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For $6,000, donors get face time with Kathleen Wynne and Bob Chiarelli

The Ontario Liberal Party is teaming up with a high-powered lobbying firm to sell "one-on-one" access to Premier Kathleen Wynne and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli in a fundraising event this week.

For $6,000 apiece, donors can attend an intimate cocktail reception and three-course dinner with Ms. Wynne and Mr. Chiarelli on Thursday at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto's posh Yorkville neighbourhood, The Globe and Mail has learned. Proceeds go to Liberal Party coffers.

The evening is being promoted by Sussex Strategy Group, one of the country's top lobbying firms. In an e-mail encouraging energy industry insiders to attend, Sussex principal Chris Benedetti wrote that the soirée will be a "small event with a limited number of tickets," giving all attendees face time with Ms. Wynne and Mr. Chiarelli.

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"The evening will start with a cocktail reception allowing for one-on-one conversations between the Premier, Minister Chiarelli, senior staff and guests," Mr. Benedetti wrote in the e-mail obtained by The Globe. "We will then move to dinner, where guests will be seated at three tables of a maximum of 10 people each. Over three courses our special guests will circulate amongst the tables to allow for good conversation with all in attendance."

"This is a wonderful opportunity to speak with both Premier Wynne, Minister Chiarelli and staff, as well as business leaders from across the energy sector," he added.

This is the second such small-scale Liberal fundraiser promoted by Sussex in the last month. Another e-mail from Mr. Benedetti indicates that the Liberals held a similar event at the Park Hyatt on Feb. 22. Attendees paid $5,000 for access to Mr. Chiarelli and Andrew Bevan, Ms. Wynne's chief of staff and principal secretary, the most powerful political aide in the province.

The revelations shine a light on the after-hours political social circuit, in which deep-pocketed insiders pay large sums of money to spend time with powerful politicians. While the Liberals hold several well-advertised, large-scale fundraisers every year, smaller events such as these – with high ticket prices and small numbers of guests – are kept secret. Neither this week's fundraiser, nor the one on Feb. 22, appear to have been publicly announced.

The Premier's office defended the fundraisers, contending such events are par for the course in Ontario politics.

"Donations and fundraisers are a part of the democratic process that all parties engage in," Jennifer Beaudry, Ms. Wynne's spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail on Sunday.

Both Ms. Wynne's office and the Liberal Party did not answer questions about who had attended the fundraisers and how many other similar events the Premier has taken part in.

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Mr. Benedetti did not respond to a request for comment. Toronto-based Sussex has 190 active entries in Ontario's lobbyist registry, representing clients in industries ranging from tobacco to asset management. Mr. Benedetti himself lobbies primarily for the electricity industry, including TransAlta Corp., Capital Power Corp., the Canadian Wind Energy Association and the Association of Major Power Consumers in Ontario.

The revelation comes at an awkward time for the Liberals: Over the weekend, they attacked Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown for inviting top donors to meet him and his caucus in the private MPPs' lounge at the legislature building. A Tory fundraising brochure promises that anyone who commits $5,000 over three years to the party will be invited to the meet-and-greet. The Liberals have said they will ask both Speaker Dave Levac and Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake to investigate the Tory fundraising technique.

Ms. Beaudry said the fundraisers with Ms. Wynne, Mr. Chiarelli and Mr. Bevan are different from Mr. Brown's because they are taking place at private hotels rather than at Queen's Park.

"The Integrity Commissioner has been clear that the legislature and its resources are to remain free from any sort of partisan political activity such as campaigning or fundraising," she wrote.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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