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This article was published 1/11/2016 (1623 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Manitoba MP and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr told the Free Press last week he had never participated in any "pay-to-play" political fundraisers and never would.
The comments came just before the Liberals publicly released a list of 89 fundraising events with government ministers in the past year, one of which — open only to members of the party's exclusive Laurier Club — Carr attended.
Laurier members are required to donate $1,500 a year to the Liberal party. The annual amount is $750 for members under the age of 35.
In a sit-down interview with the Free Press Oct. 27, Carr was asked directly if he had participated — or would — in any "pay-to-play" events.
His one-word answer to both questions: "No."
Carr's spokesman would not make him available Tuesday to explain why he said "no" last week after attending an Aug. 29 Liberal appreciation night for Laurier Club members hosted by Edmonton law firm MacPherson, Leslie and Tyerman.
He directed questions to the Liberal party instead. Party spokesman Braeden Caley said in an email Carr was "entirely correct" to say he hadn't attended a pay-to-play fundraiser.
"The term "pay-to-play" implies a connection to government business in party fundraising, and that has not been the case in any form whatsoever," Caley wrote. "Like Members of Parliament from all federal political parties, Mr. Carr attends political fundraising events on behalf of his party — and he complies with all the rules in doing so."
Duff Conacher, co-founder of advocacy group Democracy Watch, said the idea that a cabinet minister isn't conducting any government business at these events is improbable. He said they provide exclusive access to cabinet ministers, something that isn't available to members of the general public.
"It's cash for access, which is just a different way of saying 'pay-to-play,'" said Conacher. "The amount is more than most voters can afford which makes it undemocratic and unethical. You only get in if you can afford it."
He said the law says you can't provide access to people based on who they are, but that is clearly what happened in this case — admission to a government minister was limited to party supporters with deep pockets.
The government has been fighting accusations of unethical fundraising since last spring, after an event at a Toronto law office featuring Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who defended her participation as an MP, not as the justice minister.
Tickets to the 89 events on the Liberals' list ranged from $75 to as much as $1,525. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended more than a dozen. Thirty-one of the events were appreciation nights, such as the one Carr was at in Edmonton.
That Aug. 29 event is the only one Carr attended, according to the list. Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk, Manitoba's other MP at the cabinet table, did not attend any.
Federal lobbying commissioner Karen Shepherd is looking into the pay-for-access fundraisers, telling a House of Commons committee last week the events potentially create real or apparent conflicts of interest.
If a minister is in a conflict of interest it could be a breach of the Lobbying Act, she said.
Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said she is limited in what she can do, because Canada's ethics laws don't specifically prevent ministers from attending party-organized events.
After he took office, Trudeau set out new rules for accountability that state, "Ministers and parliamentary secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest."
Dawson said she has no authority to uphold those rules, which go beyond what is laid out in the Conflict of Interest Act.
The Conservatives have been going hard at the Liberals over the fundraisers. In question period Monday, B.C. MP Mark Strahl pointed out the law firm that hosted the Aug. 29 event specializes in the natural resources sector, Carr's portfolio. And less than a month after that event, the Edmonton firm announced a merger with Winnipeg's Aikins MacAulay and Thorvaldson, which has several lawyers registered as lobbyists who have targeted Carr's department.
"So once again, we have Liberal insiders hosting ministers at exclusive high-end fundraisers and then turning around and lobbying them," Strahl said. "The minister should have never attended this cash-for-access fundraiser. Why did the minister completely ignore the prime minister's rules and put himself in this blatant conflict of interest?"
Carr didn't respond. Instead it was House Leader Bardish Chagger, who said federal political fundraising rules "are some of the strongest in the country."
"When the rules are followed, no conflicts of interest can exist and we will continue to follow the rules," she said.
In the discussion about what kind of fundraisers he participates in, Carr said: "We will have affordable events where we will ask people to come and have a meal, have a cup of coffee."