Goodbye to Open and Accountable Government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has decided it no longer applies.
What will he put in its place?
In this case, we're talking about Open and Accountable Government, with capital letters – the document published last November that outlined the ethical standards cabinet ministers are expected to uphold.
One thing that document made clear is that ministers must not give anyone special access to government for a political donation. They are not even allowed to do something that creates the appearance that someone is getting special access for a donation.
So when The Globe and Mail reported that Finance Minister Bill Morneau was guest of honour at a cozy $1,500-a-head event for 15 people, including bankers and property developers, at the Halifax house of mining tycoon Fred George, you would imagine there would be coughs and aw-shucks apologies.
What looks more like exchanging access for a political donation than paying $1,500 for a small private gathering with the Finance Minister?
But no. They shrugged it off. Mr. Trudeau's Liberals ignored the very existence of those ministerial guidelines, the ones titled Open and Accountable Government, that were issued under Mr. Trudeau's signature weeks after the Liberals were sworn in. They said Conservative ministers went to fundraisers, too. And they said they did not break any laws.
Mr. Trudeau's guidelines were not even a consideration. So they are now dead-letter guidelines. If Mr. Trudeau will not enforce them, no one can. They no longer exist.
Many open-minded Canadians will think something else must be going on. The Liberals cannot just be selling $1,500 tickets for private conversations and cocktails with Bill Morneau. But look: An upcoming event at the Calgary home of Shaw Communications president Jay Mehr is titled Conversations and Cocktails with Special Guest the Hon. Bill Morneau.
The Liberals might as well have an arrow-shaped neon sign lighting up the word "access." A well-to-do person with 15 friends paying $1,500 can buy a chat with the Finance Minister. Of course, there are guidelines that say ministers cannot talk about government business at fundraisers – no wait, those are the same guidelines that have just been chucked in the dumpster.
(The Liberal Party said Monday the event was cancelled due to scheduling conflicts.)
Last week, the Liberals suggested Mr. Morneau's appearance was okay because anyone could go to the fundraiser. But aside from the $1,500 price, it is a safe bet that these tycoons' houses would not likely be open to all comers.
In fact, the Liberals used an internet protocol, robots.txt, to keep details of many big-ticket fundraisers with top-drawer ministers like Mr. Morneau from showing up in internet searches. They are exclusive.
There are laws, as the Liberals stressed last week. They set limits for donations, so an individual can give $1,525 to a party and the same to a riding association, a total of $3,050.
But there's not much more in the law. The Conflict of Interest Act has one sentence on fundraising. It prohibits ministers from personally soliciting funds that would put them in a conflict. If someone else solicits the money, it's loophole land.
The Conflict of Interest Commissioner, Mary Dawson, has warned about the "scant" law on fundraising for years. When ministers ask her, she gives them what she calls "hard advice" on what the law allows, and "soft advice" on what she believes is appropriate. Many will follow the soft advice, but she cannot enforce it, she said in an interview.
She noted the Conflict of Interest Act is centred on rules to stop public-office holders from using their positions for personal gain, but says little about conflicts between their office and political gain. Ms. Dawson suggests it might be time for a code for political activities.
Now, Mr. Trudeau's Liberals find themselves arguing the other guys did it first: Stephen Harper's Conservatives had identical guidelines about mixing donations and access, but still sent out ministers to fundraisers.
But the fact that Mr. Trudeau has just chucked out the ethical standards for fundraising, leaving a vacuum, should matter to those who support the PM. Justin Trudeau, circa 2015, told them it should. He put out a press release when he issued the Open and Accountable Government rules, saying, "I encourage Canadians to read them and hold us accountable for delivering these commitments."
Last week, his Liberals did not think them worth mentioning.
Editor's note: The Calgary fundraiser planned at the home of Shaw Communications president Jay Mehr was cancelled last week after scheduling conflicts arose, the Liberal Party said on Monday.