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This article was published 9/4/2016 (1417 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said in 2014 it was "inappropriate" for cabinet ministers to attend fundraisers soliciting donations from people with whom they or their department conduct business.
She made the ruling after an investigation into a fundraiser held for Shelly Glover, the former heritage minister who hails from Manitoba.
However, last week Dawson gave the green light to a similar fundraiser hosted by the Liberals with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.
The difference has an ethics watchdog and the Conservatives demanding Dawson explain why it appears she is applying conflict of interest laws inconsistently.
"It needs clarification," said Manitoba MP and former Conservative cabinet minister Candice Bergen. "The Liberals are having a different standard applied to them."
The fuss kicked up this week after it was made public Wilson-Raybould was to attend an invitation-only $500-a-ticket fundraiser at a Toronto law firm April 7. The Liberals said they cleared the event with Dawson ahead of time — although they only asked for her opinion after the media started asking questions.
Dawson’s office would not disclose what the commissioner told Wilson-Raybould and the Liberals about the event, except to say, "based on the information available, there does not appear to have been a contravention of the Conflict of Interest Act."
However, Dawson said 17 months ago while Glover hadn’t violated the law because there was no evidence she knew about the specifics of the event in advance, a January 2014 fundraiser to raise money for Glover’s riding association from members of Winnipeg’s arts communities was out of line.
"Although she did not contravene the act, I believe it is inappropriate for stakeholders of Mrs. Glover’s department to be invited to make donations in order to attend a fundraiser at which the minister was also present," Dawson said in the news release accompanying her report.
Dawson’s spokeswoman however said the act only prohibits fundraising by ministers if they personally solicit funds from people if it would place the minister in a conflict of interest.
The attendees at the Glover fundraiser were members of Winnipeg’s arts community, and many had ongoing dealings with Glover’s office. The attendees at the Wilson-Raybould event this week were lawyers. The Liberals wouldn’t reveal who was invited.
In 2014, Glover said she did not know who would be in attendance until she arrived at the fundraiser and once she found out what was happening, she had all the donations returned.
Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher said he feels Dawson makes very narrow interpretations of the law. He said there is a conflict of interest even in having a minister shopped around as incentive for someone to donate to the Liberal party, whether or not the solicitation for funds was made by the minister.
Conacher also said the event violates Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s own accountability code for ministers that prohibits them from soliciting funds from stakeholders in their departments and warns against even the appearance of a conflict of interest.