Election act

The Liberals’ new campaign finance law will continue cash-for-access fundraisers

After facing months of criticism over holding closed-door fundraisers with deep-pocket donors, the Liberal government is finally moving to put rules around the events — although it won’t end the controversial practice.

Bill C-50, introduced by Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould on Wednesday, will require political parties to publicly advertise any fundraiser that features either the prime minister or someone in their cabinet, a party leader, or someone running to lead a party. The bill only applies to fundraisers that cost $200 or more to attend.

“It’s a bit of window dressing, frankly.”

The parties will also be required to submit the names of anyone who paid to attend the fundraiser.

This is a far cry from what many critics of the cash-for-access system were asking. Many have been calling for the fundraisers to be stopped altogether, as the Liberal government in Ontario has. Last year, thanks to a torrent of criticism, Queen’s Park banned all elected officials from attending cash-for-access fundraisers.

“It’s a bit of window dressing, frankly,” said NDP democratic reform critic Nathan Cullen, noting that the legislation will continue the practice.

“What is the point that you’re trying to address? Are you trying to eliminate cash-for-access, where there’s special access granted to donors, especially the more you pay, the more access and time you get seems to be the practice? Well, then you have to address that. This doesn’t do that.”

Both the Conservatives and the NDP have hammered the government over taking cash at the closed-door party functions, which often times were not widely advertised, especially as some of the event attendees stood to benefit — or lose out — based on decisions made by the federal government.

When VICE Canada looked through campaign finance data last year, we found that marijuana executives appeared to have donated more than $1,500 to attend a fundraiser with the prime minister in Vancouver, even as his government contemplated marijuana legalization legislation.

The Liberal caucus nearly unanimously voted against that report — despite having helped write it.

Bill C-50 makes no changes to third-party election spending, which has become a topic of particular interest since the last election, when a slew of third-party campaigns began launching attack ads at the Conservative Party. Third-party advertisers face few of the same rules as registered parties do, and are subject to virtually no rules in between elections.

It also does not touch how much parties can spend in between elections — currently, it is deregulated — despite the Liberals promising to do so in their election platform.

Coincidentally, C-50 was introduced the same day that a vote came to the floor of the House of Commons to adopt a committee report with recommendations on how to fulfill the Liberals’ campaign commitment to reform Canada’s voting system.

The Liberal caucus nearly unanimously voted against that report — despite having helped write it. Only two members of Parliament, Sean Casey and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, voted for the report. The Conservatives, NDP, Bloc Quebecois, and the lone Green all voted for the report.

Cover: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

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