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Oda faces heat over aborted fundraising event

Minister's riding association still cashed donations from senior members of broadcasting industry, records show

From Friday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Heritage Minister Bev Oda cancelled a Bay Street fundraiser last November over bad optics, but new records show her riding association still cashed donations from a who's who of Canadian broadcasting executives.

Ms. Oda was accused last November of mixing government work and political fundraising because of a Nov. 15 event in the Toronto financial district that was to feature the Heritage Minister and Industry Minister Maxime Bernier.

Questions were raised because the invitations to the $250-a-head event were circulated in early October by Charlotte Bell, a long-time friend of Ms. Oda's who now lobbies Canadian Heritage on behalf of CanWest MediaWorks.

Critics also attacked the timing of the event, considering that it was two weeks before a major federal review of Canada's broadcasting rules. The minister cancelled the event "to avoid any negative perception," her spokesman said at the time, and the government promised that the fundraising cheques were returned.

However, newly released records from Elections Canada reveal that of 20 individuals who donated to Ms. Oda's riding association last year, at least nine have senior roles in Canada's broadcast industry. Eleven of the donations were made within five weeks of the cancelled fundraiser.

Among the names listed as individual contributors are Astral Media board chairman André Bureau, who gave $250 on Oct. 16; TVO CEO Lisa De Wilde, who gave $500 on Oct. 16; CHUM president and CEO Jay Switzer, who donated $500 on Oct. 12; Standard Radio president and CEO Gary Slaight, who gave $500 on Oct. 13; and Rogers Radio CEO Gary Miles, who gave $250 on Oct. 12.

Reached by e-mail, Mr. Miles insisted that his contribution was not connected to Ms. Bell's call to buy $250 tickets that went out a week before he made the donation. "It had nothing to do with the Nov. 15 fundraiser and was on my personal cheque and nothing to do with my title," Mr. Miles wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

Ms. Oda's spokesman, Jean-Luc Benoît, insisted yesterday that none of the donations were related to the fundraiser. He added that the broadcast review was at arm's length from the minister's office.

"Everyone is allowed to contribute to democratic debate and everything was done within the rules," Mr. Benoît said.

Mr. Angus said the $250 and $500 donations appear to show the cheques for the fundraiser were not returned, contrary to the government's assertions.

"There was a fundraising campaign led by a senior broadcast executive on the eve of a major broadcast review. That was a scandal," Mr. Angus told reporters yesterday. "They cancelled the fundraiser and they said the cheques would be returned. Well, the cheques weren't returned."

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