Trudeau Repays Government Hundreds Of Dollars Related To Speaking Events

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Justin Trudeau disclosed Thursday that he has reimbursed the government more than $800 he wrongly received from taxpayers in relation to speaking engagements before he became Liberal leader. (CP) | CP

Justin Trudeau disclosed Thursday that he has reimbursed the government more than $800 he wrongly received from taxpayers in relation to speaking engagements before he became Liberal leader.

But while Trudeau chalked the incidents up to honest mistakes, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is already accusing him of taking "a page from Harper's playbook" and apologizing only after being caught.

The Liberal leader explained in a statement that Audrey O'Brien, clerk of the House of Commons, informed him on Dec. 5 that a parliamentary expense of $672 was claimed for an event in Kingston, Ontario in April of 2012 that was unrelated to his duties as an MP.

According to the Ottawa Citizen's Glen McGregor, Trudeau was paid $12,000 by Queen's University for a speech about youth engagement and education. The Citizen reports Trudeau used a car service to take him from Ottawa to Kingston.

Trudeau said that after a review of his records it was discovered that the error related to his transportation. The Liberal leader said 'Spotlight, the agency handling his engagements at the time, paid the bill but a transportation company inadvertently sent a copy of the invoice to his Parliamentary office.

"Due to human error, the invoice was batched with a number of other invoices relating to my Parliamentary duties, which involved the same transportation company used for my regular travel between Ottawa and Montreal, totaling $2085.71," the statement said.

Trudeau said that after he learned of the error, he wrote a personal cheque for $672 to the Receiver General of Canada and asked his staff to review other expenses related to his speaking engagements. Two more per diems were identified as mistakes — one from November, 2009, for $83.55, and another from May, 2010, for $84.50.

"While I was travelling on those days, the main activities that I undertook were related to contracts with Speaker's Spotlight and my return home to Montreal. As such, I have reimbursed the Receiver General $168.05," the statement said.

In an attempt to make lemonade out of lemons, Trudeau ended his statement by saying the Liberal Party's new system of proactive disclosures would have caught such errors earlier and that the Commons should adopt something similar.

"As a Member of Parliament, I take full, personal responsibility for the financial administration of my office, including these errors," the statement said.

Trudeau voluntarily disclosed during last year's Liberal leadership contest that he's earned more than $1.3 million on the public speaking circuit since 2006, including $277,000 from 17 groups since he was first elected in 2008. The groups who paid for his speeches included charities and non-profit entities such as school boards, municipalities and universities.

Trudeau insisted at the time that he "absolutely never used any House or parliamentary resources" in the course of his public speaking career, which he ended after joining the leadership race.

But it's a safe bet he will face heat from the same NDP and Conservatives who slammed the Liberal leader this past spring.

Mulcair wasted no time Thursday in criticizing the Liberal leader for "moonlighting" from his job in politics.

"I think it says a lot about his judgment and frankly about the Liberals' classic sense of entitlement," he told reporters.

Mulcair also compared the Liberal leader to the prime minister, saying he too denies he's done something wrong until he is caught.

"I think he's acting just like Mr. Harper."

Candice Bergen, minister of state for social development, also attacked the Liberal leader.

"Not only did Justin Trudeau take money from charities, he also took money from taxpayers — and denied doing so, right up until he was caught," she said in a statement.

"Justin Trudeau's willingness to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from charity and now taxpayers raises serious questions of his judgment."

Last spring, Trudeau acknowledged that Canadians didn't approve of MPs taking money to make speeches and offered to give back any speaking fees to groups who felt they didn't get their money's worth.

A spokeswoman said Thursday that all 17 groups who paid for speeches since Trudeau became an MP were contacted but none asked for their money back.

With files from The Canadian Press

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