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Foundation no longer pressing Trudeau to repay speaking fee

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, shown July 7, 2013.


The charity that asked Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to return a $20,000 speaking fee has since lost half its board of directors and no longer wants the money back.

The Grace Foundation, based in Saint John, found itself at the centre of a political controversy last month after it was revealed one of its board members, Sue Buck, had written Mr. Trudeau a letter asking for a refund from a fundraising event last year, which flopped and ultimately lost money. Returning the money "would meet our needs and would provide a positive public impression," Ms. Buck wrote.

That letter, written in March of this year, was eventually given to a Conservative MP and ultimately to the media, sparking questions about Mr. Trudeau's side work as a paid speaker since being elected as an MP.

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Mr. Trudeau at first declined to give the money back, but then offered to return it. His team now says the Grace Foundation is no longer seeking the money. Grace Foundation board chair Ian Webster "informed us that they will not be requesting a reimbursement. They consider this matter closed," Mr. Trudeau's spokeswoman, Kate Monfette, said in an e-mail Monday.

When the story broke last month, the agency had 10 board members listed on its website. As of Monday, there were five. It's not clear when or how the others left, or whether any were asked to leave. Among those no longer listed as board members are Ms. Buck, who wrote the letter, and Judy Baxter, who gave it to the local Conservative MP.

Former board member Robert MacAndrew said he decided "well before" last month's controversy to leave, but nonetheless cited the Trudeau fundraiser as a factor.

"I disagreed with the idea of having the speaker, Mr. Trudeau, just because I felt it would not do well. It turned out, unfortunately, that was the case. … I thought their plans were a little more grandiose than suited the situation," Mr. MacAndrew said.

Mr. MacAndrew said he didn't know four other board members had also left, including Terrence MacNeill, executive director of the 80-bed nursing home for which the Grace Foundation is fundraising. Mr. MacAndrew cited the travel distance from his home as another factor in his departure from the board.

The issue divided the board. Mr. MacAndrew disagreed with Ms. Buck, saying Mr. Trudeau shouldn't give the money back. "Since it was stated what he was charging in advance, and our group paid it, I don't think it's even fair to ask it back from him," he said.

Mr. Webster confirmed Monday evening the charity was no longer seeking a refund, but declined any further comment, including why five board members had left. Ms. Buck declined comment altogether on Monday, while Ms. Baxter and other current or former board members didn't return messages.

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Ms. Baxter gave the letter to Conservative MP Rob Moore, who has since been promoted to cabinet. Mr. Moore's office didn't respond to an interview request late Monday, but in an earlier interview he had said Mr. Trudeau should return the money. "Now he says he's going to try and make it right. The right thing would have been not to take the money in the first place," Mr. Moore said.

A total of 17 organizations have hired Mr. Trudeau since he became an MP. Mr. Trudeau offered last month to return his fee to anyone who wanted it. At the time of Mr. Trudeau's offer, none of the charities said they would ask for the money back. Mr. Trudeau's office said Monday none of the groups have asked for a refund.

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