October 20, 2016 - 6:20 AM
OTTAWA - The Liberal government is shrugging off opposition complaints about a Halifax fundraiser on behalf of Finance Minister Bill Morneau that was attended by business executives.
Morneau came under fire Wednesday over the Oct. 13 event at a waterfront mansion owned by a prominent land developer — a conflict of interest that broke the prime minister's own guidelines for fundraisers, critics said.
"Each (guest) paid $1,500, the maximum allowed, for the privilege of access to the minister," NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said as he pressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during question period.
"When it comes to getting the ear of the person overseeing billions of dollars in public spending, that is quite a bargain."
Separately, both Trudeau and Morneau insisted the fundraiser conformed to the rules, which the prime minister described as the most stringent of all political jurisdictions in the country.
Last year, the Liberals established a strict set of directives that included avoiding situations that appeared to provide preferential access to government.
The rules also require ministers and parliamentary secretaries to avoid activities that could impact their ability to do their jobs.
"Ministers and parliamentary secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government," the rules say.
"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."
Mulcair wasn't the only one raising the issue during question period — Conservative MPs Candice Bergen and Blaine Calkins both pressed Morneau and the $1,500-a-head gathering.
Bergen demanded to know what Morneau discussed with those attending. The finance minister ignored that query.
"Like all members of this House, I'm engaged in fundraising activities in support of my party," Morneau said. "The Oct. 13 event in question was organized by the Liberal Party of Canada and we followed all of the applicable rules.
"I will remind the House that those rules were put in place by the party that preceded us."
Bergen said it is "just plain wrong" for the minister to be selling access.
"These Liberals look a lot like the old Liberals and Canadians are tired of that," she said. "When will the Liberals stop abusing the public trust and provide the ethical standard that they promised?"
Calkins demanded that Morneau repay the money for what he called a "quagmire of conflict of interest."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016