Justin Trudeau and Ottawa's relevance - Macleans.ca

Justin Trudeau and Ottawa’s relevance

The House of Commons is what MPs are willing to make of it


The Sun has been hounding Justin Trudeau about his part-time job as a paid public speaker and asked yesterday about whether he should repay his speaking fees, Mr. Trudeau offered the following.

“Part of my job is to represent people. It is to make sure that the values of the people who elected me in Papineau are being heard in Ottawa and across the country. The work I do to put forward those issues and those values is something I’m very, very proud of. A job of a politician is not just a 9-to-5 job. We work on weekends. I’m present in community organizations regularly in my riding and across the country .That’s what we do, and we do it in a way that best matters. The fact that Ottawa right now is not a place where we can actually have real debate, where the government invokes time allocation and closure any chance it can get to prevent anyone – whether it’s a third party verifier or an oppositon MP – from actually speaking out against positions this government has taken means that Ottawa is less and less relevant to all Canadians. And the work that I do out here listening and connecting and building the trust of Canadians is essential to me.”

Afterwards, there was a discussion between some of us (including one of Mr. Trudeau’s top advisors) about the meaning of all this.

On one level, Mr. Trudeau is indisputably correct: “Ottawa,” which I take to mean “the business of the House of Commons” is less relevant to many people than many other things. The institution has fallen into disrepair. (And the government has, in this current Parliament, taken to making fairly frequent use of time allocation.) If Mr. Trudeau believes that the work of Parliament is less relevant than some of his other work as an MP and politician—the above explanation is a bit convoluted and so some inference is required here—he is surely not the only MP to hold that belief. And there is a certain admirable bluntness to acknowledging as much openly.

On another level, this verges on defeatism. How and how much the House of Commons matters depends almost entirely on how its members are willing to make use of it. For sure, the general public might be a great motivating force for change, they might demand more and better of their elected representatives and vote for those who vow to make the House and its members more relevant. Our current system of reward and punishment does not particularly benefit those who would make parliamentary debate and accountability a primary focus. There are all sorts of explanations for the current state of things and all sorts of ways that the House of Commons might be improved—democracy is a complicated thing for which we all share some blame—but ultimately there are 308 people in that room and it is they who are responsible for its upkeep. It is our House (and we should never forget that), but it is they who we hand the keys to. Mr. Trudeau’s promise is that, should he become prime minister, he will act to make the House of Commons and its members more relevant. If all of his work outside Parliament ultimately results in him becoming prime minister and enacting worthwhile reforms, his efforts will be redeemed. But that is at least two years away. In the meantime, there is a House of Commons that might be made more relevant. It should not be left to the fates of an election campaign to determine whether anything is done about that.


Justin Trudeau and Ottawa’s relevance

  1. He forgot to end it with and I don’t forget to cash the cheque either :)

  2. The reason the House has lost much of its relevance is due to our antiquated and corrupt voting system that awards unfettered power to minority parties. That allows partisan politics to obstruct the democratic process (like debating and scrutinizing legislation.)

    The best solution is what Justin proposes: Preferential Voting. This simply requires that MPs earn their seats with a majority. It will stop vote splitting and prevent minority parties from getting unwarranted majority power on 40% of the vote.

    Once we have government that represents an actual majority of voters, there’s no way all the power can be concentrated at the top. Then no one will be able to stop MPs from doing their jobs.

    • I cannot help but agree. Nothing will ever change if we canadians don’t get more involved in conversations!

  3. Granted convoluted is something JT does well or not, depending on your view of convoluted.[ i generally don’t like it] Just how is he expected to make the house matter or be more relevant if the govt simply shuts the avenues of debate down? As for QP, it is a joke. Best stay away for now anyway.
    I guess there is all the hidden stuff we don’t see, like the committee work. But even here the govt invariably plays hard ball.

    Under other circumstances he could be working the backbenches for across party support on important issues. But you have to wonder if even this avenue is closed most of the time in Ottawa these days. Essentially you’re saying he has abandoned the place to the tory barbarians without a fight. I suppose so. Can’t say i blame him myself. If i were a member i’d have a bottle stashed away for when the tory front bench starts to bray about accountability and transparency. Or take a page out of Sir JA’s book, and keep a barf bag handy.

