Ambrose asks federal watchdogs to investigate Liberal fundraisers

Opposition leader urges lobbying and ethics commissioners to examine ‘cash-for-access’ fundraisers involving top Liberals, including Justin Trudeau

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose is asking the federal lobbying and ethics watchdogs to take another look at so-called cash-for-access fundraisers featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, some of his senior ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

In a letter to ethics commissioner Mary Dawson and lobbying commissioner Karen Shepherd, Ambrose says Trudeau himself has admitted using at least one of the fundraisers to drum up foreign investment in Canada.

And she says some of those who have attended several of the fundraisers have openly acknowledged using the events to lobby Trudeau or other senior Liberals on issues in which they have a financial stake.

Ambrose alleges the events show the Liberals have failed to keep a clear separation between their roles as government ministers and political fundraisers.

And she says there appears to have been several examples where the Conflict of Interest Act, the Lobbying Act and Lobbyist Code of Conduct seem to have been violated.

Dawson has already said the fundraisers are unsavoury, but she has no legal authority to rule on them.

MORE: In Ottawa, it’s the wild west on lobbying

Shepherd has confirmed she has launched an investigation into at least one fundraiser in which the chairman of generic drug giant Apotex, Barry Sherman, was involved in selling tickets to the event, which featured Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Sherman subsequently withdrew his involvement from the event.

Ambrose details a series of questionable fundraisers, based on reporting by The Globe and Mail. Among them:

— An event last May attended by Trudeau and a number of wealthy Chinese-Canadians and Chinese nationals, one of whom was the founder of the Wealth One Bank of Canada, which was awaiting final approval by the federal government to start business in Canada. Another donated $1 million the Pierre Trudeau Foundation and the University of Montreal law faculty.

When questioned about the event, Ambrose notes that Trudeau defended his participation by saying he’s “committed to engaging positively with the world to draw in investment.”

“The prime minister explicitly linked his attendance there to the government business of attracting investment to Canada,” she writes. “This is very concerning.”

Ambrose notes that the Conflict of Interest Act prohibits a public office holder from giving preferential treatment to anyone and also from soliciting funds from any person or organization that would place him or her in a conflict of interest.

She also questions whether Trudeau put himself in a conflict of interest by encouraging donations to the foundation named for his late father.

Trudeau has said he has not had any involvement in the foundation for several years.

— An event last April featuring parliamentary secretary Bill Blair, the government’s point man on legalization of marijuana. The fundraiser was attended by members of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association, two of whom have said they paid to attend in order to lobby Blair face to face.

— A fundraiser last month attended by a wealthy Vancouver businessman who has confirmed 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.

“Multiple guests indicated that they sought to influence government policy through their interactions at these events,” Ambrose writes, even though Shepherd has warned lobbyists against mixing lobbying with partisan activities like fundraising.

“Yet the reporting suggests that this conflict is a regular occurrence.”

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