Justin Trudeau knows perfectly well that it is wrong for political parties to hold fundraisers at which wealthy donors pay top dollar for intimate access to cabinet ministers. He said so himself.
Three weeks after taking power last fall, the Prime Minister unveiled "core principles regarding the roles and responsibilities of Ministers." His Open and Accountable Government magna carta included what would appear to most reasonable people to be an explicit prohibition of cash-for-access fundraising.
"There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties," the document state.
It seems black and white, but apparently it isn't. Apparently, when Mr. Trudeau says there "should be no preferential access...," what he means is that there should be none of that but there probably will be. It's more of a suggestion, really, than a rule.
This no doubt explains why Mr. Trudeau has chosen to assign the enforcement of his suggestion to an authority he can rely on not to overthink it – himself.
As federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said last week, she can't enforce Mr. Trudeau's allusion to the wrongness of cash-for-access fundraising, because that job has been handed to the Privy Council Office. But, she added, that rule sure would look good as part of her domain, the federal Conflict of Interest Act.
She's right. Mr. Trudeau should put the cash-for-access ban into law. Then the Liberal Party would know better than to let Finance Minister Bill Morneau meet privately with moneyed donors who coughed up $1,500 each, as it recently did and is planning to do with other cabinet ministers this fall.
Then again, in Mr. Trudeau's sunny world, such stringency is overkill for people of high principle. As he told his ministers when he unveiled the high-minded Open and Accountable Government document, "both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law."
Indeed. But sometimes a law helps, too.