  4. Am I missing something? Trudeau’s rationale for appearing and speaking in venues other than the HoC may be utterly valid, given the dismal state of democracy in that place, but it’s not a legitimate justification for his charging fees to do so. Isn’t civic engagement of any kind, whether public speaking or cutting ribbons, why he’s drawing an MP’s salary?

    It’s somewhat analogous to a school teacher on the public payroll charging fees to tutor his/her students.

    • That’s a good point. My only answer would be is he the only one doing it? The ECs okayed it. It doesn’t seem kosher to me either .

      • I don’t know if he’s ever done it, and I’m not suggesting he has, but I’d bet plenty of organizations would pay to have Marc Garneau speak at events for them. The next name who popped in to my mind in this context (though he’s no longer an MP) was Ken Dryden. Again, don’t know if he ever spoke at any events for which he received speaking fees, but I’d bet plenty of organizations would pay for that.

        • Garneau turned down a $10k speaking engagement. Duffy and Wallin also do paid speaking venues. Of course, that probably doesn’t help Trudeau’s cause…

    • Justin was a motivational speaker before becoming a Liberal MP, making up to $460k/yr. Organizations hire speakers for their own agendas, usually to raise money. They want someone who will bring in a big audience. It may seem odd they are willing to pay $15,000 for a speaker. But clearly there’s a market for it.

      Justin was not negligent in his duties as MP of his riding. He wasn’t getting paid extra money to speak as the Liberal MP of Papineau. He did speaking engagements on the side outside of his riding. They averaged about 4 events a year after getting elected. All engagements were vetted with the ethics commissioner to rule out any conflict of interest. (And Conservatives were certainly trying to nail him on ethics violations…)

      Ethics commissioner A-OK’ed Justin Trudeau speaking events as MP (has list of engagements and fees)

      • Totally agree. Like Ron, I suspect Mr. Trudeau’s speaking engagements were part of a fund raising. If so, the organization was better off paying a fee to Trudeau and raising tons of money (Trudeau has been the best liberal fundraiser for years now) than bringing someone else for a lower fee or for free and getting much lower returns. It would be nice if Mr. Trudeau could provide more info on his paid speaking engagements since he became an MP. It would also be informative if he provided the total number of his non-paid speaking engagements other than those to raise funds for his party or his riding association. We could then see how the numbers compare.

        • These were not fund-raisers. These were jobs he was hired to do through an agent, “Speakers’ Spotlight”. If they had not hired Trudeau they would have hired someone else to speak at the function.

      • I see your point but, if public appearances were his vocation prior to entering politics, it’s foolish of him to justify his continued extracurricular appearances (for a fee) as alternatives to the lack of opportunities to speak out on the Hill. He confuses the two roles and leads us to believe that he’s receiving payment for doing something that’s part of his role as a paid Parliamentarian.

        It’s his own fault for sowing such confusion.

        • I believe his critique Ottawa has more to do with the amount of House votes he has missed recently rather then to defend missing a very small amount of House business to continue to be a motivational speaker who helps organizaitons draw a large crowd to their events.

          • That’s an attendance issue which, valid or not, has nothing at all to do with the abysmal state of democracy in the House, so he shouldn’t have alluded to that as a justification for his speaking for fees elsewhere.

            I think he has thrown in a red herring which isn’t helping his cause.

    • He checked with the Ethic’s Commissioner first. The speeches he charges for are not political. They are talks on the environment and other topics that have nothing to do with his position as an MP. As an MP he attends community events which he does not charge for.

      • OK, I get it already and I have no problem with that. I’m just saying (again) that has nothing to do with the sad state of affairs in the House and he shouldn’t have alluded to that situation as his rationale for speaking elsewhere for money. He made it sound as if he’s charging appearance fees for doing what he feels is his job as an MP in the House. That’s all.

  5. Just listened to the Sun interview with the tax payer lady. A couple of things need clarifying. Is it a fact that he earned this $270,000 since becoming an mp by taking time off from being in the house? It’s just a question, i don’t know. How much of an mps time should be allotted to serving his communities interests?Is he on call 24 hrs a day? If for instance he gave some or all of these speeches outside of Commons time[ no doubt he should be there first] is that wrong? Is it wrong then to charge for it?

