The New Brunswick charity that wants its $20,000 speaking fee back from Justin Trudeau because the event was a flop is being churlish. An agreement is an agreement, whether with a charity, a business or an individual.
But if the charity was wrong to ask for its money back, Mr. Trudeau was wrong to charge the fee in the first place. Members of Parliament are public officials, paid full-time for their services by the public; to demand a stipend for talking to the public seems odd. It is true that Mr. Trudeau had a thriving public-speaking business before being elected, but the prices he was able to command appear to have risen steadily since he was elected in 2008, rising from the $5,000 to $10,000 range to $20,000 by last year.
It’s difficult to see his charitable work in the same way any more. Once, that work was his defence against a Conservative attack ad, drawn partly from a video excerpt from a Trudeau charitable speech. But knowing that he charged $20,000 to a literacy group in Saskatchewan, $20,000 to a mental health group in Ontario and $20,000 to a seniors’ housing group in New Brunswick, and earned $277,000 overall in public speaking (before he became party leader) suggests business, not charity. The fact that he thought permission from the federal ethics commissioner would make any of this look better suggests questionable political judgment.
Mr. Trudeau has now done the right thing by agreeing to give the $20,000 back to New Brunswick’s Grace Foundation, and to return other monies, if asked, to other charities, but his hesitation in doing so showed poor judgment. It’s surprising to see a leader leave himself so open to attack. “He was getting paid $160,000 as an MP, but he went and took a $20,000 cheque from a group of seniors trying to do a fundraiser to buy furniture,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said. “Whatever happened to the notion of public service?” NDP MP Charlie Angus asked.
In explaining his about-face, Mr. Trudeau declared that his father “would want me in this situation to live up to Canadians’ expectations of me.” Why he didn’t understand those expectations in the first place is a little puzzling.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly said that Mr. Trudeau was elected to parliament in 2007. He was, in fact, elected in 2008.