RM Issue #030829
Bankers pay for Liberal soiree Caucus retreat event
Andrew McIntosh National Post Tuesday, August 26, 2003
OTTAWA - Members of the Liberal government attending their annual summer caucus retreat last week were treated to an open bar and platters of food during a private party paid for by the Canadian Bankers Association.
The CBA, the financial services industry group that has been lobbying Liberal MPs to approve bank mergers, rented the restaurant in the Clarion Pinewood Park Resort Hotel in North Bay for an evening bash last Tuesday.
More than 200 people attended, including Liberal ministers and MPs, their staffers and some reporters. They sipped drinks, ate food and mingled with CBA president Ray Protti, the former head of Canada's civilian spy agency.
Neither Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, nor Paul Martin, the Quebec MP widely expected to succeed him this fall, attended the event, sources said.
"It was a reception for the governing party," said CBA spokeswoman Caroline Hubberstey, confirming her banking group -- the country's oldest and most powerful industry association -- threw the party and picked up the tab.
"We offered this event and it was accepted. It provides an opportunity for us to develop better relationships and also to thank the people who work with us on a regular basis," she said.
Several executives from chartered banks attended, she said.
The caucus retreat was organized by national caucus chairman Stan Keyes, an Ontario Liberal MP. Mr. Keyes did not return phone calls yesterday.
Ms. Hubberstey declined to reveal the party's cost: "We're a private association and we do not publicly report our budget or spending."
Based on information gathered by the National Post about the cost of the room, the food and the quantity of beer, wine and other spirits consumed, the estimated cost of the event would have been well into the thousands of dollars.
Ms. Hubberstey did say the CBA has paid for such parties for the Liberal caucus meetings during each of the past four years.
It has not done so for any of the four opposition parties -- the Tories, NDP, Bloc and Canadian Alliance -- during their caucus retreats, she said.
The government's new political finance legislation, Bill C-24, bans donations from corporations and unions to political parties and restricts corporate donations to MPs' riding associations to $1,000. It says nothing about hosting receptions for political parties.
Opposition MPs and ethics critics say the optics of such generosity are not good.
"It seems rather strange that the Liberals cannot differentiate between accepting the hospitality of bankers and deciding on bank mergers. The ethics and the optics of accepting the hospitality are all wrong," John Williams, an Alberta Canadian Alliance MP, said.
Duff Connacher, a director at Ottawa-based Democracy Watch, said the federal Ethics Counsellor should force the Liberals to disclose the value of the hospitality.
"It's a lobbying technique that definitely raises questions about the ethics rules. The fact that the CBA was allowed to have this kind of access to Liberal ministers shows that they are prepared to sell out at a low price," he said.
"Ministers who attended the event are clearly out of touch with the ethical standards Canadians expect them to follow these days."
Some other Canadian industry groups occasionally have suites at political meetings in which they entertain select MPs and staffers, but not entire caucus groups.
Howard Wilson, the Ethics Counsellor, declined to comment on whether it was appropriate for the Liberal caucus as a whole to accept a party from a banking industry group. "My orbit extends to ministers and public office holders. The rules do not prohibit them as individuals from accepting this kind of hospitality," he said.
Asked about the ethics of a governing party accepting a private party from bankers, Mr. Wilson laughed and said: "I really don't have a comment on it."