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Trudeau defends Liberal fundraising event attended by marijuana lobbyists

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued no ethical rules were violated when marijuana lobbyists attended a cash-for-access event featuring Bill Blair, who is the lead on the legalization file.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted on Tuesday that a Liberal Party fundraiser breached no ethical rules even though the governing party refunded the ticket price that a marijuana lobby group paid to attend it.

Opposition MPs seized on a Globe and Mail report that two members of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association went to an April 28 cash-for-access fundraiser to lobby Bill Blair, who is steering the Prime Minister's plan to legalize recreational marijuana.

The Liberal Party on Monday told The Globe it will return the money to individuals from the Cannabis Business Friendly Association, an organization that represents dispensary owners and which send members Abi Roach and John Liedtke to the $150 per ticket event.

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"We do know one of the lobbyists [Ms. Roach] said she gets e-mails all the time from the Liberals asking her to come to these fundraisers," interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose told the House of Commons' Question Period. "How many times has the Liberal Party used the government's marijuana point person to raise cash from marijuana lobbyists for the Liberal Party of Canada?"

Mr. Trudeau ducked the question and argued no ethical rules were violated: "The fact is the Liberal Party is always following all the rules and the values that Canadians expect in terms of openness, accountability and transparency."

Federal Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd has announced she is investigating the Liberal Party's cash-for-access events. Her office would not say whether the April 28 fundraiser will be included.

Liberal Party guidelines say the party does not target lobbyists or employees of lobbying firms or department stakeholders for fundraising events and takes steps to prevent such people from attending.

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As well, Mr. Trudeau laid down rules that require his cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries to "observe the highest ethical standards in everything you do" and state "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."

Since The Globe first reported the Liberal Party's cash-for-access system, Mr. Trudeau has insisted the government is being open and transparent. However, the party has refused to provide locations for some fundraisers or the names of the people who attended.

"When will the Liberals admit they have a hazy notion of their own fundraising guidelines? When will they clear the air and admit they are breaking all of their own rules?" Conservative MP Tony Clement said in the Commons.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair also asked Mr. Trudeau about a May 19 fundraiser at the home of Chinese Business Chamber of Canada chair Benson Wong that was attended by Chinese billionaires and wealthy Chinese-Canadian entrepreneurs. The Prime Minister was the star attraction at the $1,500-per-ticket event.

"One of the people present, Thomas Liu, had a $1-billion canola deal on the line," Mr. Mulcair told the House. "A few weeks after the Prime Minister's private dinner, the government made a deal with China and Mr. Liu got what he wanted. … What did he discuss with Mr. Liu at that dinner?"

The Vancouver-based newsmagazine The Tyee has reported that Mr. Liu, a Chinese-Canadian living in Toronto who is CEO of the LeMine Investment Group, paid $1,500 to attend the Trudeau fundraiser. In 2014, his company signed a seven-year deal to export canola oil to China.

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China said in February that it would tighten restrictions on imports of Canadian canola seeds. The matter was resolved when Mr. Trudeau visited Beijing in September. It is unclear how Mr Liu's firm could have benefited from the lifting of the restrictions on Canadian canola seed.

In reply to Mr. Mulcair, the Prime Minister said his government had stood up for "Western canola farmers and got access to the Chinese market. That is exactly what we worked on with the Chinese government and we secured that access that Canadian farmers needed so desperately."

The opposition benches erupted in howls of laughter when Mr. Mulcair shot back: "Mr. Liu is not a Western canola farmer."

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About the Authors
Ottawa Bureau Chief

Robert Fife is The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief and the host of CTV's "Question Period with The Globe and Mail's Robert Fife." He uncovered the Senate expense scandal, setting the course for an RCMP investigation, audits and reform of Senate expense rules. In 2012, he exposed the E. More

Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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