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opinion

Is no one in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office paying attention to what is going on in Ontario? Here we have Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne backed into a corner and forced to reform her province's political financing laws because of the conflicts of interest exposed in her party's cash-for-access scheme. And now Mr. Trudeau's party is committing the same sin, as if the subject never came up before.

Read more: Morneau fundraiser one in list of Liberal cash-for-access events

Just as Premier Wynne did, the Prime Minister is defending his party on the grounds that holding cash-for-access fundraisers doesn't explicitly violate election financing rules. Just like her, he is conveniently ignoring the fact that it is unacceptable for a governing party to sell exclusive face-time with prominent cabinet ministers to businesspeople who may have a financial stake in the ministers' decisions.

But unlike Ms. Wynne, Mr. Trudeau is supposed to be guided by a set of self-imposed principles that explicitly prohibit cash-for-access fundraising involving federal cabinet ministers.

"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," according to Mr. Trudeau's "Open and Accountable Government" maxims.

Mr. Trudeau was silent this week about whether or not his rules were violated by an exclusive Liberal Party fundraiser in the Halifax mansion of a wealthy land developer, and for which well-to-do businesspeople each paid the maximum allowable personal donation of $1,500 to attend. Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who is currently in prebudget consultations, was the star attraction.

The average person doubts that the donors spent $1,500 to discuss the weather with the Finance Minister. It's this doubt that matters. No one has to prove that the donors bought preferential access to the Finance Minister in order to speak to him about a project they want financed or a regulation they want changed. All that is required is for it to be a possibility. Case closed.

Perhaps Mr. Trudeau believes his current political honeymoon will protect him from the same outrage that forced the unpopular Ms. Wynne to clean up her act. But he is wrong about that. Cash-for-access was not acceptable at Queen's Park, and it is not acceptable in Ottawa.