The charity that asked Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to return $20,000 he earned at an apparently unsuccessful speaking event last year has ties to the Conservative Party.
The Grace Foundation in New Brunswick wrote to Trudeau after the event last June, but the issue only made headlines after Conservatives began hammering the Liberal leader in question period on Friday.
In the letter, Foundation board member Susan Buck described the event, which was intended to raise money for a local church and nursing home, as "a huge disappointment and financial loss for our organization."
"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," she wrote.
But Canada.com has revealed that Grace Foundation board member Judith Baxter's husband, Glendon Baxter, is director of the Fundy Bay Conservative Riding Association. Glendon Baxter has also contributed nearly $700 to the party since 2009, according to Elections Canada records.
What’s more, Judith Baxter has twice been appointed by the Harper government to four-year terms on the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s board. A spokesperson for Heritage Minister James Moore told Canada.com that Baxter was appointed because of her "wealth of experience" as a museum coordinator and volunteer.
A Facebook photo that may show Judith Baxter and her daughter posing in the prime minister’s office also made the rounds on social media last weekend, though the authenticity of the shot has not been confirmed.
— Ed Tanas (@calg_kiaguy) June 17, 2013
But Fundy Royal Conservative MP Rob Moore, who has spearheaded the attack on Trudeau, did confirm in a CBC interview on Monday that it was Judith Baxter who first gave him a copy of the charity’s letter to Trudeau.
CBC’s Kady O’Malley says Moore then passed the letter to the prime minister’s communications team, "who lost no time putting it into heavy circulation among Hill journalists, even going so far as to hand it out in the Foyer after question period last week."
But the Prime Minister’s Office isn’t just focusing its attention on the New Brunswick charity.
The Barrie Advance reported on Monday the PMO sent the newspaper details of a money-losing speech Trudeau also made in Barrie in 2007, with the caveat that the information be referred to as coming from a "source." Instead, The Advance named the PMO staffer, Erica Meekes, who passed along the details.
"As a follow-up to the growing controversy over the weekend on Justin Trudeau charging charities for his speaking services, I have enclosed further materials that demonstrate the scope of this practice, cost on the organizations, and in many cases, poor outcomes and large deficits as a result of his speaking tour," the email stated. "As discussed, these materials are provided to you on background, and should be attributed to a 'source.'"
The material included invoices, a promotional poster and an accommodation receipt for the Toronto Four Seasons. Meekes wrote, "To be fair, there is an in-house yoga studio at the Four Seasons!"
The newspaper’s decision to expose the PMO’s attempt to embarrass Trudeau won the outlet many fans on Twitter.
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Trudeau vowed on Sunday to compensate all charities that paid him hefty speaking fees since he became an MP. He has long maintained that he stopped charging for speeches once he began his run for the Liberal leadership.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has demanded Trudeau repay the $20,000 fee he charged for speaking at a Saskatoon literacy conference last year. Wall also suggested on Global TV that Trudeau used speaking fees to help finance his leadership campaign.
Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc shot back that Wall should apologize for the "smear" and suggested the premier was attempting to raise his profile for a future federal run.
"It looks like the race for Harper’s job is on," LeBlanc said in a statement.
"We have not asked for our money back,” said Veronica Baker in an email. “The conference was a success, as it has been every year we have held it."
And while Trudeau has faced criticism for earning extra money, an HuffPost analysis of the most recent MP disclosures reveals 40 per cent of MPs declare a secondary source of income to supplement their base salary of $160,200.
These range from music royalties, condo rentals and farm earnings to profits from private investment firms and a national speaker’s bureau.
With files from The Canadian Press