Liberals to introduce bill reforming cash-for-access fundraisers

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Liberal MP Karina Gould responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The federal Liberals are set to introduce a long-awaited bill on Wednesday that addresses transparency in political financing, but the NDP is still pushing the government to reignite its abandoned electoral reform pledge.

In the wake of the cash-for-access controversy, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould was asked to “significantly enhance transparency” in the political fundraising system for cabinet ministers, party leaders and leadership candidates.

The Liberal Party has already changed the rules around its fundraising events, promising to hold them only in public spaces and launching a new website that posts events in advance as well as a guest list after the fact. The party didn’t end the practice of paid fundraisers featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or his cabinet, but rather stopped the secrecy surrounding them, allowing anybody who buys a ticket to attend.

A series of revelations in The Globe and Mail last fall found that Mr. Trudeau and senior ministers were raising millions of dollars at private fundraisers with tickets as high as $1,500, giving donors access to cabinet away from public view.

Ms. Gould has previously said she would introduce legislation this spring that applies to all parties.

“We believe that Canadians have a right to know even more than they do now about political fundraising,” she said during a committee meeting on Feb. 7.

The bill comes as the Liberals face renewed pressure to revisit their broken election promise to change the first-past-the-post voting system. Mr. Trudeau said in February the government would not proceed with the pledge because there was no consensus among parties on a new electoral system. The NDP wanted a proportional representation system, while the Conservatives were pushing for a referendum on the issue, which the government labelled as “divisive.”

NDP MP Nathan Cullen introduced a motion on Tuesday that would essentially force all MPs to vote on proposals from the special committee on electoral reform, which recommended the government come up with an unspecified proportional voting system and hold a referendum on whether to change the current voting system.

Mr. Cullen, who recently travelled to 20 cities over the past six weeks on his “Keep Your Promise” tour, said his party has been bolstered by the prospect of a minority NDP government in British Columbia, which also advocates for a system of proportional representation.

He said the Liberals are using their fundraising legislation to distract from the fact they abandoned their pledge.

“Of all their promises around democracy or voting, the elephant in the room is changing the voting system, not whether you put online who bought access to your government,” Mr. Cullen said.

“There’s damage done in terms of their credibility and trust.”

Ms. Gould signalled in Question Period on Tuesday the Liberals would not be supporting Mr. Cullen’s motion, to be voted upon on Wednesday.

“I would like to thank the members of the committee on electoral reform for their excellent work and for the excellent recommendations that they put forward,” Ms. Gould said in the Commons.

“I am also looking forward to working with members in this place to move forward on political financing, to move forward on cybersecurity, and on many ways that we can improve, strengthen and protect our democracy.”

The Liberal Party platform also pledged to review the limits on how much money political parties can spend both during and in between elections, although it is not known if those measures will be included in the bill.

Meanwhile, Conservative Senator Linda Frum on Tuesday introduced a bill that would make it illegal for Canadian third-party groups to receive donations from foreign entities for the purposes of election-related activities.

“Nothing less than the sovereignty of our elections is at stake,” Ms. Frum said.

Third parties, such as left-wing group Leadnow, are currently allowed to accept unlimited donations from foreign sources, as long as the money is donated outside of the six-month period before the writ is dropped and isn’t spent on election advertising.