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Ujjal Dosanjh

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Trudeau must ban cash for access fundraisers!

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Prime Minster Trudeau's Sunnyways was a perfect albeit temporary antidote to the disconnectedness and the vitiated mood of Canadians in the last few years of Harper government. After enjoying a rather longish post election honeymoon Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is beginning to hit some potholes in its journey. It was inevitable; the government having to make some hard decisions, Sunnyways could only take it so far.

The government has made the tough call on the pipelines. That file is not going to be an easy one to deal with. Already some individuals and groups are threatening to go to the barricades to prevent Kinder Morgan from being expanded. After the original triumph in Paris the government had appeared to be not as robust on the environmental file. But it has now negotiated a deal with the provinces and territories regarding the mechanisms and the extent of price on carbon. And despite Brad Wall of Saskatchewan remaining a holdout, it is a singularly impressive achievement.

Discussions are also underway on healthcare funding which are threatening to be complex and difficult. The major stumbling block would be the amount of federal funding for healthcare and the conditions that may or may not attach to its flow to the provinces. Quebec is the usual hold out for no strings attached to the federal money. In the past it could always expect support from the late Alberta premier Ralph Klein and his PC successors. But the NDP's Rachel Notley's gratitude for the federal go ahead for Kinder Morgan expansion may dim Quebec's chances of receiving stringless healthcare funds from the Feds. But the federalist forces aren't as strong as they were in the Trudeau elder's time. At least in my time around the federal cabinet table I found soft federalism around it--and I didn't find much strong federalism--rather close to soft separatism in not insisting on exercising the federal role that accrued to Ottawa as a result of its spending power including spending on health.

On electoral reform, if minister Monsef and to a lesser degree the government had any credibility left, the distribution of 15 million mailers to Canadians for the online survey was the final nail in the coffin of its credibility. The government and the Minister are now well on their way to becoming a laughing stock on electoral reform. It pains me to admit it but Rona Ambrose's suggestion to "park" the electoral reform may be a heavenly lifeline to a government and a minister clearly in trouble.

But none of the above is as menacing to Trudeau's reputation as his continuing insistence that the "cash for access" fundraisers are no problem: They are not illegal; no rules are violated; that Harper Tories in government used to do the same; because it is silly to believe one can buy government influence for$1500.

It all began back in April of this year with that $500 per person, by invitation only, private fundraiser at a Toronto law firm headlined by the Minister of Justice Jody Raybould-Wilson, one of Trudeau's better cabinet picks. I publicly urged her to cancel the fundraiser. Unfortunately she didn't. Now the government finds itself in an ever deepening ethical quagmire. It has become tone deaf. It happens to many governments. But Trudeau had shown promise by issuing Open and Accountable Government guidelines to his ministers to ensure no one received special access to them in return for political donations. Now that promise feels like a distant memory. The government insists Trudeau and his ministers headlining private $1500 per head fundraisers raise no ethical questions.

This may have been done with impunity by governments in the past. I was once a part of federal and provincial cabinets. I too was guilty of it. But times change and so do people's values, hopes and expectations. And in this case Trudeau government is out of step with the Canadians. The chasm between the people's expectations and Trudeau government's continuing insistence on the propriety of its "cash for access" may be part of reason for the decline in its polling numbers; in the latest polls its support has plummeted by at least 10 points. So far the government has blithely dismissed all criticism of its cash for access practice. But it may find it difficult to ignore a 10 point slide in its support across the country.

No matter how bright and sunny, no amount of the Sunnyways can erase the government's ethical deficit caused by the infamous cash for access blunders. It must abandon and ban "cash for access"; there is no shame in doing the ethical thing: it is better late than never.



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