Most groups don't want return of Trudeau speaking fees

Most of the 17 charitable and other organizations that have paid speaking fees to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau during his time as an MP say they aren't interested in having their fees returned, despite Trudeau's offer on the weekend to reimburse any organization unhappy with his services.

Harper says, 'I give money to charity, I don't take money from charity'

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau gives the keynote speech at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference in Vancouver earlier this month. Trudeau has been under fire for accepting payment for speeches, a practice he ended a year ago when he decided to seek the Liberal leadership. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Most of the 17 charitable and other organizations that have paid speaking fees to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau during his time as an MP say they aren't interested in having their fees returned, despite Trudeau's offer on the weekend to reimburse any organization unhappy with his services.

Trudeau, who had a highly successful public-speaking business for several years before being elected in 2008, said he would reimburse only the organizations he billed from the time when he first became an MP to early last summer, when he made the decision to run for the Liberal leadership and ended his paid public-speaking career. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking to reporters Tuesday in Northern Ireland where he was attending G8 meetings, said he could only talk about his own "comportment" when asked about Trudeau's speaking fees. 

"My view is that what is not appropriate — I, you know, as someone who is paid by the public, I get good remuneration from the taxpayers of Canada as a public servant. I don't think it's appropriate for me to then take money from charity. I give money to charity, I don't take money from charity. So that is my view about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate under those circumstances."

But Harper dodged a question about the appropriateness of his own staffers circulating details of Trudeau's paid speech-making to the media.

The Prime Minister's Office provided several media outlets, including CBC News, with copies of a letter from a board member of the Saint John-based Grace Foundation asking Trudeau for a refund because the organization lost money in ticket sales for his speech last June.

On Monday, the PMO sent out further details of some of Trudeau's alleged money-losing speaking engagements, although most occurred before he was an MP.

CBC News has attempted to contact all 17 of the organizations that paid Trudeau between $20,000 and $10,000 to speak at events. Some were charities, some were taxpayer-funded and some were private companies. So far, 11 of them have told CBC News they are not interested in receiving any refund from Trudeau. CBC News has not yet been able to reach five of the organizations for comment.

Here is a list of the organizations and their responses to CBC News, along with the event dates and the fees paid to Trudeau:

  • London Health Sciences Centre, Oct. 20, 2008, $10,000. Not seeking repayment.
  • Marketing Magazine, Rogers Media, Nov. 5, 2008, $20,000. Not seeking repayment.
  • Ontario Library Association, Jan. 31, 2009, $10,000. Not seeking repayment.
  • The Learning Partnership, Nov. 2, 2009, $10,000 reported. Undecided.
  • Waterloo Catholic District School Board, Nov. 6, 2009, $15,000. Not available for comment.
  • Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, March 5, 2010, $20,000. Not seeking repayment.
  • Charity of Hope, April 23, 2010, $15,000. Not seeking repayment.
  • Algonquin & Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, May 7, 2010, $15,000. Not seeking repayment.
  • REED Construction Data, Sept. 23, 2010, $20,000. Not seeking repayment.
  • Certified Management Accountants of Ontario, Dec. 6, 2010, $20,000. Not available for comment.
  • Rain 43/Canada's National Advertising Week, Jan. 25, 2011, $20,000. Not available for comment.
  • Kincardine (Ont.) District Secondary School, June 9, 2011, $10,000. Not available for comment.
  • Credit Institute of Canada, Ottawa, June 15, 2011, $20,000. Not seeking repayment.
  • Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont. April 25, 2012, $12,000. Not seeking repayment.
  • Literacy for Life, Saskatoon, April 30, 2012, $20,000. Not seeking repayment.
  • Canadian Mental Health Association, Burlington, Ont., June 26, 2012, $20,000. Not seeking repayment
  • Grace Foundation, Saint John, June 27, 2012, $20,000. Seeking repayment.

A spokesperson for The Learning Partnership, a group that says it supports students, teachers and educational leaders, said it received a call from Trudeau's office Tuesday asking whether it was satisfied with Trudeau's appearance and, if not, offering to reimburse his $10,000 fee.

Carol Davies, director of marketing, communications and advancement for the group, said the 2009 event was a "successful fundraiser" but added the organization's CEO is away on business and a response to Trudeau's offer would likely come later this week.

Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro asked the federal ethics commissioner in 2010 to investigate Trudeau's paid participation in the Learning Partnership event, arguing Trudeau had allowed himself to be advertised for the event as an MP. Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson ruled against an inquiry, deciding Trudeau did not violate the federal Conflict of Interest Code and that his business as a paid speaker was permitted.

Several other respondents said they were satisfied with Trudeau's work.

Mike Casaletto, speaking from REED Construction Data in Markham, Ont., said the September 2010 speaking engagement was "highly successful."

In an email, a spokesperson for the Canadian Mental Health Association wrote, "His [Trudeau's] talk focused on youth mental health promotion and was very successful with many young people and vulnerable individuals in attendance. In addition to addressing youth mental health, he touched on his mother's struggles with depression. CMHA Halton Region is satisfied with the event and will not be seeking reimbursement."

Sam Mercanti, the chairman of the board for the Charity of Hope, said in an email to CBC, "We were pleased with the speech Justin Trudeau gave at the Charity of Hope event. We had a contract up front, so we knew the charges before the actual event, it was fair. We made money at the event. If he wants to return the money that would be fine, but we are not going after it."

Regina Delovitch of the Credit Institute of Canada said an an email, "Overall, we were pleased with his presentation. He is a natural as a speaker and connected very quickly to our audience which was mostly Canadian credit managers."

On Tuesday in the House of Commons, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino said he would raise another complaint with Dawson, saying Trudeau's decision to accept speaking fees from unions put him in a conflict of interest when he voted against a Conservative private member's bill to force unions to disclosure their expenses.

Dawson's office confirmed to CBC News Tuesday that Trudeau had sought the ethics commissioner's advice on his speaking engagements in the past.

"Section 7 of the Conflict of Interest Code for members of the House of Commons states that nothing in the code prevents members who are not ministers of the Crown or parliamentary secretaries from engaging in employment or in the practice of a profession, carrying on a business, being a director or officer in a corporation, association, trade union or non-profit organization or being a partner in a partnership as long as they are able to fulfil their obligations under the code," a spokeswoman for Dawson's office said in an email. 

"Currently, 192 members report other sources of income, as you can see on our public registry," she said.