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Ontario union may ask Trudeau for speech refund

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 13, 2013. Trudeau says he will offer to return a $20,000 speaking fee he received for speaking at a money-losing fundraising event last year for a New Brunswick charity.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

An Ontario union local that spent $16,806 in taxpayer money on a speech by Justin Trudeau is now considering taking the Liberal Leader up on his offer of a refund.

Faced with mounting questions about the money he has made on the speaking circuit, Mr. Trudeau, first elected as an MP in 2008, is now reaching out to 17 organizations that he spoke to as an MP. "I will be happy to pay them back personally if they are dissatisfied," he said Monday.

One of the groups that paid the MP to speak was Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2512, representing support staff at the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. The union brought in Mr. Trudeau as part of professional development training for support staff on Nov. 6, 2009, in Kitchener, Ont.

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Mr. Trudeau was paid $15,750, plus $820 for airfare and $236 for a "limo" rental, union local president Betty-Lou Warmington said. The money was directly from Ontario taxpayers, paid from a Provincial Discussion Table grant for professional development, she said. Ms. Warmington, who was not head of the union local at the time of the speech said she plans on raising the issue at a Tuesday executive meeting and will push her executive team to ask for a refund.

"I think we should at least try. Even if he doesn't refund all of it, he should refund part. He's an MP and he's being paid with government money," Ms. Warmington said in an interview. However, the union would likely have booked, and paid, another guest speaker if Mr. Trudeau hadn't taken the gig, she added.

Other agencies who hired Mr. Trudeau don't plan on seeking a refund. In one case, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall urged Mr. Trudeau to return a fee he was paid for a 2012 event hosted by Saskatoon Public Schools, but the board isn't asking for its money back. "We feel that the conference met our objectives," spokeswoman Veronica Baker said.

The issue was thrust into the spotlight last week when it was revealed that a New Brunswick charity, the Grace Foundation, had asked Mr. Trudeau to return a $20,000 fee the charity had paid him. The 2012 fundraiser was deemed a "success" at the time, but had actually lost an estimated $21,000 – a hefty sum for a charity that has averaged $47,552 in annual revenue over the past five years. Given the shortfall, board member Susan Buck wrote Mr. Trudeau earlier this year, asking him to return the fee. Doing so "would meet our needs and would provide a positive public impression," she wrote. He initially declined, saying he'd fulfilled his end of the deal and the agency hadn't complained until now. He relented over the weekend.

The Prime Minister's Office has faced questions about its involvement after a photo appeared online showing a woman, identified as a Grace Foundation board member, visiting the PMO. That woman, like other Grace Foundation board members, didn't respond to interview requests. The charity's board is set to meet this week to discuss the issue. PMO spokeswoman Julie Vaux said her office found out after Ms. Buck had reached out to local Conservative MPs, saying "there is no connection" between the woman's visit and her charity's complaint to the Liberal Leader.

Mr. Trudeau declined to blame the Tories, saying he takes the charity at its word.

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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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