Nova Scotia NDP raises questions over $750 fee to join Liberal fundraising club

Nova Scotia NDP leader Gary Burrill during a campaign stop at a Tim Hortons in Halifax on Friday, May 5, 2017.
Nova Scotia NDP leader Gary Burrill during a campaign stop at a Tim Hortons in Halifax on Friday, May 5, 2017. Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil bristled Thursday under NDP questioning about a Liberal fundraising club that will hold an event this weekend at the governing party’s annual general meeting.

During the legislature’s question period, NDP Leader Gary Burrill asked McNeil whether paying the $750 yearly fee to attend the Angus L. Club amounts to cash for access.

Burrill said the Liberals should be aware that questions have surrounded federal Liberal fundraisers and that perhaps changes should be made to avoid any potential appearance of gaining influence at “exclusive events.”

McNeil told the legislature there was no danger of that happening in Nova Scotia because of strict rules around political donations.

“I don’t know anybody in this house who is willing to sell their dignity for 750 bucks,” the premier shot back.

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The premier was again asked whether the club amounted to cash for access.

“No, it’s a way for people to be able to support the party,” he said. “We have some of the strictest rules in the country when it comes to the amount of fundraising you can do. People just use whichever forum they want to make a contribution to the party.”

Burrill said setting any dollar amount to attend a political fundraiser is wrong and he believes the Liberals should at the very least release a list of donors who attend.

“Something’s wrong here when those who can’t afford to attend high-priced events aren’t given the same access to talk to their leaders that those who can afford that are given and I think we are in that situation in Nova Scotia.”

WATCH: Unpacking the politics of cash-for-access fundraisers

Click to play video 'Unpacking the politics of cash-for-access fundraisers' Unpacking the politics of cash-for-access fundraisers
Unpacking the politics of cash-for-access fundraisers – Dec 18, 2016

Burrill added that he was questioning “the adequacy of the system that the Liberal Party operates under.”

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The party’s website says memberships in the Angus L. Club can be bought for $750 a year or $60 a month. Benefits include invitations to events across the province and “hearing from leading voices on our Liberal team,” as well as meeting a “strong network of business and community leaders.”

The Progressive Conservatives also have various ways to donate, with the most significant being the Leader’s Circle. Those who pledge $100 a month are offered exclusive event invitations and other enticements.

The NDP has no such clubs.

In Nova Scotia, individuals can contribute a maximum of $5,000 annually to each registered party, its candidates or its electoral district associations.

Corporations, partnerships and trade unions are not allowed to make contributions.