Canadians divided on cash for access fundraisers

Managing Principal
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This article first appeared in the Toronto Sun on 20170311.

Cold comfort is the best the federal Liberals could take from polling numbers that suggest cash for access fundraisers are okay in the eyes of Canadians.

Forum’s findings indicate the biggest group of Canadians (41%) think it’s okay for cabinet ministers to attend as special guest fundraisers for their own political party, while a smaller group (36%) disagrees with the practice.

The results suggest a few things about Canadians’ perspective on the issue. First, while the Trudeau government’s approval ratings have begun to slip as their track record in power grows, they still enjoy decent support across the country. Canadians seem willing to view the fundraising issue through the lens of their perspective on the party’s performance. By contrast, the reaction of Ontarians towards the Wynne government’s similar fundraising methods have been much more negative.

The federal Liberals would be making a mistake to think they are okay on this.

The Liberals have tinkered with the rules around cash-for-access fundraisers, but they haven’t addressed the issue in a substantive manner. They certainly haven’t addressed the issue against the standard their own leader Justin Trudeau established for the party, when he told every minister in their mandate letters that ‘there should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.’

The trend line around greater transparency and ethical standards is moving in one direction — up. Governments of all levels are more accountable and transparent in how they fundraise today than they were 20 years ago and they will be more accountable and transparent 20 years from today.

This issue does reflect some of the internal identity crisis the federal Liberals face. On one hand, the party attempts to project an image of being thoroughly modern and committed to innovation and better ways of operating. On the other hand, the party that vowed to reform our electoral system and bring a higher standard to government ethics, seems quite willing to hold on to the old parts of the system that serve them well.

Not to be overlooked in the Forum poll are the 24% who are undecided. I would expect their minds will be made up as they judge how well the Trudeau government continues to deliver on their behalf through the second half of its mandate.

Mike Van Soelen, Managing Principal at Navigator Ltd., is a public affairs specialist who has worked for conservative governments in Ontario and Ottawa.

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