    It’s important to note he gives his reasons why he isn’t in the house more often, whether you like them or not, that is consistent with giving these speeches if he feels the message isn’t getting out through more regular channels. Again, i have no idea what these talks are about. If they are just self promotion or something beside that. But if it’s beyond mere self promotion[ as he claims] it isn’t fair to characterize that has making money on the side
    , he isn’t entittled to. Unless as i said you regard this as part of an mps job anyway.
    IOWs does an mps duty to talk to these groups[ like extra curricular for teachers] extend to giving them gratis? Or should they?

    • I can’t imagine any MP, with this one exception, charging a school for giving a speech. It’s worsened by the fact that he’s supposed to be his party’s Youth critic. Going to schools and listening to students should be a part of his job. Do you think the Minister of Defence would be billing the Army for giving the troops a pep-talk?

      The kid should just shut his mouth already. I would have been ready to give him a pass, because the number of days missed was frankly almost irrelevant, and he’s in a 3rd place party, etc…. but the way he’s justifying this to himself and others is demonstrating a fundamental lack of understanding of what his job actually entails. It’s almost as if he wants to become PM, because the PM gives lots of speeches, and he figures he can continue charging $20k a pop for those.


      • Justin was hired at events to raise money. He wasn’t stealing from school children. As a Liberal MP of Papineau, he was perfectly within his rights to take on the occasional speaking engagement outside of his riding, during his own free time. These events were cleared with the ethics commissioner.

        If Justin is elected Liberal leader, obviously he will represent the Liberal party of Canada and not be in a position to do paid speaking events. He has not done any events since he announced he was running for Liberal leadership.

        • So he was just doing speaking events when it was he, and he alone who knew he was going to run for the leadership. It’s not like the day he announced he was running for the leadership was the day that he made the decision. And you don’t think any of the funds he collected while giving those speeches are being used to finance his leadership campaign, and impending campaign for PM?

        • So the Saint Justin was doing this for charity! Why bill them for 20 thousand a shot? If they were to cover his expenses and nothing else I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it. If he ever retires from being PM guess he’ll be charging what the Rolling Stones charge.

      • Read the ethics commissioner’s report you moron.

      • Is that an answer to my question? The tax lady asserted he took time off from the house to give these speeches. If that isn’t the case then she and sun should shut up. Since there are no guidelines to how much of an mps time should be spent on or in his riding, why demand it only of JT simply because he can pack em in? He’s perfectly free to give these speeches at market value if he wants. Who else other than the PM would pull in these numbers, if that is what these orgs were hoping for – a large turn out?
        I have to say though i’m still not comfortable with charging schools that kind of fee. However it appears it isn’t true what the troll Omen claims, that he is actually obliged to give them for free because he is youth critic. I wish he would though. Still looks like a political mistake on his part, no?

        • “Tax lady”? Do you mean the Canadian “Taxpayers'” Federation? They are nothing but agenda-driven cranks. I watched some Sun TV news nonsense. The “moonlighting” “double-dipping” allegations they make don’t mesh with the reality of 4 speaking engagements per year.

          Trudeau was hired by school boards for a couple of engagements. But it’s still unclear what the venues were. Was he hired to talk to school children or was he hired to bring in the crowds at fundraising events? Trudeau suggests the latter, but he was speaking in general.

          It should also be noted its unclear what other kinds of speaking engagements he did that were related to his job as MP that he didn’t charge for. Certainly as a leadership candidate he is going around the country talking with students and other groups to build support for his leadership bid and for the Liberal party in general.

      • Thank for that. I should have known. Any attack from Ezra is bound to be partisan and twisted in some way. And i’m surprised at charlie Angus – he should be ashamed of himself.

  6. If, as he’s come to the conclusion, parliament has become irrelevant, shouldn’t he, as an MP be sticking around to fight to make it more relevant? If he’s decided that’s too much for him, then he should have resigned his seat. If he’d done that, then nobody would take any issue with him travelling the country charging schools and charities for his speeches, which was apparently more lucrative than being an MP. But he didn’t quit drawing the salary, he just quit doing the job (as frequently).

