Liberals won’t elaborate on six-figure fundraiser
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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