Secrecy Surrounds Watchdog’s Review of Trudeau’s Fundraisers

Office cites legislation that bars comments on investigations.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 13 Feb 2017 |

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

Two months after Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said she would “follow up” with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on concerns about Liberal fundraising dinners, little is being divulged about progress on the matter.

After a series of stories in The Tyee and other media about Trudeau’s so-called cash for access fundraisers and a formal complaint from Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, Dawson said Dec. 13 that she would be looking into the matter and questioning Trudeau.

But the commissioner’s office says it can’t reveal whether Dawson and Trudeau have communicated or provide any information on the questioning.

In a letter to Ambrose responding to her complaint, Dawson said there wasn’t enough information to launch a full investigation but she would be speaking to Trudeau.

“Your letter and media articles leave me with concerns in relation to Mr. Trudeau’s interactions with individuals involved with the canola export agreement, Wealth One Bank, and Anbang Insurance group,” wrote Dawson. “Consequently, I will follow up with Mr. Trudeau regarding his involvement with the fundraising events and with the three above-noted matters.”

But the commissioner’s office refused to say if Dawson had met Trudeau, citing confidentiality requirements in the legislation establishing the office. The commissioner is barred from most public comments during investigations, beyond confirming an inquiry has started or ended and any findings.

The Liberals did not answer questions from The Tyee asking if Trudeau had met with Dawson, instead sending an emailed statement that did not address the questions.

Spokeswoman Jocelyne Brisebois said Dawson’s office would only confirm or deny if such a meeting has taken place if another source said it had. In December, Brisebois told reporters she didn’t know when the meeting would happen.

Concern over Trudeau’s fundraising dinners peaked in December after The Tyee published details of the prime minister’s $1,500-per-plate dinner at the home of Toronto businessman Benson Wong.

The May 19 dinner was attended by prominent members of the Chinese community and officials of the Chinese government.

A similar dinner was held in Vancouver in November at the home of developer Miaofei Pan.

Dawson has also launched an investigation into Trudeau’s Christmas vacation at a private island in the Bahamas owned by the Aga Khan. The story was broken by the National Post’s David Akin.

On Tuesday in question period, NDP leader Tom Mulcair asked Trudeau if he had met the commissioner to discuss the Aga Khan trip.

Trudeau dodged the question. “Mr. Speaker, as I have said many times, this was a personal family vacation. I am working with the ethics commissioner to respond to any of her questions, and I look forward to continuing to engage with her as questions arise,” he replied.

Dawson initially said she would not seek meetings with Liberal MPs over the cash for access issue. She decided on the review after Trudeau admitted he was being lobbied at some of the private dinners. The party at first said participants weren’t allowed to lobby the prime minister and cabinet ministers at the lucrative events, but that was contradicted by participants.

Trudeau, after acknowledging the lobbying, insisted it had no effect on his decision-making.

At the end of January the Liberals announced planned changes to provide more information to the public on the fundraising events, including requiring locations to be publicly announced and the events to be open to reporters.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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