Justin Trudeau admits he's been lobbied at Liberal fundraisers - Macleans.ca

Justin Trudeau admits he’s been lobbied at Liberal fundraisers

Prime minister says that despite lobbying, ‘the decisions I take in government are ones based on what is right for Canadians’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau admitted Monday that he gets lobbied on government business when he’s the featured draw at Liberal party fundraisers.

But the prime minister insisted he doesn’t let donors influence him on government decisions.

“Any time I meet anyone, you know, they will have questions for me or they will take the opportunity to talk to the prime minister about things that are important to them,” Trudeau told a year-end news conference.

“And I can say that in various Liberal party events, I listen to people as I will in any given situation, but the decisions I take in government are ones based on what is right for Canadians and not on what an individual in a fundraiser might say.”

A spokesman for the prime minister later denied that the conversations Trudeau described constitute lobbying, in the legal sense of the word, and stressed that Trudeau only listens to what is said and doesn’t engage in public policy discussions.

Nevertheless, Trudeau’s admission only added fuel to the firestorm that has been raging for weeks over so-called cash-for-access fundraisers, where donors pay up to $1,500 to the party to attend events featuring Trudeau or one of his ministers.

MORE: When it comes to fundraising rules, it’s the wild west in Ottawa

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose noted that the Liberal party’s interim national director, Christina Topp, last month sent a letter to all cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries, reminding them of the lengths to which the party goes to ensure there is no appearance of conflict of interest at fundraising events.

Among other things, Topp said any donor “who wishes to initiate a policy discussion is immediately redirected to instead make an appointment with the relevant office. … Fundraising events are partisan functions where we do not discuss government business.”

“That actually sounds like the way it’s supposed to work,” Ambrose told the House of Commons.

“But the prime minister has now thrown his national director under the bus. Now he brags openly about discussing government business at fundraisers.”

And it’s not just Topp under the bus, New Democrats noted. Late last month, deflecting questions on the cash-for-access controversy, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc told the Commons: “Our colleague knows very well that at events like this, government business is not discussed.”

NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau pointed out that discussing government business at fundraising events flouts not just the Liberal party’s supposed rules but the guidelines for ethical ministerial conduct crafted by Trudeau himself in a document entitled, “Open and Accountable Government.”

That document specifies that “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.”

Allowing donors to pay for access to lobby the prime minister or a minister “looks like corruption,” Brosseau said.

A wealthy Vancouver businessman who attended a fundraiser last month has said he attended precisely to lobby Trudeau on a number of issues, including investment by a Chinese insurance firm in Canadian seniors’ care facilities, relaxing immigration restrictions on Chinese investors and easing the rules on investment by foreign real estate developers.

Marijuana activists have also said they paid to attend a Toronto fundraiser featuring MP Bill Blair, Trudeau’s point man on legalization of pot, to lobby him on that issue.

In his news conference, Trudeau repeated the government’s standard defence: that federal parties are subject to some of the most stringent political financing rules in the world and the Liberal party follows all the rules. Those rules include open and transparent disclosure of donations.

Trudeau shrugged off the fact that the fundraising events he’s attended — some staged in the private homes of wealthy supporters — are not open to the public. That’s no different than many other meetings he has, where people lobby him on various issues, he said.

“There are many, many events that I hold — whether it’s with municipal leaders, whether it’s roundtables with small business owners or business leaders, where it’s meeting with first responders and security officials across the country — that aren’t public events, that are events where we talk about the issues that matter to Canadians. And this is a government that is extraordinarily open to multiple perspectives,” he said.

“And at no point (does) attending a fundraiser give a particular or special access on policy to anyone.”

Some critics of Liberal fundraising practices have argued that one way to avoid the appearance of cash-for-access is to cap the maximum for individual donations to a party at a few hundred dollars or less. The maximum is currently just over $1,500.

That would entail reinstating the per-vote public subsidy to parties or finding some other way to compensate them for the loss of donations.

Asked about reviving the subsidy, which was phased out by the previous Conservative government, Trudeau repeated Monday that he’s open to suggestions for strengthening Canada’s political financing regime.


Justin Trudeau admits he’s been lobbied at Liberal fundraisers

  1. are his actions not criminal ??? of course not the first time he taunts the law and does what he wants and the police do nothing. he is also a liar is he not.

  2. Justin Trudeau’s saying that he is lobbied at Liberal fundraising events but he doesn’t let the lobbyists influence him reminds me of Bill Clinton saying (when he first ran for the presidency) that he had smoked marijuana but hadn’t inhaled.

  3. Hes asked for something everywhere he goes…..even by average citizens

  4. Cash-for-access fundraisers directly, and in no uncertain terms, violate Trudeau’s own rules, yet he, and his cabinet, are apparently oblivious to this. Any reasonably objective person could see how wrong this is, but for reasons that baffle to no end the Liberals turn a very wilful blind eye. One can only hope the opposition parties hammer the Liberals on this without letup, until the pummelling forces them to see reason.

    It’s just this sort of arrogance that the LPC is not unknown for.

    • It becomes more apparent every day that Trudeau is the poster boy for Liberal arrogance.

    • Sufficiently newsworthy to make it to the New York Times:

      From said article:
      ‘On the way out of the committee room Ms. Dawson told reporters that the fund-raisers were “not very savory.”’

      Ms. Dawson being Mary Dawson, the independent conflict of interest and ethics commissioner.

  5. Justin Trudeau is the PM for everyone in this country, not just anyone, and if the conservative had to keep the per vote subsidy in place, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. Trudeau is the ‘Brand’ for the liberal party, he is their most important commodity. Just because the other two parties don’t have the same kind of billboard as Trudeau is for the liberals, makes me feel this is all a little petty and if either of the other two parties were in power, they would do the same, it’s not about Transparency. Trudeau don’t run and hide from the media, or his MPs, and they don’t run up and down the corridors trying to dodge cameras and reporters. This is another issue that works well for reporters and the opposition, inside the bubble, it gives them a reason to hold on to their jobs, this is just noise. Until the NDP are up and running with a new leader and a fund raising apparatus(good luck with that), it’s going to either be the liberals or the cons in power for the next number of years . My question is to the offended progressive NDPs over all of this fluff, do you want a liberal government in power in the future, or go back to a conservative government in power, and no, the liberals haven’t turned into the conservatives, they are still liberals. Do the NDP want to go back to the ball and chain conservative government, or stay on a path of progress, albeit sometimes a little rocky. Until the NDP have some skin in the game, and that will be quite a hill for them to climb, they should be looking at progress with a leader who knows how to strike the right tone and tempo, and move ahead instead of going back(look what just happened in the US). Do the members of NDP want to see another Trump of the north.