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Politics Trudeau fundraiser touted as a networking opportunity

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons, Oct. 3, 2016.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Liberal Party marketed a recent $1,500 per ticket fundraiser with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as an opportunity for donors to "form relationships and open dialogues with our government" and to network with other wealthy business executives.

It is the federal party's first written acknowledgment that Liberal cash-for-access fundraisers are more than just partisan functions but a place to network and discuss business in the Prime Minister's presence.

The Sept. 14 event was at the Montreal home of former Liberal senator Leo Kolber, who was a chief Liberal fundraiser for Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien. Montreal billionaire Stephen Bronfman, who now heads fundraising for the Liberal Party, was the co-host, along with high-tech entrepreneur Ari Himmel.

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Read more: Opposition parties urge federal watchdogs to probe Liberal fundraisers

Read more: Influential Chinese-Canadians paying to attend private fundraisers with Trudeau

Globe editorial: Justin Trudeau didn't invent cash-for-access, but he can end it

Mr. Himmel sent e-mails to potential donors in early September, talking up the importance of having quality time with Mr. Trudeau at the exclusive cocktail reception in Montreal's Westmount suburb.

"Your participation and contribution is deeply appreciated," he wrote on Sept. 6. "Everyone knows how important it is for our generation to have a strong showing so that our issues are heard and that we begin to form relationships and open dialogues with our government."

He added that "it's going to be a great night as well as a wonderful networking opportunity for everyone."

In an e-mail exchange, Mr. Himmel told one potential donor, entrepreneur Sylvie Leduc, the Trudeau event was a perfect opportunity for her to seek investors for her struggling IT business venture.

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Ms. Leduc, a Liberal Party volunteer, had a proposal before the federal government at the time, and politely declined to attend, largely due to the ticket price.

"As a bootstrapping IT start-up trying to make inroads with the Trudeau government to structure PPP [private public partnerships] to implement a business intelligence solution to optimize the administrative and financial management of defined benefits, I will unfortunately have to decline as the requested amount is a tad too steep for the time being," she wrote in an e-mail to Mr. Himmel.

He replied: "Since you are on the look-out for investors/partners I would suggest considering this event as there will be a lot of networking going on. Also keep in mind you get half your donation back when you file your taxes."

Ms. Leduc told The Globe and Mail federal bureaucrats rejected her proposal, and she now wonders if she should have paid the $1,500 entry fee to get some time with Mr. Trudeau or some of the rich business people at the reception.

"Now in retrospect maybe I should have taken the easy route and just gone to the cocktail [reception] and mingle and be nice and pretty and I wouldn't be sitting here where I am now three or four months later," she said. "From a moral perspective, to be honest with you, I am not sure."

The Globe contacted Mr. Himmel for comment, and he promised to return the telephone call but failed to do so.

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In his first e-mail to potential donors in mid-August, Mr. Himmel said those who wrote a cheque for $1,500 for the Sept. 14 fundraiser would become members of the exclusive Laurier Club. "Your donation of $1,500 per person to the Liberal Party of Canada will ensure that we are able to stay at the forefront of modern campaigning."

Laurier Club membership would entitle donors to "roundtable discussions with leading members of the Liberal team, a summer garden party in Ottawa and a winter holiday cocktail." Canadians aged 35 or younger had to pay only $750 to attend the Trudeau reception and sign up as Laurier Club members. Donors of all ages can pay for membership in monthly instalments.

"From a social-justice perspective and from a party that wants to help the middle class and the ones wanting to get there, you know, I don't think a lot of people can afford $1,500," Ms. Leduc said.

Since The Globe first reported on the Liberal cash-for-access fundraisers on Oct. 19, the Liberal Party has maintained that the events are strictly partisan affairs and government business is not discussed.

Party-fundraising guidelines for cabinet ministers state that "any individual who wishes to initiate a policy discussion is immediately redirected to instead make an appointment with the relevant office" and " fundraising events are partisan functions where we do not discuss government business."

In the Commons, the opposition parties continued to hound the government to stop fundraisers at which Mr. Trudeau and senior cabinet ministers are the star attractions.

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"Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's cash-for-access events are not open and transparent. They are hidden and they are secretive," Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said. "Guests have plainly said at several fundraisers the Prime Minister openly discussed government business they were seeking his support for."

She asked if Mr. Trudeau had ever discussed government business "with someone who paid the Liberal Party to meet with him to seek his support on a topic that benefits them directly."

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger did not answer the question, instead repeating what the government has been saying for weeks.

"When it comes to the rules around fundraising, they are the most open and transparent and they are the most strict across the country," she replied.

NDP Leader Tom Muclair raised the issue of B.C. multimillionaire Miaofei Pan, host of a $1,500-per-ticket event on Nov. 7 for more than 80 people at his West Vancouver home at which Mr. Trudeau was the prize guest.

Mr. Pan told The Globe in an interview last week that he spoke to Mr. Trudeau about Chinese investment in seniors' care and land development as well as making it easier for rich immigrants to come to Canada.

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"Now we learn that this same individual was personally invited by the Prime Minister to meet the Chinese Premier, and as a result he accepted to hold a Liberal fundraiser," Mr. Mulcair told the House.

Mr. Mulcair was referring to a story in a newspaper in Wenzhou, China, that quoted Mr. Pan as saying Mr. Trudeau invited him to a dinner in Ottawa in honour of Premier Li Keqiang in September, and that he invited the Prime Minister to his house.

"He invited me to attend the welcome dinner for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, I immediately invited him [Trudeau] back to my home in Vancouver when he is available, and he readily said yes," Mr. Pan is quoted as saying in the Wenzhou News.

The Liberal Party denied there was any quid pro quo, saying the location of the Nov. 7 fundraiser was not decided upon until late October.

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