The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
Fri Jun 14 2013
Byline: CHRIS MORRIS Legislature Bureau
A charitable organization trying to raise money for a seniors’ home in Saint John is asking federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to please send back the $20,000 it paid him for a fundraising event that flopped.
The Grace Foundation paid Trudeau $20,000 in speaking fees last year as it launched a campaign to raise badly needed funds for the elderly residents of the Church of St. John and St. Stephen Home Inc. in the Port City.
Foundation treasurer Neil Hossack said in an interview Thursday the organization felt it had to try something bold to kick off the campaign to raise $300,000 for new furniture for the home.
“We went down an avenue that wasn’t typical for us, but we thought, ‘We can’t do this through bake sales,’?” Hossack said in an interview.
“We have to raise big money. So we decided to try a speaker event. To be honest, we made a mistake. We don’t hold him (Trudeau) responsible. The event was not successful. We lost money.”
The organization lost $21,000 on the Trudeau speech last June.
However, since the event, Hossack said Trudeau has been criticized for billing charitable foundations like the Grace for speaking engagements.
In the name of transparency, Trudeau acknowledged several months ago that he collected about $277,000 in speaking fees as an MP, much of it coming from publicly funded institutions like school boards and charities.
He was immediately condemned by politicians in other political parties who said that while Trudeau was not breaking any Parliamentary rules, the practice was ethically questionable.
For instance, NDP MP Charlie Angus said that while he would accept sandwiches and a pint of beer from a group that invited him to speak, he wouldn’t charge fees.
“I speak at numerous events,” Angus said. “I believe it’s part of my job as an MP.”
Given the criticism of the speaking fees, the Grace Foundation wrote Trudeau in March, asking him to send back the $20,000.
“A refund of the fees charged for your speaking engagement to the Grace Foundation would meet our needs and would provide a positive public impression,” states the March 6 letter, obtained by the Telegraph-Journal.
Hossak said Trudeau has yet to reply to the letter. Trudeau’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
In an email response to the Grace Foundation dated April 9, the Speaker’s Spotlight organization, which helped arrange Trudeau’s appearance, said it was “confused” by the request for a refund because there was no complaint at the time of the speech.
It said it was sorry the event was not a success and wished the Grace Foundation “all the best in the future.”
Rodney Weston, the Conservative MP for Saint John, said Trudeau should do the right thing, help the seniors in the home and send the money back to the foundation.
“His speaking fees were $20,000, and the organization lost $21,000,” Weston said in an interview.
“I just think we should look at the simple fact that this is an organization trying to do good things for people in need. They went out on the edge to try to raise some funds. Obviously, from a contractual standpoint, I’m sure Mr. Trudeau is in a very good position. But from the standpoint of compassion, he is in a tough spot.”
The issue of Trudeau’s speaking fees prompted the national polling firm, Forum Research, to survey Canadians on the subject. More than half of the 1,755 Canadians surveyed, 57 per cent, thought Trudeau should return the speaking fees he earned from non-profit organizations.
© 2013 The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton) h/t dm
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