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No takers yet on Trudeau’s refund offer

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters following weekly caucus meetings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 12, 2013. Trudeau says he'll compensate any charitable group that paid him a hefty speaking fee to participate in fundraising events.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

After offering to pay back charities and other organizations he gave speeches to, Justin Trudeau doesn't yet appear to have many takers.

The speech topics ranged from youth education to literacy and mental health. Mr. Trudeau has come under fire from Conservatives who say he had no business accepting the money – from charities in particular.

The Globe and Mail reached out to the 17 organizations that paid Mr. Trudeau to speak after he became an MP. Of the 17, four have left the door open or were considering the offer but – by Wednesday - none had publicly demanded a refund.

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The four include the Grace Foundation, whose March 6 request for a refund sparked the controversy but whose board has gone silent since questions erupted; the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, which said it would "consider any options that Mr. Trudeau may wish to pursue"; and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2512, representing support workers at the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. The union executive met Tuesday to discuss the issue, and its president would prefer to seek a refund. Finally, Regina Delovitch, general manager of the not-for-profit Credit Institute of Canada, said she'd consult her board before deciding what to do.

All 13 other organizations said Tuesday they have no plans to ask for money back, including the Charity of Hope, which paid Mr. Trudeau $15,000 for an April 23, 2010, 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," Charity of Hope board chairman Sam Mercanti said in an e-mail. He said he didn't know how much money was made. "If he wants to return the money that would be fine, but we are not going after it."

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) paid Mr. Trudeau $20,000 for a March 5, 2010, speech at a conference called Vision 2020, about the future of government in Ontario. "It was not a political speech. It was what you might call a visionary speech from his position as a young Canadian," OPSEU spokesman Greg Hamara said.

The Halton Region of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) paid Mr. Trudeau $20,000 for a June 26, 2012, speech. Mr. Trudeau spoke about "youth mental health promotion."

"CMHA Halton Region is satisfied with the event and will not be seeking reimbursement," spokesman Joe Kim said.

The Learning Partnership, a charity promoting public education, paid Mr. Trudeau $11,300, plus $2,259.55 in airfare costs, for a Nov. 2, 2009, speech. It has no plans to seek a refund, and its current staff – who weren't with the agency four years ago – didn't know they'd paid the Liberal MP until the issue bubbled up this month.

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Merv Hillier, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Certified Management Accountants of Ontario, said Mr. Trudeau's speech was a success. The organization paid him $20,000 for a Dec. 6, 2010, speech.

"He fulfilled the terms of the contract completely. In addition, we were very pleased with his address and he met all of our expectations. We have no intention of seeking a reimbursement of any monies paid to Mr. Trudeau for services delivered," Mr. Hillier said.

Saskatoon Public Schools, Queen's University, Kincardine & District Secondary School, REED Construction Data, the Ontario Library Association, the London Health Sciences Centre, Marketing Magazine, the Credit Institute of Canada and the Leading Social Change conference all also don't plan to seek a refund.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau reiterated he's proud of his work as a fundraiser.

"The entire conversation is happening because I was glad to release all my personal financial information months ago and I am, you know, pleased to report that so far the vast majority of the organizations we spoke to are not asking for any money back or restitution," he said.

Mr. Trudeau voluntarily disclosed details of the 17 speeches this year to the Ottawa Citizen. MPs are permitted to earn money outside Parliament Hill, and Mr. Trudeau said he had approval for his work on the speaking circuit.

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Ned Franks, a professor emeritus at Queen's University who once served on a commission reviewing MPs' pay, said the rules generally apply only to MPs whose business interests overlap with issues they may speak about in the House of Commons. "They ought to tell the House: 'I have an interest in this,'" he said, adding: "It's the kind of area where the best deterrent of abuse is to make sure the light shines on it, so maybe we should demand more of our MPs in terms of revealing their income sources all around."

On Tuesday, Conservative backbencher Ben Lobb said he'd complain to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner that Mr. Trudeau was taking money from unions while considering bills that affect unions. The commissioner has previously considered a similar complaint against Mr. Trudeau and found he didn't break any rules.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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