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Politics Elections Canada says two events attended by Conservative MPs violated new fundraising rules

Elections Canada says two events attended this year by Conservative MPs who ran for the party’s leadership in 2017 violated new fundraising rules for senior politicians.

Durham MP Erin O’Toole said he refunded all donations, totalling about $32,000, made at a January event flagged by the agency. Donors at another January event attended by Milton MP Lisa Raitt also had their money refunded. Ms. Raitt said she did not know the event broke rules as it was organized by the Mississauga-Streetsville Conservative Riding Association.

Elections Canada said the events were not properly disclosed to them under new fundraising rules that went into effect in December. Under the new legislation, Bill C-50, events that cost $200 or more to attend that are hosted by cabinet ministers, party leaders, interim leaders or leadership contestants must be reported to the agency. These events must be advertised on political parties’ websites five days in advance, including location and contact information for the person holding the fundraiser.

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The Conservative Party did not initially report the two party fundraisers to Elections Canada because Mr. O’Toole and Ms. Raitt were contestants in a leadership race two years ago.

However, the MPs were still bound by the new rules because contestants continue to be considered leadership contestants until they’ve fulfilled all reporting requirements of the contest, according to Elections Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier. Neither MP had completed the reporting requirements for the 2017 race at the time of the fundraisers.

The new legislation passed through Parliament with the support of Liberal and NDP MPs last summer. The Liberal government said the aim of the bill was to make political fundraisers more transparent to the public.

Mr. O’Toole hosted an event on Jan. 17, 2019, at the Albany Club in Toronto to raise funds for the coming federal election. Documents filed with Elections Canada show that 46 people attended the event, with a "required” contribution amount of $500.

Ms. Gauthier said the “required” contribution of the document means at least one person paid $500 to attend, although other attendees could have contributed less or even attended for free.

Mr. O’Toole said he disclosed the event to Elections Canada a month later when he learned that he still fell under their definition of a leadership candidate. While he refunded the donations collected that night, Mr. O’Toole said he disagreed with Elections Canada’s decision, given that the Conservative leadership race had ended nearly two years before.

“I still hold the view that the C-50 regime was not intended to apply to leadership contests of the past,” Mr. O’Toole said in an e-mail.

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Mr. O’Toole is still listed as a leadership contestant on Elections Canada’s website, but Ms. Raitt has now completed her reporting requirements.

Ms. Raitt attended a Conservative fundraising event at a restaurant in Mississauga, organized by the riding association for Mississauga-Streetsville on Jan. 21.

When contacted by The Globe and Mail, Ms. Raitt said she had no knowledge that the rules were broken or that the money was returned.

Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann said the riding association made the decision to return all donations upon learning of Elections Canada’s interpretation of the rules. Mr. Hann declined to reveal how much money was raised at the May event.

Documents filed with Elections Canada show that 61 people attended the event, with a "required” contribution amount of $275.

Ms. Gauthier said amounts refunded to donors will be made public when candidates file their Annual Financial Returns in 2020. She also said the Chief Electoral Officer recognizes the challenges of the new rules and will make recommendations to Parliament after the election.

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said the event attended by Lisa Raitt was on May 9 in Toronto. In fact, it happened on Jan. 21 in Mississauga. This version has been corrected.
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