    What world does this privileged upper-class snob come from that he thinks he can essentially keep getting paid from one employer for going to work another job that’s also paying him? This would never fly in the real world, but since Wherry and Trudeau have deemed parliament irrelevant (they do still make laws there and govern the country, don’t they?) it’s suddenly fine to bilk the public. He can use this excuse to justify any kind of bad behaviour if we start buying this argument.

    You’re not going to make parliament better by abandoning it to go campaigning for the party leadership on the public dime. How does that instil any “trust” amongst the electorate? What a hallow defence!

    • LOL oh enough Ricky.

      Harper’s already spent a bundle on ‘attack Justin’ ads….he doesn’t need your help.

    • Can i quote you? Somebody who claims to be someone named Rick Omen thinks this Parliament can be improved by not abandoning it? I never took you for an optimist. Guess that’s what all those tory back benchers are up to every time they parrot the TP de jeur.
      The only way to improve this bloody frat house is to elect a new govt or take a damn flame thrower to it.

      • Right, just like Trudeau’s brilliant plan to reform the Senate by appointing “better” Senators? The deep thinkers of the LPC are really outdoing themselves on these democratic reform debates.

        I can see Trudeau’s campaign slogan now “Vote Justin: The Same, Just Better”.

        • Improving the appointment process is certainly a lot better than what we got now. Harper has filled the senate with partisan hacks: 58 of 58 Con appointments, including real stinkers like Brazeau, The Duff, and Wallin. Anything is better than that corruption.

          • I agree that improving the appointment process would be a good thing. But that’s not at all what Junior’s suggested he’ll do. He’ll keep the process the same, and just appoint Liberal senators. That’s not improvement, that’s just changing the color of the paint.

          • Trudeau could change his mind.

            I seem to remember some guy named Harper, who’s plan to begin reforming the Senate wasn’t to appoint “better” Senators, it was to not appoint any Senators at all. And that didn’t last long.

          • That guy’s locked away in Duffy’s basement…where ever that is?

          • When he and Manning announced that they would reform the Senate to a democratic elected institution, did all Senators including the Liberal ones then announce they would resign and run in those elections ?

            Did you give your support to the Reform Party when they said they would do this or are you just now choosing to take a stand because it is convenient ?

            Your inconsistentcy and inability to take a principled stance are very common amongst Liberals.

          • Harper said that he wouldn’t appoint any Senators, and then he appointed Senators.

            How does that fact demonstrate MY inconsistency, or MY inability to take a stand, let alone that these traits are “very common amongst Liberals”?

            Or are you admitting that Prime Minister Harper, a man who’s government uses “because that’s what the Liberals would have done” more than any other explanation for its questionable actions was never any different from the Liberals, and we were all terribly naive to believe that they were?

            In any case, don’t blame me that “Demand Better!” morphed into “How Dare People Expect Better of Us!” the moment the Tories were siting on the other side of the House. That’s not my fault.

          • I`m getting really sick of you liberals whining about the Senate now, when you know perfectly well that one of the main stances of Manning and Harper and al was a reformed and democratic Senate. You would now appear to think that was a laudable goal—-but at the time you did not campaign for appointed Senators (80 plus % were Liberals ) to resign and run in an Election. You guys even mocked the fact that Alberta had Senate elections.

            I would have preferred that Harper blow up the whole Senate appointment process in 2006, but do you really think he had a chance to succeed with that in a shaky minority government with Liberals having a clear Senate majority and that change needing the cooperation of the provinces.

            Until you show me your history of supporting Senate democracy and your support of the only political party to call for Senate Elections, then I will continue to assume you are a reformer of convenience and have no credibility to criticize the inconsistency of others.

          • For the record, I’m not whining any more about the Senate than I ever have. What annoys me is that the party who campaigned for years on the premise that they were going to do things differently than the Liberals, on any number of files, have now pretty much conclusively demonstrated that if they ever actually had any intention of doing so, said intention didn’t last past their first day in government.

            It’s true, Senate reform isn’t the highest priority I have, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find it annoying that the people who thought it was a big priority reversed themselves on a dime once they got in to office.

          • When he and Manning announced that they would reform the Senate to a democratic elected institution, did all Senators including the Liberal ones then announce they would resign and run in those elections?

            When Harper announced that he would reform the Senate to a democratic elected institution, and not appoint any Senators in the mean time, do you suppose he had any intention whatsoever of following through? Because there’s no evidence that he did.

