Both of Canada's federal ethics and lobbying watchdogs are being formally asked by opposition parties to probe a string of Liberal Party cash-for-access fundraisers featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other senior Liberals to determine if government business was discussed and laws were broken.
The Conservative and New Democratic Parties sent separate letters to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd on Monday for possible violations of federal rules.
Ms. Shepherd has already said she is investigating a $500 fundraiser featuring Finance Minister Bill Morneau in Toronto last month that Barry Sherman, chair of generic drug maker Apotex, helped organize.
Ms. Dawson has called the Liberals' cash-for-access events "not very savoury," but maintains she does not have the power under the Conflict of Interest Code to stop them. She has asked Mr. Trudeau to give her those powers, but the Liberal government has refused.
The opposition parties say recent revelations in The Globe about what is being discussed at these Liberal fundraisers need further investigation.
"These cash-for-access events appear to provide several examples of violations of the Conflict of Interest Act, the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyist Code of Conduct," interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose wrote to the two commissioners. "These events are raising sums of money for the Liberal Party of Canada, anywhere in the range of $50,000 to $120,000."
The NDP called for a probe into a $1,500 fundraiser on Nov. 7 at the home of Vancouver businessman Miaofei Pan, at which more than 80 guests mingled with Mr. Trudeau.
In an interview with The Globe last week, Mr. Pan said he told the Prime Minister Ottawa should allow Chinese investment in seniors' care, relax immigration restrictions on financiers and make it easier for foreign real estate developers to invest in Canada. The Nov. 7 event came as the Trudeau government is reviewing a bid by China's Anbang Insurance Group to buy one of B.C.'s biggest retirement-home chains.
Mr. Pan, who is not a lobbyist and does not represent Anbang, described Mr. Trudeau as "approachable and friendly" and said the "Prime Minister was very happy when he heard" Chinese firms wanted to invest in seniors' care.
"Mr. Pan, a multimillionaire, does not appear in the Canadian lobbyist registry, but works for an organization, called Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations, which promotes the interest of several companies with ties to China," NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice wrote.
Mr. Boulerice cited the Lobbying Act, which requires people lobbying government ministers to register, and the Conflict of Interest Act, which states politicians should not give preferential treatment to or solicit funds from anyone if a conflict is possible.
"Such potential violations are serious and that is why I am asking you to examine if there are any grounds to initiate an investigation under section 5 (1) of the Lobbying Act and sections 7 and 6 of the Conflict of Interest Act," he wrote. "Any appearance of conflict of interest must be treated with the utmost seriousness, which is why additional information is required to shed light on this potentially troubling situation involving the Prime Minister of Canada."
In the Commons, Ms. Ambrose accused Mr. Trudeau of breaking Canada's fundraising rules.
"The Prime Minister is breaking them every time he holds one of these events when he is talking about government business. He is actually selling access to himself, the most powerful person in government, discussing government business to fill Liberal Party coffers. It is wrong, it is unethical and it is actually illegal," she said.
Government House Leader Bardish Chagger dared Ms. Ambrose to repeat her allegations outside the Commons chamber, where she could be subject to legal action. "I am pretty sure that the member opposite is not implying that the Prime Minister would be breaking the law, and if the member is saying it, there is a better place, which would be outside this chamber, to make such an accusation."
The Liberal Party has written in fundraising guidelines that "fundraising events are partisan functions where we do not discuss government business" and that "any individual who wishes to initiate a policy discussion is immediately redirected to instead make an appointment with the relevant office."
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair asked in the Commons if the Liberals want to rescind their denial that government business is discussed at their fundraisers. "We have a government which makes rules and which happily breaks them afterwards, which claims to set new standards and defends itself by saying that it has not done anything technically wrong, which assures Parliament that, during these exclusive dinners, government business is not discussed.
Ms. Ambrose's four-page letter to the two watchdogs referred to reports in The Globe about Liberal Party fundraisers that use Mr. Trudeau and senior cabinet ministers as a draw.
She noted that Toronto insurance mogul Shenglin Xian attended a $1,500 Trudeau fundraiser on May 19th at the home of Chinese Chamber of Commerce chair Benson Wong while he was awaiting approval of a new bank in Canada.
Ms. Ambrose urged the two commissioners to ensure that "there was no undue influence exerted" in the final approval of Wealth One bank, where Mr. Xian is a principal investor and vice-chair of the board.
Chinese billionaire Zhang Bin also attended the May 19 fundraiser but, as a foreign national, did not make a donation. A few weeks later, he and a business partner donated $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and $50,000 for a statue of Mr. Trudeau's father.
"Given that Prime Minister Trudeau is a former member of the Trudeau Foundation, that his brother Alexandre Trudeau is a current member of the board of directors of the foundation, that the Minister of Industry appoints two directors of the Trudeau Foundation, and that the Foundation has two representatives of the Trudeau family, any efforts by Mr. Trudeau to use his position as Prime Minister to encourage donations may be a violation of the definition of a conflict of interest," Ms. Ambrose wrote.