Lib­er­als won’t elab­o­rate on six-fig­ure fundraiser

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The Lib­eral Party of Canada is re­fus­ing to re­lease de­tails of a fundraiser held by MP Raj Gre­wal that amassed hun­dreds of thousands of dol­lars at a time Gre­wal was strug­gling with mil­lions in gam­bling debts.With tick­ets priced at $500 per per­son, Gre­wal said the event for the Bramp­ton East Lib­eral rid­ing as­so­ci­a­tion last April at­tracted 1,200 peo­ple, an un­usu­ally large crowd for a lo­cal fundraiser that fea­tured no party lu­mi­nar­ies.The po­ten­tial take of up to $600,000 — less costs and non-pay­ing guests — would have far ex­ceeded the rid­ing’s spend­ing limit of $100,000 for a min­i­mum 37day elec­tion cam­paign.By con­trast, most of the fundrais­ers in­cluded on a Lib­eral trans­parency web­site list fewer than 100 guests, even when Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau or a se­nior cabi­net min­is­ter spoke to the au­di­ence.Op­po­si­tion crit­ics have high­lighted the event as one of sev­eral out­stand­ing ques­tion marks over the Gre­wal af­fair, the NDP sug­gest­ing the pro­ceeds “could have run the next elec­tion many times over.”“For a govern­ment that said it would be trans­par­ent by de­fault, this is prov­ing that not to be true,” said New Demo­crat MP Nathan Cullen.Gre­wal left the Lib­eral cau­cus in Novem­ber af­ter re­veal­ing he had ac­cu­mu­lated huge debts to feed a run­away casino-bet­ting prob­lem, with sources and other me­dia re­ports in­di­cat­ing he is un­der RCMP in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The MP says money he re­ceived from uniden­ti­fied friends and fam­ily have en­abled him to re­pay those debts, and that he re­ceived none of the fundraiser rev­enue.It re­mains un­clear, how­ever, ex­actly how much the April event gen­er­ated, who do­nated or how the money is be­ing used.Brae­den Ca­ley, a spokesman for the fed­eral party’s na­tional head­quar­ters, did not re­spond to ques­tions about the amount of money brought in, though he noted fundrais­ers of­ten have sub­stan­tial costs and many non-pay­ing guests.“It is rou­tine in all par­ties for well-or­ga­nized lo­cal (rid­ing as­so­ci­a­tions) to raise grass­roots funds not just for the elec­tion writ pe­riod it­self, but also to be able to en­gage their com­mu­ni­ties and build their cam­paigns long in ad­vance of an elec­tion,” Ca­ley said.While the Lib­er­als have adopted a fundrais­ing trans­parency ini­tia­tive that is a first among the ma­jor fed­eral par­ties, it sees them pub­lish de­tails of fundrais­ers only where a mem­ber of cabi­net or the prime min­is­ter at­tended. Ca­ley said the Lib­er­als would not re­lease the names of those who bought tick­ets for the Bramp­ton East fundraiser, not­ing that guests were not in­formed in ad­vance their names would be made pub­lic.Though par­ties must re­port all do­na­tions over $20 to Elec­tions Canada, along with the donor’s name, the dead­line for sub­mit­ting 2018 data is not un­til the end of March, with the agency post­ing the in­for­ma­tion on­line af­ter that.Through lawyer Richard An, act­ing as his spokesman, Gre­wal said the event was typ­i­cal of the fundrais­ers that rid­ing as­so­ci­a­tions across the coun­try hold rou­tinely.It was Bramp­ton East’s first such gath­er­ing since the 2015 elec­tion, while most rid­ings con­duct them an­nu­ally, said An. The MP re­calls that $190,000 was col­lected that night — but that $500 do­na­tions would have been re­ceived both be­fore and after­ward, the lawyer said.And some of the guests would not have paid, he said, not­ing that free in­vi­ta­tions were is­sued to 26 lo­cal se­niors clubs.When con­tacted by the Na­tional Post, the lo­cal rid­ing as­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent, Ajit­pal Wirach, re­fused to dis­cuss the mat­ter.The most Cullen said he’s ever heard of any rid­ing as­so­ci­a­tion rais­ing at such an event is $100,000, and in ru­ral con­stituen­cies like his in B.C., $15,000 is con­sid­ered a good take. Peter Kent, the Con­ser­va­tives’ ethics critic, said even his as­so­ci­a­tion’s “big ticket” fundrais­ers bring in five-fig­ure amounts.“That seems like just an eye-pop­ping fig­ure,” said Cullen, who ar­gued it is un­likely un­der elec­tion spend­ing rules that the rid­ing would be able to spend the bulk of the money raised dur­ing the next cam­paign. “It stinks, the whole thing stinks.”Cullen said the party’s ret­i­cence about the event means “the ques­tions will just keep com­ing.” And he said he was “stunned” when the Com­mis­sioner of Canada Elec­tions — whose role is to ex­am­ine com­plaints about the elec­toral progress — turned down his re­quest to in­ves­ti­gate, telling him there was no ev­i­dence an of­fence might have been com­mit­ted.It’s pos­si­ble the po­lice will get to the bot­tom of what hap­pened to the cash but “we won’t hear for a while, if ever in de­tail,” pre­dicted Kent. Asked about Gre­wal, the RCMP have re­peat­edly told the Post they do not com­ment on whether or not they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing any given in­di­vid­ual or or­ga­ni­za­tion.Rid­ing ex­pense lim­its are partly based on the length of the cam­paign. Bramp­ton East can­di­dates were al­lowed to spend just over $200,000 in 2015 for one of the long­est elec­tion pe­ri­ods in Cana­dian his­tory, but the cap for a min­i­mum, 37day cam­paign is only about $100,000.Re­gard­less, the rid­ing as­so­ci­a­tion would de­cide how to spend the fundraiser pro­ceeds, said An.“No cheques were ever writ­ten from the rid­ing as­so­ci­a­tion to Mr. Gre­wal per­son­ally,” he said.In a Face­book post pub­lished Fri­day evening, Gre­wal an­nounced he would not re­sign as MP for Bramp­ton East af­ter all. Though he had an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion in Novem­ber af­ter news broke about his debts, Gre­wal soon there­after said that state­ment was “ill-ad­vised” and that he would make a de­ci­sion on his fu­ture in the new year. In Fri­day’s post, he said he had “re­ceived treat­ment,” and that it the last sev­eral months had “been a pe­riod of im­mense per­sonal growth.”“I am look­ing for­ward to re­turn­ing to work re­freshed, re­newed and re-en­er­gized,” the post said.Gre­wal did not at­tend ques­tion pe­riod when the House of Com­mons re­turned Mon­day.

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