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Trudeau reimburses government for speaking-tour expenses

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pauses after asking a question in the House of Commons on Nov. 26, 2013.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Justin Trudeau has reimbursed $840.05 to taxpayers for expenses that he wrongly claimed to the House of Commons, reviving the controversy over his role as a paid speaker while a member of Parliament.

The mistake was initially spotted by the House of Commons administration as part of a review of speaking fees that MPs had received in recent years.

While Mr. Trudeau blamed "human error" in his case, the mistake fuelled questions about his decision to remain active on the speakers' circuit after he was first elected to his Montreal riding. Between 2008 and 2012, Mr. Trudeau collected fees of between $10,000 and $20,000 each to give 17 speeches to a variety of groups, including unions, charities and school boards, according to his office.

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In a statement on Thursday, the Leader of the Liberal Party said he has paid back three expense claims dating back to 2009 that were initially charged to the House of Commons. Mr. Trudeau said the main mistake – a $672 invoice for transportation to a speech to Queen's University in Kingston in 2012 – had first been paid by Speakers' Spotlight, the firm that had organized his speech.

However, another invoice for the same service was also sent to his office and reimbursed by the House, because he used the same firm for his regular travel between Ottawa and Montreal. In his statement, Mr. Trudeau said that he "did not detect this error when signing the claim."

Speaking in Thornhill, Ont., the Liberal Leader emphasized his ability to acknowledge errors and correct them, saying it was an essential part of restoring the trust of Canadians in their political system.

"There was an honest mistake made in the administration," he said. "One of the most important things about my approach in politics has been creating a level of accountability, of transparency, of openness, of honesty, that means admitting when mistakes were made, taking responsibility for them and fixing them in an open manner."

Once the 2012 mistake was discovered, a review undertaken by Mr. Trudeau's office discovered that he was twice reimbursed per diems, totalling $168.05, on days when his main activities were paid speaking engagements in 2009 and 2010.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair slammed Mr. Trudeau for "moonlighting" as a paid speaker while he was an MP.

"I think it says a lot about his judgment and, frankly, about the Liberals' classic sense of entitlement," Mr. Mulcair said. "Don't forget, Mr. Trudeau denied that he had done anything wrong in all of this. Now he's being forced to reimburse. This was moonlighting from his job in Parliament, doing the thing that he's paid to do here, which is talk to people about politics."

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The Conservatives accused Mr. Trudeau of having "misled" Canadians in previous comments in which the Liberal Leader denied using public resources as part of his speaking engagements.

"Not only did Justin Trudeau take money from charities, he also took money from taxpayers, and denied doing so, right up until he was caught," said Stephen Lecce, a spokesman in the Prime Minister's Office.

After controversy broke out last year over a speaking engagement with the Grace Foundation in New Brunswick, Mr. Trudeau offered to reimburse any fees to organizations that were unhappy with his speaking engagement. No group has taken him up on the claim, the Liberal Party said.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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