My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) takes stock of the brewing controversy over Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda's fundraising activities. With the Hill Times running a lead story on her 2005 fundraiser and persistent questions in the House of Commons, it is becoming apparent that this issue is quickly becoming a liability for the Conservative government. While last week's discussion focused on the now-cancelled Oda fundraiser sponsored by a CanWest lobbyist and a 2005 Corus-hosted fundraiser, further investigation into Oda's past campaign financing demonstrates that the close ties between Oda and industry lobbyists may run deeper than even Angus realized.
According to Elections Canada data, Oda held a similar fundraiser in May 2004 – before she was even elected to the House of Commons – that attracted enormous corporate support from the broadcast industry including Alliance Atlantis, Astral, CanWest, and CHUM, as well as from more than a dozen senior executives from major broadcast and cable companies.
Once elected, the support continued. With Oda installed as the Conservative Canadian Heritage critic, her riding association last year reported contributions from a veritable who's who of broadcast and copyright lobby groups and companies. These include broadcasters (Corus, Vision TV), cable companies (Rogers, Shaw, and Cogeco), record companies (Sony, Universal, Warner, EMI), and copyright lobby groups (Canadian Recording Industry Association, Canadian Motion Pictures Distributors Association, Entertainment Software Association).
Moreover, as the odds-on favourite to become the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Oda accepted thousands of dollars from broadcasting and copyright interests during the most recent election campaign, with her two largest contributions coming from individuals linked to two industry giants – Rogers and Standard Radio.
While there have been no allegations that the fundraising was not fully compliant with the law, it does raise the potential for repeated questions about the fairness and impartiality of the policy process. Oda enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the broadcasting industry before entering politics, yet her close ties to lobby groups will unquestionably cause some discomfort for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has emphasized greater government accountability and reduced influence of well-heeled lobby groups.
Moreover, should the government proceed with a major broadcast review or introduce new copyright legislation, Oda's fundraising practices will likely come to the fore as critics wonder aloud whether those groups obtained political access and exercised greater influence over the policy process.
The column concludes by noting that the cloud over Canadian Heritage policy could not come at a worse time. With the need for a new CRTC chair, the prospect of a new policy initiative to address the future of Canadian broadcasting and content rules, and the focus on copyright reform, the department promises to be in the spotlight in the months ahead. These initiatives may now be forced to share that spotlight with a regular stream of questions about Oda's fundraising activities that could leave Canadians asking whether there is a hefty price tag associated with key government policies.
The Liberals will also have to be careful, as their Heritage minister was also at the industry fundraising trough. They would not want to alienate a source of funding for the next election, while attacking the Conservatives for the same behaviour.
Bad Bev, bad Bev!
I just snailed a letter off to our dear Bev. I voted for her but if she continues on this path I’ll do my part to kick the Conservatives to the curb come next election.
I also mailed a letter to Bev questioning her judgment in light of all these funding questions.
I thought the Conservatives were gunning for a majority? Even with Harper’s media blackout, they’re still stumbling over themselves.
While it can be argued that these broadcaster events took place prior to Mr. Harper taking Canada’s governmental helm, there is no question about ‘being lured’by lobby money SINCE Jan 06 and once the Oda regime was in seat… ONCE the new department of Heritage was formed The CRIA attempts are without question the most ostentatious examples of plyling the ministry with extravagances. That luncheon in Gatineau with her senior staff in May 2006 – with the American RIAA guests who were flown up there ONLY to push for Canada to adopt DMCA-style legislative change – that one in particular event smacks of ‘wrongful acceptance’. What’s more… it took place allthewhile Ms. Oda was lending her hand to help Harper put the finishing edits on the Accountability Act!!
I’m not sure where to find this information, but does anyone know how much campaign money came from these particular lobbies as a percentage of Oda’s overall contributions? One would think that influence would be dependent on that number; how much would Oda suffer if that funding were not provided? Since Chretien brought in the limit on corporate and individual contributions, it would seem there should be a cap on the amount of money and therefore the amount of influence. Also, how much came through individual contributions as opposed to corporate, since the latter will soon be illegal?