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Trudeau says he’s lobbied, but not influenced, at Liberal fundraisers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged Monday that people lobby him at Liberal Party cash-for-access fundraisers, but said he ultimately makes up his own mind on what is good for Canada.

It is the first time the Prime Minister has admitted that government business is being discussed at partisan Liberal money-raising events. This activity runs contrary to the very rules the Liberal Party made public earlier this year where it said government business is not discussed at pay-to-play fundraisers. At these events, Canadians or non-citizens who are permanent residents pay as much as $1,500 for access to the prime minister or other cabinet ministers.

Mr. Trudeau was asked at a year-end news conference how he handles encounters at fundraisers where he is the headline guest and people discuss government policy with him. He was also asked whether he reports these contacts to federal authorities.

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Read more: Majority of Canadians surveyed object to Liberals' cash-for-access fundraisers

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"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," the Prime Minister said.

His response to reporters contradicts what the party's interim national director Christina Topp wrote in a Nov. 4 letter to all Liberal cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries. In this missive, which was distributed widely, Ms. Topp said nothing of this sort occurs.

"Any individual who wishes to initiate a policy discussion is immediately redirected to instead make an appointment with the relevant office. As you know, fundraising events are partisan functions where we do not discuss government business," Ms. Topp wrote.

Mr. Trudeau tried to play down the access that Liberal donors get during his response at a year-end news conference Monday – and he listed all sorts of public appearances he makes where people can encounter him.

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"I and my entire government make ourselves extremely available to Canadians through a broad range of venues. Through town halls, through press conferences like this," he said, referring to the news conference with media in Ottawa.

"The fact is, my approach continues to be to listen broadly to every different opportunity that I get – and make the right decisions based on what is good for Canada."

In the House of Commons, the opposition parties picked up on Ms. Topp's letter that she had sent to all cabinet minister and parliamentary secretaries. Ms. Topp has since been replaced as the Liberal Party's national director.

"[Ms. Topp] said anyone who tried it would be immediately asked to make an appointment with the relevant office. That actually sounds like the way it is supposed to work," interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said. "But the Prime Minister has now thrown his national director under the bus. Now he brags openly about discussing government business at fundraisers. Why is the Prime Minister bragging about the doing the exact opposition of what is ethical?"

NDP MP Alexander Boulerice stood in the House to remind Mr. Trudeau that he promised to run the most ethical government that Canadians had ever witnessed, including laying new open and accountable government rules that state "there should be no preferential access to government, nor appearance of preferential access" in exchange for political donations.

"Guess what this government did? They broke those rules," he said. "What's the rules when you break your own rules and give special access for party donations. Oh yes, corruption."

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Mr. Trudeau was in the Commons but Government House Leader Bardish Chagger repeated what the government has been saying for weeks that the Liberal Party follows Canada's election financing laws. Since The Globe and Mail revealed the cash-for-access fundraisers on October 19, Mr. Trudeau and other ministers have not made any reference to the Liberal Party rules or the Prime Minister's ethical guidelines that he released shortly after forming government last year.

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About the Authors
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

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

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