Prime Minister Stephen Harper believes it is inappropriate for politicians such as Justin Trudeau to take money from charity, though one of the senators he appointed does similar paid events.
Senator Jacques Demers, a former NHL coach, said he is paid by businesses and charities for speaking events and donates some of his earnings back to charitable causes. Such gigs are within the rules. “I do speaking engagements because I was allowed,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau continues to face questions about paid speeches he has given to 17 organizations since becoming an MP. One, a New Brunswick charity called the Grace Foundation, has asked for its money back.
On Tuesday, Mr. Harper waded into the fray as an eight-day European trip wrapped up. He declined, however, to address questions about his staff who sent unsolicited information discrediting Mr. Trudeau to an Ontario newspaper. Instead, Mr. Harper condemned Mr. Trudeau’s actions.
“I get good remuneration from the taxpayers of Canada as a public servant. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to then take money from charity. I give money to charity, I don’t take money from charity,” Mr. Harper said.
The Prime Minister’s philosophy is at odds with that of Mr. Demers, who said he takes roughly 12 to 15 paid speaking engagements a year, charging a fee as high as $5,000 and lower for charities. He says he was paid $3,500 to headline a luncheon on May 13 for a Halifax shelter, Alice Housing. He donated $2,500 of it back, he says, and would return a cheque if a charity lost money on an event.
“I didn’t steal any money, I didn’t take any money. It’s not like taking from the poor to [give to] the rich. They called me,” Mr. Demers said.
The issue dates back to March 6, when the Grace Foundation wrote Mr. Trudeau after he publicly disclosed it had paid him $20,000. The event lost $21,000, so the charity asked for the money back. It didn’t get a response, so board member Judith Baxter – who has personally visited the PMO and whose husband serves on the constituency association of local Conservative MP Rob Moore – gave the letter to Mr. Moore, who played down the connection.
“This group obviously is not biased against Mr. Trudeau. They had him as their guest speaker. The problem is his event was a horrible disaster,” Mr. Moore said in an interview, adding he thinks Mr. Trudeau should “do the right thing and pay back this money.”
Mr. Demers cautiously defended Mr. Trudeau. “He’s a guy from another party, we’re in competition with this man, but did he know they lost $21,000? I’m not sure he did,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau offered the Grace Foundation a refund, but it hasn’t publicly responded. The Globe contacted the other 16 organizations he spoke to; none has formally asked for a refund.