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Unpacking the politics: The ‘cash-for-access’ affair

Click to play video 'Unpacking the politics of cash-for-access fundraisers' Unpacking the politics of cash-for-access fundraisers
WATCH: Globe and Mail’s Steven Chase and author and columnist Susan Delacourt join Tom Clark to discuss the $1500-dinner fundraisers that continues to dog the government. – Dec 18, 2016

If polls are anything to go by – and sometimes they’re not – the Justin Trudeau government is hurting as a result of the so-called “cash-for-access” affair.

Over the past three months, the number of Canadians who say they approve of the job Trudeau is doing as prime minister has dropped 10 points, according to a recent Angus Reid poll. Yes, his 55 per cent approval rating is still quite high, but it’s the lowest Trudeau has earned since winning the election in October 2015.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau says he has no problem answering questions from ethics watchdog

One issue in particular has been plaguing Trudeau and the Liberals. There’s nothing illegal about the fundraising events where high-ranking Liberal, including the prime minister and cabinet ministers, are often present. But if the numbers are any indication, it’s hurting them.

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WATCH: Justin Trudeau evades question about cash-for-access at fundraisers

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PM Justin Trudeau evades question about cash-for-access at fundraisers – Dec 15, 2016

Still, the practice seems to continue.

“I think one of the reasons why they’ve allowed it to go this far is it’s a very efficient way to raise money,” said Steven Chase, a reporter with the Globe and Mail who has written extensively on the matter.

“It’s a lot easier to get people in clumps of $1,500 than it is to ask them for $10 or $20 repeatedly.”

READ MORE: Opposition parties eagerly await 2017, while Liberals brace for choppy waters

When the matter started making waves, Trudeau said neither he nor any cabinet ministers at these events were lobbied.

But then the prime minister changed his tune, telling Canadians that yes, guests discuss state affairs with him during the fundraisers.

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WATCH: Ambrose accuses Trudeau of cash-for-access; Trudeau says Liberals follow the rules

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Ambrose accuses Trudeau of cash-for-access; Trudeau says Liberals follow the rules – Dec 8, 2016

Trudeau’s part in this practice dates back to when he was running for the leadership of his party during parts of 2012 and 2013, said political author and veteran journalist Susan Delacourt.

READ MORE: Tories call for investigation into Liberal cash-for-access fundraisers

“Most of that was assuring elites and business people against the narrative that the Conservatives were drawing about him was that he was just not ready,” she said Sunday. “Some of that in the early days was a persuasion effort to show serious people with serious money that he was a serious person.”

The fact of the matter is, though, Trudeau is now prime minister and some of the influential people forking over cash might expect something in return.

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READ MORE: Liberals detail measures to ensure no preferential access at fundraisers

“I think if you had a situation where Mr. Trudeau had dinners with people and there was no money changing hands, it certainly wouldn’t be … any kind of quid pro quo expected,” Chase said. “What we’ve seen is the Liberals keep talking about ‘This is just $1,500.’ But we see what they do is, we have these events where people pool their money, $80,000 to $120,000, and then the prime minister comes.”

Asked whether the Liberals should put a stop to the high-expense fundraisers, Delacourt said yes.

Doing so, Chase said, would change the narrative.

“You would no longer have a situation where they were seen as having these exclusive affairs where they bring people together and can bend the prime minister’s ear after having written a cheque to him.”