Trudeau erred by charging charity $20,000 speaking fee

by: Obert Madondo  | Fist published by The Canadian Progressive on Jun 16 2013 | Posted Sept 15, 2014

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. (Photo: A.K. Fung/Wikipedia)

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. (Photo: A.K. Fung/Wikipedia)

Several months ago, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau acknowledged that he’d earned more than $277,000 in speaking fees since he was elected MP.

Part of this fat cheque – $20,000 – came from Grace Foundation, a Saint John, NB, charity that paid Trudeau to speak at its fundraiser last June. The charity wants the money back.

Trudeau should do the right thing and return the fee.

Why? It’s a question of morality. Trudeau’s speaking earnings reveal a staggering failure of moral judgement by an aspiring prime minister. It’s morally wrong for a Canadian politician, appointed or elected, to charge a charity for a speaking appearance. What happened to the notion of public service?

Our MPs should be giving to charity. After all, they earn a whopping $157,731 per year, plus $25,850 in accommodation expenses. Trudeau earns an additional $54,500 as Liberal leader. And, after he won the leadership of the Liberals in April, Trudeau told Canadians: “I’m here to serve”. No politician serves by taking from charities and the needy.

In fact, a large chunk of Trudeau’s $277,000 speaking earnings came from publicly-funded institutions, including charities and school boards. From various media reports, here’s a glimpse of what Trudeau earned recently:

  • Grace Foundation, St. John ($20,000)
  • Ontario Public Service Employees Union ($20,000)
  • London Health Sciences Centre ($20,000)
  • Canadian Mental Health Association, Halton region ($20,000)
  • Literacy for Life, Saskatoon ($20,000)
  • Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board ($15,000)
  • Charity of Hope, Hamilton ($15,000)
  • Waterloo Catholic District School Board ($15,000)
  • Queen’s University ($12,000)
  • Ontario Library Association ($10,000)
  • Kincardine District Secondary School ($10,000)
  • The Learning Partnership ($10,000)

Grace Foundation paid Trudeau $20,000 to speak at a new campaign to raise funds to buy badly needed furniture for residents of seniors’ homes. The charity’s mission is “to generate and manage funds to enhance the lives of the residents of the Church of St. John & St. Stephen Home Inc., an 80-bed nursing home located in Millidgeville in Saint John.”

The charity said this about the fundraiser: “On Wednesday June 27, Grace Foundation hosted its inaugural fund raising event. Guest speaker Justin Trudeau spoke passionately about our roles and responsibilities as Canadians in the global community, challenging each individual to consider his or her contribution toward positive change. Following the formal presentation, audience members had an opportunity to pose questions and engage in conversation. Audience members agree it was an evening to remember.”

I worked for a Canadian charity for seven years. This is precisely how one should feel after all the emotionally-wrenching weeks of putting together a fundraiser.

But then, according to the Frederiton’s The Daily Gleaner, Grace Foundation wrote Trudeau in March.

“A refund of the fees charged for your speaking engagement to the Grace Foundation would meet our needs and would provide a positive public impression,” stated the March 6 letter, obtained by the Telegraph-Journal.

It’s clear that the charity’s demand is partly motivated by its loss. But that’s beside the point. Charging a struggling seniors charity $20,000 is wrong. Period.

While wealthy Canadians make three or four-figure donations to charities, it’s middle-class Canadians who keep charities afloat with small, regular donations.

Finally, The Daily Gleaner’s full story:

Charity asks Trudeau to return $20,000 speaking fee

The Daily Gleaner, Fri Jun 14 2013, Page: A5 

Byline: CHRIS MORRIS Legislature Bureau 

A charitable organization trying to raise money for a seniors’ home in Saint John is asking federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to please send back the $20,000 it paid him for a fundraising event that flopped.

The Grace Foundation paid Trudeau $20,000 in speaking fees last year as it launched a campaign to raise badly needed funds for the elderly residents of the Church of St. John and St. Stephen Home Inc. in the Port City.

Foundation treasurer Neil Hossack said in an interview Thursday the organization felt it had to try something bold to kick off the campaign to raise $300,000 for new furniture for the home.

“We went down an avenue that wasn’t typical for us, but we thought, ‘We can’t do this through bake sales,’?” Hossack said in an interview.

“We have to raise big money. So we decided to try a speaker event. To be honest, we made a mistake. We don’t hold him (Trudeau) responsible. The event was not successful. We lost money.”

The organization lost $21,000 on the Trudeau speech last June.

However, since the event, Hossack said Trudeau has been criticized for billing charitable foundations like the Grace for speaking engagements.

In the name of transparency, Trudeau acknowledged several months ago that he collected about $277,000 in speaking fees as an MP, much of it coming from publicly funded institutions like school boards and charities.

He was immediately condemned by politicians in other political parties who said that while Trudeau was not breaking any Parliamentary rules, the practice was ethically questionable.

For instance, NDP MP Charlie Angus said that while he would accept sandwiches and a pint of beer from a group that invited him to speak, he wouldn’t charge fees.

“I speak at numerous events,” Angus said. “I believe it’s part of my job as an MP.”

Given the criticism of the speaking fees, the Grace Foundation wrote Trudeau in March, asking him to send back the $20,000.

“A refund of the fees charged for your speaking engagement to the Grace Foundation would meet our needs and would provide a positive public impression,” states the March 6 letter, obtained by the Telegraph-Journal.

Hossak said Trudeau has yet to reply to the letter. Trudeau’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

In an email response to the Grace Foundation dated April 9, the Speaker’s Spotlight organization, which helped arrange Trudeau’s appearance, said it was “confused” by the request for a refund because there was no complaint at the time of the speech.

It said it was sorry the event was not a success and wished the Grace Foundation “all the best in the future.”

Rodney Weston, the Conservative MP for Saint John, said Trudeau should do the right thing, help the seniors in the home and send the money back to the foundation.

“His speaking fees were $20,000, and the organization lost $21,000,” Weston said in an interview.

“I just think we should look at the simple fact that this is an organization trying to do good things for people in need. They went out on the edge to try to raise some funds. Obviously, from a contractual standpoint, I’m sure Mr. Trudeau is in a very good position. But from the standpoint of compassion, he is in a tough spot.”

The issue of Trudeau’s speaking fees prompted the national polling firm, Forum Research, to survey Canadians on the subject. More than half of the 1,755 Canadians surveyed, 57 per cent, thought Trudeau should return the speaking fees he earned from non-profit organizations.

© 2013 The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)

This piece was fist published by The Canadian Progressive on Jun 16 2013 under the title “Trudeau Should Return Charity’s $20,000 Speaking Fee.” It’s republished here with permission

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter.com/Obiemad