Liberal MPs call on Tories to cancel $250-a-head 'business of healthcare' fundraiser
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer walks to a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Sunday, April 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
OTTAWA – Liberal MPs have penned a letter to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer imploring him to cancel a Greater Toronto Area candidate's $250-a-ticket fundraising event billed as a discussion of "the business of healthcare."
The Liberals say they're concerned about the framing of the event, but also say it's "quite clearly an attempt to sell access to power," in the letter obtained by CTV News.
The event, scheduled in North York, Ont. next week, includes the tagline: "healthcare reimagined, it’s time for change." Based on the wording of the event website it appears geared towards people who work in the health-care field.
The fundraiser is being hosted by the Conservative candidate for Don Valley West, Ont. Yvonne Robertson, and was initially described as a policy forum and cocktail reception with Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre, or "our next finance minister" as the event describes, and Marilyn Gladu, "our next health minister."
However, the reference to the two MPs as potential future ministers was removed after CTV News approached Robertson's campaign for comment.
"There is only one person that decides cabinet, and that’s the Prime Minister of Canada. As an opposition party, we have Shadow Ministers, not a cabinet, and referencing them as anything else is not representative of their actual position. That has been changed," Robertson's campaign said in an email.
The letter to Scheer—sent before the event webpage was amended—said that it’s "alarming" that the party is promoting attendees' ability to be able to bend the ears of Poilievre and Gladu, who are described as future ministers.
"That was one of the least offensive parts," Rob Oliphant, the Liberal MP who currently represents the riding, told CTV News after learning that the event description had been amended. He said regardless, the event is still troubling and should be cancelled. "It's still cash for access," Oliphant said, because it is inviting people to donate to the Conservative Party to be able to help shape their policy.
He was one of the seven MPs—who all are either doctors, or represent GTA ridings—who signed the letter.
The event also lists deputy Conservative Party leader Lisa Raitt, MP Peter Kent, and senators Linda Frum and Nicole Eaton, as well as others who will be there to hear ideas about improving the Canadian health-care system related to small businesses and modernizing the Canada Health Act.
"Let us know how the current healthcare system affects your practice and which policy changes you think would have the greatest positive impact on you and your patients," the event page reads.
Nowhere in the event listing is privatizing health care stated, though the Liberals are calling on Scheer to "prove you support public health care, by immediately cancelling this event."
Oliphant said he found it "worrisome" that the event description states that health policy should be "shaped heavily" by "dedicated practitioners." Oliphant said that while doctors and nurses should be involved, so too should patients and public health officials.
In an effort to counter the event, he's planned an open townhall earlier in the week, featuring Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.
"The concept that the business of health care comes over the patient outcomes… that's what worries me," Oliphant said. "Health care is not a business, health care is about life and death."
In response to the Liberals’ concerns about privatization and framing of health care as a business, Robertson's campaign spokesperson Matthew Poon said that the event was designed "to bring together small business owners like doctors who were unfairly targeted by Justin Trudeau’s small business tax hikes and discuss ways to help them better deliver health services within the principles of the Canada Health Act."
"Conservatives have always and will always support the principles of the Canada Health Act," the statement said.
After coming under fire, largely from the Conservatives, for holding "cash for access" events — where for sizeable donations, guests could rub shoulders with the prime minister or members of his cabinet—the Liberals changed the rules to set up more transparency around these events.
The new political fundraising laws came into effect at the end of 2018, requiring parties to advertise fundraisers in advance, and report back afterwards, if they're charging $200 or more per ticket and featuring the prime minister, cabinet ministers, party leaders, or party leadership candidates. Under these rules, there are no requirements for advertising or reporting fundraising events where MPs are the featured guests.
CTVNews.ca has also reached out to Scheer's office for comment.