Trudeau pledges to pay back charities, but many aren’t asking

OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau says he’s ready to cut a personal cheque to any organization he charged speaking fees to while he was an MP, and will be reaching out to them all this week.

“Every single group of the 17 groups that I spoke to as an MP, we are getting in touch with this week to find out if they feel like they didn’t get their money’s worth,” he said.

“I would draw in people to these events and I’m proud of the work that I did. And I will be happy to pay them back personally if they are dissatisfied.”

But it remains unknown how many will take him up on his offer. It appears New Brunswick’s Grace Foundation is the only one that has formally asked, and the seniors’ charity isn’t returning calls.

A Saskatchewan literacy conference that paid Justin Trudeau a $20,000 speaking fee does not want its money back from the Liberal leader.

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“We have not asked for our money back,” spokeswoman Veronica Baker said in an email Monday.

“The conference was a success, as it has been every year we have held it.”

Baker said the conference will not ask for the money back in the future.

“The conference met our objectives,” she said.

Trudeau’s spokeswoman said he would also be open to speaking with charities and not-for-profits from before his time as an MP, if there was a problem.

“What I am demonstrating here is a level of openness, transparency, accountability that has never been seen before (in) this Parliament,” said Trudeau.

Three other organizations contacted by Global News – the London Health Sciences Centre, the Ontario Library Association and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union – said they did not want money back from Trudeau either. Others did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Trudeau spoke at 17 events after becoming an MP in October 2008, earning $277,000. Not all of them were charity events. His activities were cleared by the federal ethics commissioner.

A Conservative source sent Global News documents from three speaking events from 2006, before Trudeau became an MP.

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The events – two post-secondary schools and one municipality – all incurred a financial loss, the documents show.

But neither the University of Guelph, Georgian College nor Chatham-Kent where Trudeau addressed a business dinner, are asking for Trudeau to pay them back.

Randy Hope, the mayor of Chatham, said he didn’t want the money back, even if the event lost money.

“Any speaker who comes to Chatham-Kent, we’re appreciative, because No. 1, it puts the identity of rural communities in front and centre,” Hope said in an interview.

“I’m not going back that far, that was 2006, and (Trudeau) was in the private sector back then.”

But the opposition wasn’t buying it.

Heritage Minister James Moore attacked Trudeau in question period for saying he was raising the bar on transparency.

“If the Liberal leader wants to lecture others about accountability, he should come clean,” said Moore. “What is it about the ethical standard of giving money to charities rather than taking money from charities that he does not understand?”

And NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said Trudeau should not have been accepting fees in the first place.

“I think it’s a mistake for a sitting member of Parliament to be accepting money from a charity to do what is essentially part of your job,” said Mulcair.

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Last week, Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall criticized Trudeau for accepting speaking fees as an MP, saying he was “shocked” the Liberal leader charged money to promote literacy.

“That’s why reimbursement in this regard would probably be the right thing to do,” Wall told Global News. 

In a statement Monday, Wall’s spokeswoman said he respects the organizers’ decision, but Trudeau should give back the money anyway.

“Premier Wall respects the decision made by the Literacy for Life event organizers, but continues to believe the right thing to do would be for Mr. Trudeau to either reimburse the money or donate an equivalent amount to a similar cause,” said spokeswoman Lisa Danyluk.

Wall denied being contacted by the Prime Minister’s Office about Trudeau’s charity fees.

The Grace Foundation, asked Trudeau last week to refund his $20,000 fee for a June 2012 appearance because organizers said the event lost money.

Trudeau said he’s willing to compensate the foundation, or speak for free at a bigger event.

A spokeswoman for the PMO said there is no connection between the office and the Grace Foundation.

“The Grace Foundation appealed to their Saint John area MPs Rob Moore and Rodney Weston for assistance, after four months of silence from Justin Trudeau,” said spokeswoman Julie Vaux. “That’s how the local media and our office received the letter.”

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Trudeau spoke at the Literacy for Life conference, an event organized by Saskatoon Public Schools, on April 30, 2012. He made both an afternoon and evening presentation at a banquet that also raised money.

The literacy conference hosted 5,500 students and had a budget of $145,000, raised through sponsorship, in-kind donations and ticket sales. The event was left with $7,400.

Trudeau’s travel to the event was also covered by the conference. In total, 10 speakers cost just over $43,600.

– With files from Shirlee Engel and The Canadian Press

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