UPDATE: Since this story was first published, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall sent out a statement that reads, in part:
“I make no apologies for asking questions of accountability. If Mr. Trudeau is saying that none of the thousands of dollars he charged to charities like the literacy conference in Saskatoon indirectly or directly aided his campaign for the Liberal leadership, then I accept him at his word.”
This story has been updated to remove a line that suggests Trudeau’s campaign did not follow spending rules.
OTTAWA – Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is calling on Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to return the $20,000 speaking fee he was paid to attend a literacy conference in Saskatoon last year.
“We’re interested in the literacy issue, we want to see it promoted. I’m sure Mr. Trudeau does as well,” Wall said in an interview.
“That’s why reimbursement in this regard would probably be the right thing to do.”
Wall said he was “shocked” to learn Trudeau charged $20,000 for his afternoon and evening appearances at the event, even though the evening banquet Trudeau spoke at raised money for the conference through ticket sales.
“I think there should probably be a review of this,” Wall said.
“I was surprised that there wasn’t more concern when this story was out there about the amount of money that we’re talking about here, especially when we don’t know if the money eventually wound up funding a leadership campaign.”
But Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc calls the premier’s comments about Trudeau’s leadership funds “disgraceful.”
“I think that Premier Wall should apologize for suggesting something that is patently untrue,” he said.
“He should know, all of the donations to Mr Trudeau’s campaign were personal donations, they were all fully in compliance with Elections Canada law, they were all receipted appropriately, and every single one was disclosed publicly.”
He said he believes Wall, who helms Saskatchewan’s right-leaning party, was trying to deflect from recent criticism of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives over an RCMP investigation into Nigel Wright.
“If he has ambitions to succeed Mr. Harper, it’s sort of regrettable that he would lower himself to this erroneous form of accusation in order to get himself into a story,” said LeBlanc.
He added that Trudeau’s speaking engagements were cleared by the federal ethics commissioner.
Wall made the comments after documents obtained by Global News show Trudeau was paid almost three times as much as the Literacy for Life conference kept in surplus for the following year’s event.
The event was held on Monday, April 30, 2012. Records show Trudeau missed two votes in the House that day.
Trudeau’s fee also took up almost half the speaker’s fees – and there were nine other speakers, including Saskatoon MLA Rob Norris who did not accept money.
A letter circulated by the Prime Minister’s Office Friday showed that organizers at the Grace Foundation, a charity for seniors in Saint John, New Brunswick, are also asking Trudeau to pay back his $20,000 fee because they lost money. Calls to the foundation were not returned.
“The fundraising event we hired you as a speaker for was a huge disappointment and financial loss for our organization,” read a letter from Susan L. Buck, a member of the foundation’s board of directors.
LeBlanc said Trudeau’s fees were appropriate because these groups decided to contract and pay that amount of money.
“I think it’s a bit suspicious many months after the event having contracted privately for a guest speaker to suddenly decide that the money should be refunded or that their own organization failed to deliver what they had hoped in terms of revenue,” he said.
No one at Literacy for Life asked for the money back. Spokeswoman Veronica Baker said Trudeau appeared in his capacity as a former educator, while Norris spoke as a cabinet minister.
The corporate-sponsored event presented by Saskatoon Public Schools, which also raises money through ticket sales including the banquet, kept $7,411, according to figures provided to Global News through freedom of information.
That money went back to the literacy event to put on the conference the following year, Saskatoon school board officials said.
In total, the cost of speaking fees for the event was $43,636. That includes speaking and travel fees for 10 speakers, including Trudeau. The other speakers included illustrators and children’s book authors.
The total cost of the three-day conference was $145,180. Another $54,780 was spent on programming, and $39,353 on consulting, the documents said.
Approximately 5,500 students attend the 2012 conference, a spokeswoman said. The number of students who attend the three-day event, which features authors, illustrators and workshops, depends on funds, said Veronica Baker in an email.
“If funds allow, we add more opportunities for students. For example, at a previous conference, we were able to add a writing workshop for a group of students with author Alice Kuipers,” said Baker.
Trudeau’s campaign revealed his speaking fees in February to the Ottawa Citizen.
Between 2006 and 2009, Trudeau made $1.3 million through the speaking events, the newspaper said. Trudeau says he stopped speaking in the spring of 2012 when he started considering a run for the leadership.
Martin Perelmuter, president of the Toronto-based agency Speakers’ Spotlight that booked Trudeau’s events, said he couldn’t reveal exact fees because of a confidentiality agreement, but said $20,000 sounded right.
Perelmuter said Literacy for Life paid Trudeau’s travel costs on top of his speaking fees. He noted the agency also took a commission but wouldn’t reveal how much.
The Literacy for Life event is paid for by corporate and in-kind donations, as well as ticket sales to a banquet and business luncheon.
Trudeau did a presentation to students in the afternoon and then in the evening he did a keynote speech at the banquet, at a cost of almost $72 a person. The banquet was mean for the division’s “learning community” such as educators, parents, and school council members, Baker said.
A ticket to a luncheon, where Norris was speaking, was $40. It was open to the public.
“Mr. Norris did not charge a speaking fee – he attended in his role as a Saskatoon MLA, and a lifelong supporter of literacy,” spokeswoman Lisa Danyluk.
“Our government’s MLAs do not charge speaking fees to appear at events to discuss important public policy issues, nor do we think it appropriate for other elected officials to do so. “
On Wednesday, Trudeau said he doesn’t take speaking fees since becoming leader.
“Like many, many Members of Parliament I had a secondary source of income,” he said. “There’s over 150 members of parliament who have other jobs – lawyers, business people and any number of MPs. I decided that once I became a leader my entire focus needed to be on representing the party completely and doing all the extra work that comes with being a leader.”
He said he never used House or parliamentary resources in any speaking engagements.
The NDP passed a unanimous motion this week that the board of internal economy investigates potential use of the members’ travel points to attend speaking engagements. Trudeau supported it.
NDP House leader Nathan Cullen says he doesn’t understand why Trudeau charged money to speak.
“It would never occur to me to charge an event, a school board, a church group, in order to hear me speak as a public official. I’m already, in a sense, being renumerated, being paid, to speak on behalf of my constituents and on behalf of Canada,” said Cullen.
“It’s just a weird sense of entitlement, being paid to go publicly speak when you’re already a public official being paid to speak.”
Conservative Saskatoon MP Brad Trost agreed he would never accept fees as a sitting MP.
“We contribute, we don’t take. That should be the nature of our job. Our job is to contribute and represent the community,” he said.
“The organizers maybe should think about handling their money better. I’m sure they could have gotten a lot better speakers for a lot less money, and speakers that wouldn’t have had the potential for ethical issues.”
Two other speakers contacted by Global News said they were paid about $2,000 for the conference.
Ashley Spires, a Saskatchewan illustrator, said she was paid for two days and it is part of the work she does to support herself.
She also attended the banquet where Trudeau gave the keynote speech.
“He was amazing. He spoke as a teacher to a room of teachers, and educators and people who work with children. He was phenomenal,” said Spires.
“I thought he was worth every penny.”