August 9, 2013 10:50 am
Updated: August 10, 2013 11:47 am

Ethics watchdog won’t investigate Trudeau’s speaking fee to unions

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau stands in the House of Commons during Question Period on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Monday June 17, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

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OTTAWA – The federal ethics watchdog says she won’t investigate Liberal leader Justin Trudeau for accepting speaking fees from unions.

Conservative backbencher Ben Lobb asked Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to investigate Trudeau for accepting speaking fees from unions and voting on related legislation.

After a routine preliminary review, Dawson’s office said Friday she won’t proceed with an inquiry under the Conflict of Interest Code for MPs.

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“The Commissioner is not permitted under the Code to comment any further,” spokeswoman Jocelyne Brisebois said in an email.

Trudeau’s spokeswoman declined to comment on Dawson’s decision. Lobb did not immediately respond to an interview request.

In June, Lobb said he would be contacting Dawson because Trudeau took money from unions as a paid speaker, and subsequently voted against a Conservative private member’s bill, C-377, that called for union transparency.

“The Liberal leader took over $100,000 in personal payments from unions, including tens of thousands of dollars in his time as MP,” Lobb, MP for Huron-Bruce, Ont., said in the House of Commons on June 18.

“After receiving this money, he is now a vocal opponent of the union transparency bill and his party is opposing it in the Senate.”

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, then-minister of international cooperation, said the matter deserved to be investigated under Section 8 of the Conflict of Interest Code for MPs, which says while performing Parliamentary duties and functions, members should not further their private interests.

“There needs to be an investigation into whether the Liberal leader’s acceptance of this money placed him in a real or perceived conflict of interest with respect to his policy position,” said Fantino.

Trudeau voluntarily disclosed his speaking fees in February and says his activity was cleared by the ethics commissioner.

A list provided to the Ottawa Citizen shows Trudeau earned $1.3 million in public speaking since 2006, including $277,000 in speaking fees in the four years after he was elected in 2008.

The list shows Trudeau earned $20,000 speaking to the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union in March 2010.

He stopped charging fees in the spring of 2012 when considering a run for Liberal leadership.

A political firestorm was lit by the Conservatives in June when New Brunswick seniors’ charity Grace Foundation asked for its money back from the previous year, saying their event lost money.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall also criticized Trudeau, who was paid $20,000 for a literacy event, and called on the Liberal leader to return the money.

The Grace Foundation later dropped its request and cut ties with several board members after a letter about the fees was circulated by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Trudeau offered to repay other organizations, including charities and not-for profits, but no other groups have asked for a refund.

Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro also complained to Dawson about Trudeau’s speaking events in 2010, but it was dismissed.

Meanwhile, Conservative Russ Hiebert’s union transparency bill was stalled by Conservative senators in June, who voted to send the legislation back to the House with amendments.

© 2013 Shaw Media

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