressed suspicions. NDP MP Nathan Cullen said wealthy donors could still spend up to $1,550 to rub shoulders with Mr. Trudeau or one of his top cabinet ministers, such as Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Mr. Cullen said the Liberals should have banned ministers and the prime minister from attending such events.

"Cash for access will continue," Mr. Cullen said. "You can still buy access to the prime minister and his cabinet ministers if you have the money to pay."

Ms. Gould later told reporters, "What happens at the cabinet table is not influenced by what happens at fundraising events." She noted that lobbyists would still be required, under existing provisions of the Lobbying Act, to report any interactions they have with politicians at fundraisers.

Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann said the party would continue to follow the law, but, "a new law will not make Prime Minister Trudeau's cash-for-access fundraisers ethical."

Mr. Cullen said the timing of the bill was designed as a "distraction" from the issue of electoral reform, which his party tried to reignite right before the legislation was introduced in Parliament.

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Mr. Cullen tabled a motion this week that called for Parliament to adopt the proposals from the special committee on electoral reform, which recommended the government come up with an unspecified proportional voting system and hold a referendum on whether to change the current system.

The motion was supported by all the opposition parties, but only two Liberals – Toronto MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and Prince Edward Island's Sean Casey – voted in favour and the motion failed.

The Liberals had promised that the 2015 election campaign would be the last under the first-past-the-post voting system.

Mr. Erskine-Smith said he voted to support the NDP motion because he still believes in the pledge.

"I care a lot about electoral reform, my constituents care a lot about electoral reform, and I'll be an advocate for electoral reform as long as I'm in Ottawa," he told The Globe.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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