For $5,000 apiece, energy insiders can bend the ears of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli on one of the government's most sensitive files over dinner and drinks next month. The soirée, organized by a group of energy-industry players at a tony Toronto restaurant, is set to raise much-needed money for the Liberals ahead of a possible spring election.
An invitation for the evening, obtained by The Globe and Mail, bills the event as a "small gathering," in which 22 guests will enjoy a cocktail reception and three-course dinner at the same table as the Premier.
"This will be the first opportunity to sit down and speak to both Premier Wynne and Minister Chiarelli on energy-related issues," it reads.
The same group held a similar $2,000-per-person event for Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak last month.
The Liberal fundraiser comes at a time when the party is under intense pressure on energy policy. The party has drawn fire over the cancellation of two gas-fired electricity plants, at a cost of at least $230-million. Last week, the opposition parties voted for a legislative committee to investigate allegations the government covered up documents related to the matter.
The government's Green Energy Act, meanwhile, has been controversial among rural residents who oppose wind turbines near their land. The backlash was so great, it was credited with robbing the Liberals of several seats in the Ontario countryside during the 2011 election. The Tories have also attacked government subsidies to green-power companies as money that could be better spent elsewhere.
Neither Ms. Wynne nor Mr. Chiarelli were immediately available to comment Wednesday.
"Strong political parties are an important part of our parliamentary democracy. As Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, Premier Wynne periodically participates in fundraisers with different groups around the province," wrote party vice-president-communications Christine McMillan in an e-mail.
Tina Arvanitis, a vice-president at the Ontario Energy Association who circulated the invitation, said the event was not organized by the OEA, but rather by "a bunch of people in the sector." She would not disclose the names of any of the organizers.
"This happens all the time at every level of government in every province of the country," she said. "That's the process. Welcome to politics."
Ms. Arvanitis said the group had also offered to hold an event for New Democrat Andrea Horwath. The NDP Leader's spokeswoman said she had not received the invitation and had "no plans" to take the offer.
Ms. Wynne's minority government will need the support of at least one opposition party to pass a budget expected in the next three months. The Tories will likely vote against it, and the NDP have said they have not yet decided. If the NDP does not back Ms. Wynne's budget, the province will face an election.
The Liberals' energy fundraiser is scheduled for Wednesday, March 27 at The Rosewater, a high-end eatery near the financial district.