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Justice minister says she attended Liberal fundraiser with lawyers as a regular MP

It’s the kind of question Canada’s best legal minds might spend hours debating: How important is it to stick to one’s own code of accountability?

Last night, Canada’s justice minister attended a private, invite-only reception for lawyers at the offices of prominent Bay Street law firm Torys LLP in Toronto. Guests paid $ 500 to mingle with Jody Wilson-Raybould.

As she left the event, the minister told a reporter, “All MPs are called upon to help raise the money for the Liberal Party to engage Canadians in the political process. I am here, as an MP, to do just that.”

Yet the MP turned up with the justice minister’s senior policy advisor, Jessica Prince. Wilson-Raybould’s office says Prince attended the event as a volunteer.

It’s a pretty safe bet that not one of the people at last night’s event shelled out 500 bucks to meet with the MP for Vancouver Granville. And it’s unlikely any of the guests from Toronto’s legal community spent the evening talking about potholes and mail delivery in British Columbia.

In fact, the invitation for the event mentioned Wilson-Raybould’s “extraordinary mandate, which includes an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, the legalization of marijuana and assisted-dying legislation.”

To be clear, the people who attended Thursday night’s event did nothing wrong. They were offered access to the justice minister because it was for sale.

But that kind of “pay to play” fundraising activity is not allowed under the Liberal government’s code for open and accountable government, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought in at the end of November.

In the mandate letters Trudeau gave each minister and parliamentary secretary, he made it clear he expected cabinet to read and adhere to the code.

Trudeau also encouraged the public to read the letters and the code. “The documents we are releasing today provide guidance on how we must go about our responsibilities as ministers, and I encourage Canadians to read them and to hold us accountable for delivering these commitments.”

CBC News tried to hold the office of Wilson-Raybould accountable but didn’t get very far. We repeatedly asked how the Liberal Party of Canada fundraiser with Toronto’s legal elite met the general principles and best practices of the code.

Trudeau’s code says ministers should ensure the solicitation of political contributions on their behalf does not target “departmental stakeholders.” The document defines a stakeholder as individuals who work for or represent corporations and organizations that have current or anticipated official dealings with the minister, their staff or the department.

The code instructs members of cabinet that there should be “no preferential access to government or appearance of preferential access” for those who donate to politicians and political parties.

CBC News asked Wilson-Raybould’s office how a private reception, not advertised to the public, where lawyers pay hundreds of dollars to meet the justice minister, adheres to those standards.

One email sent by CBC made this specific request: “Please don’t tell me I have to go to the Liberal Party of Canada to answer these questions as my questions focus specifically on the code, which applies to your minister and not the LPC.”

The response Friday was no different that one sent earlier this week: “You need to speak to the Liberal Party regarding fundraising activities.”

But the Liberal Party doesn’t have to adhere to the code. It has its own set of rules that, in this case, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has no issue with. That said, Dawson has made it clear to MPs in the past that she wants a “more stringent rule with respect to fundraising” by cabinet ministers. 

Trudeau’s code applies to ministers and it goes without saying that only ministers can respond to questions about their own adherence to the code.

Until then, Canadians can only wonder why a group of prominent Toronto lawyers were eager to shell out so much money to meet the MP for Vancouver Granville. 

CBC | Politics News