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Lobbying Commissioner investigating Democracy Watch complaint about August 2014 fundraising event organized by Clearwater Seafoods shareholder and board member for Justin Trudeau and Liberals

“It’s a small price to pay right now for the long term benefits that we’ll receive” said event organizer on day of event

People who assist parties, candidates or politicians with fundraising or campaigning are prohibited from lobbying them or their staff for 5 years, and so should their companies – Clearwater is now registered to lobby Prime Minister Trudeau’s office

Lobbying Commissioner should recuse herself from ruling on complaint because she received 6-month contract from Liberal Cabinet in December

Federal political parties should change political finance system to stop big money’s unethical influence by matching Quebec’s $100 annual donation limit and other world-leading measures

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it received from the federal Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd confirming her office is investigating the complaint Democracy Watch filed on March 1, 2017. The complaint raised questions about an August 25, 2014 fundraising event for the Liberal Party of Canada hosted by Clearwater Seafoods co-founder and board member (and, according to media reports, possible major shareholder) Mickey MacDonald at his home and attended by Justin Trudeau.

According to an article in the Globe and Mail, a ticket for the event cost $1,000 and 75 to 80 people attended (the Chronicle Herald reported the ticket price as $1,200). In a piece on CTV Halifax news on the day of the event Mr. MacDonald is quoted as saying about the event that “It’s a small price to pay right now for the long term benefits that we’ll receive.”

Democracy Watch called on Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd to recuse herself from ruling on issues concerning the Liberal Cabinet because the Cabinet gave her the gift of six-month contract in mid-December worth about $90,000.

According to an article in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Mickey MacDonald was a major shareholder of Clearwater as of April 2013. According to that article and a February 2011 Globe and Mail article containing several statements from Mr. MacDonald, he was a co-founder of Clearwater along with his brother Colin (who is currently chairman of Clearwater) and John Risley who is also a board member. According to Clearwater’s website, Mr. MacDonald is a member of the company’s board of directors.

At the time of the event, Clearwater was not registered to lobby the federal government. In May 2015, according to the Registry of Lobbyists (which, due to loopholes in the Lobbying Act, does not include all lobbying activities), Clearwater hired consultant lobbyists Phil von Finckenstein and Gordon Quaiatinni of Maple Leaf Strategies to lobby several federal government institutions including the Prime Minister’s Office, and their registrations continue until today. In May 2016, another Maple Leaf Strategies consultant lobbyists registered to lobby the Prime Minister’s Office on behalf of Clearwater, Kellie Major.

“Federal lobbying ethics rules and the Lobbying Commissioner say it is illegal for anyone to help a party, candidate or politician with fundraising or campaigning and then be involved in lobbying them any time within the next five years because of the apparent conflict of interest their help creates for the politician,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The question for the Lobbying Commissioner to consider is whether Mr. MacDonald’s fundraising event attended by Justin Trudeau in August 2014 that raised tens of thousands of dollars for the federal Liberal Party created an apparent conflict of interest that means Clearwater Seafoods is prohibited from lobbying the Prime Minister’s Office until 2019.”

“Democracy Watch’s position is a person directly associated with a company or other organization who helps raise money for a politician who then becomes Prime Minister creates an apparent conflict of interest that violates the ethics rules and means the company can’t lobby the federal government at all, given that the Prime Minister appoints all Cabinet ministers and takes part in all Cabinet decisions,” said Conacher.

“If the Lobbying Commissioner decides that someone directly associated with company who is not registered as a lobbyist can raise money for a political party or politician without violating lobbyist ethics rules, it will create a huge that many companies will likely exploit,” said Conacher.

The Lobbying Commissioner office confirmed in a letter dated October 25, 2016 that it is investigating Democracy Watch’s complaint about the situation revealed in an October 25th Globe and Mail article involving Barry Sherman, the chairman of generic drug manufacturer Apotex Inc., assisting with selling tickets for a $500-per-ticket fundraising event to be held in Toronto on November 7, 2016 featuring Finance Minister Bill Morneau while Apotex is registered to lobby, and is lobbying, Finance Canada.

The Lobbying Commissioner office also confirmed in a letter dated November 18, 2016 that it is investigating Democracy Watch’s complaint about about an August 26, 2015 fundraising event for the Liberal Party of Canada hosted by Apotex Inc. chairman Barry Sherman at his home and attended by Justin Trudeau and then-candidate, now-Liberal MP Michael Levitt.

Because of loopholes in the federal Lobbying Act, and weak enforcement, there are likely many people lobbying who are not registered and who are therefore not covered by the Lobbyists’ Code rules. Even people caught violating the Code face no penalty. A May 2012 House Committee report recommended closing some of the loopholes and giving the Lobbying Commissioner the power to impose penalties on violators.

“Federal parties need to work together to close the loopholes in the lobbying law that allow for secret, unethical lobbying, and to strengthen enforcement and ensure that every lobbyist who violates the rules is penalized with a high fine,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch also called on federal political parties to stop the unethical influence of big money in federal politics by making the same world-leading changes to the federal political donation system as Quebec made in 2013 when it lowered its individual donation limit to $100 annually to each party, with an additional $100 allowed to be donated to an independent candidate, and required donations to be verified by Elections Quebec before being transferred to parties and candidates.

Democracy Watch detailed in a January 27th news release how much the federal Liberal’s proposal to make some cash-for-access events more transparent is a charade that won’t stop cash for access or the unethical influence of big money donations, and what changes are actually needed to stop these undemocratic activities.

“The only way to stop the unethical and undemocratic influence of big money in federal politics is to stop big money donations,” said Conacher. “Any political party that refuses to support key changes to the federal political finance system changes is essentially admitting they are up for sale and that they approve of the unethical and undemocratic best-government-money-can-buy approach to politics.”

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
[email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Money in Politics Campaign