Liberal Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the nation’s House of Commons Tuesday that he has attended lavish fundraisers for his family’s foundation to “create economic growth for the middle class.”
His defense of his participation in fundraisers thrown by the Pierre Trudeau Foundation – which he renounced his official position in upon becoming the leader of the Liberal Party – follows an admission that he allowed attendees to lobby him at these fundraisers, a clear violation of Liberal Party bylaws.
The metastasizing cash-for-access scandal follows a calamitous month for Canada’s Liberals in which, partly triggered by Trudeau’s effusive praise for dictator Fidel Castro, public approval of the Liberal Party dropped 9 percentage points.
Confronted by Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose in the House of Commons Tuesday, Trudeau insisted that his presence at Trudeau Foundation fundraisers was a ploy to defend middle class interests.
“No matter where I am or who I am talking to I always talk about the same thing: The fact that our priorities are to create economic growth for the middle class,” Trudeau said Tuesday, responding to a barbed question from Ambrose: “When did money become more important than the integrity of his office?” He insisted that, at these fundraisers, he discussed “increasing taxes for the 1 per cent of the wealthiest so we are able to reduce them for the middle class.”
Trudeau also denied involvement with the Trudeau Foundation, calling it “an independent foundation established in the memory of my father with which I ceased to have any engagement shortly after having become leader of the Liberal Party.” The Globe and Mail notes that “opposition MPs erupted in howls of laughter” at his denial.
Trudeau has attended multiple questionable Foundation and Liberal Party fundraisers. One of particular concern for opponents cost $1,500 an entry and was attended by a number of Chinese millionaires with ties to the Communist Party, who donated to the Trudeau Foundation shortly after partying with Trudeau himself. Trudeau later visited China, where he refused to criticize the nation’s abysmal human rights record, instead saying in Hong Kong that he had “talked about the fact that Canada is not immune to criticisms on human rights, either” with Chinese Communist leaders.
Trudeau has previously boasted of his ability to get Chinese business leaders to make deals in Canada. “We needed to renew and deepen the relationship between the people of Canada and people of China for the long term and I think it’s safe to say we have accomplished just that,” he said on the same Hong Kong trip where he compared China’s human rights record to Canada’s.
In addition to that fundraiser encounter, the National Post found highly suspicious donations to the Trudeau Foundation following Trudeau’s ascent to the head of the Liberal Party in 2013:
Donations went from $172,211 in the 2014 fiscal year to $731,753 in 2016 — a four-fold increase. From 2008 to 2013, the foundation had no foreign donations, but it has brought in a growing amount of foreign money in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Foreign donations jumped from $53,000 in the 2014 fiscal year to $535,000 in 2016 — a ten-fold increase.
The foundation attracted no foreign donations from 2008 to 2013, about $53,000 in 2014, $428,000 in 2015, and $535,000 in 2016.
Following the fundraiser revelation, Trudeau acknowledged on Monday that he has been lobbied at these fundraisers and engaged in unauthorized political discussions with donors. “Any time I meet anyone, you know, they will have questions for me or they will take the opportunity to talk to the prime minister about things that are important to them,” he explained. “And I can say that in various Liberal party events, I listen to people as I will in any given situation, but the decisions I take in government are ones based on what is right for Canadians and not on what an individual in a fundraiser might say.”
Liberal Party rules prohibit things. “Fundraising events are partisan functions where we do not discuss government business,” the bylaws state; “any individual who wishes to initiate a policy discussion is immediately directed to instead make an appointment with the relevant office.”
The scandal – in addition to Trudeau’s widely-criticized praise for the Cuban dictator, support for an arms deal with Saudi Arabia despite identifying as a “feminist,” and apparent flip-flop on marijuana use – have cut deeply into Canadian support for the Liberals. The Toronto Star cites a Forum Research poll released on December 10 that found 42 percent of respondents approve of the job the Liberals are doing, down from 51 percent in November. In comparison, Conservative leader Ambrose’s support increased six percentage points.
“I think the Trudeaumania, whatever you want to call it… that’s probably done now,” Forum president Lorne Bozinoff said of the poll.