          • Yes, but look at the naivety or stupidity of Canadians – he got re-elected again? Did you see Harper try to bring canadians together or in any discussion? Justin Trudeau has been reaching out to all Canadians; Not knocking everyone else off their perch. integrity and love for Canadians is important unlike Harper and everyone else seeking but for the position of control

          • He didn’t say that at all. And that’s pretty rich coming from the supporter of a PM who has not, and likely never will appoint anything but tory cronies.

          • Harper has empowered himself by individuals who will serve him better NOT us Canadians. It needs to be about people leadership Away from political leadership. I, as a sixty years old woman want our descendents to have an opportunity away from the political dicattorship we are faced with.

    • Michael Chong has been at this for years and Nathan Cullen has been working on it for over a year, if not more. Have you seen any changes? It has to come from the top and that means the Prime Minister. But Harper does not care; in fact he and his party are doing everything they can to make Parliament irrelevant. The Conservatives have galls to criticize Trudeau for not being in the House to do speaking engagements. How many times has Harper scheduled photo ops at the same time as Question period, the only time he is the House except to vote?

      • the fact is that even if he were in the senate at the time of VOTE – Harper has majority- He is best out and working on his campaign because we do not need another lawyer or political business man in office. With real team supporter, Justin Trudeau can bring Canadians, young and old, whatever the race or language together! It is time for change- its our younger generation who will suffer if you people fail to do a bit of research or realise how my generation of babyboomers have failed to do more than sit back and wait for those in position of control have failed to empower us low income or poorer canadians. We have had enough political businessmen!. Look at Greece as an example.

        • Just so you know! Harper and Trudeau do not vote in the Senate. They do however vote in the House of Commons. Perhaps a little more research should be done on your part.

    • “What world does this privileged upper-class snob come from that he thinks he can essentially keep getting paid from one employer for going to work another job that’s also paying him?”

      Just off the top of my head, the following MPs (all CPC) actively farm on top of being MPs:

      David Anderson
      Ted Menzies
      Leon Benoit
      Earl Dreeshen
      Randy Hoback
      Robert Merrifield
      Kevin Sorrensen

      By your logic, they should stop working on their operations as their income must be 100% their MP’s income; any moonlighting in a second job is verboten.

  7. “If all of his work outside Parliament ultimately results in him becoming prime minister and enacting worthwhile reforms, his efforts will be redeemed” – I would also say if that’s the case that every dime he’s collected from speaking engagements while an MP should be considered an illegal campaign contribution. He’s delivering political speeches for cash. How is that in any way different than accepting donations at a political rally?

    • Clearly you don’t have the slightest clue of what you’re talking about. Trudeau was most certainly not delivering political speeches for cash. He did not receive illegal campaign contributions. The Conservatives have tried nailing him on ethics violations and didn’t succeed. So obviously he did nothing wrong.

      • Ron, I cannot agree more, sadly, if canadians don’t stand up for people leadership instead of political leadership – Nothing will ever get better

      • So I hire a guy to come to the office every day. It’s my way or the highway while in the office. The guy decides that it is irrelevant for him to be there and decides to moonlight one day a week somewhere else. Do I not have the right to fire him? We, the people, voted for Justin to be our representative in parliament, not off speaking to students in Peterborough while parliament was in session. If Mr. Trudeau thinks he’s wasting his time in parliament maybe we’re wasting our time on Mr. Trudeau.

        • Rules allow MPs to operate a side business. Of course, Trudeau only took on about 4 speaking engagements a year after becoming an MP. So clearly he was working in his own spare time.

          But you are right. Voters have the right to fire him if they believe he is negligent in his duties. Those in his riding of Papineau will have the opportunity to do just that in 2015. (If Justin gets his way, and legislates Preferential Voting, he will have to earn the trust of an actual majority of voters in order to keep his seat. He only got 38% last time around.)

          • As Justin is going to have no power to do anything even if he does win the leadership, preferential voting will not be on the table in 2015. It has been turned down in four provinces. I understood that MP’s were not allowed to run a side business as it could lead to a conflict of interest. Didn’t Takhar have to step down from his transport business? Or is that only provincially?

          • See my above post – at a minimum, there are 7 MPs who actively farm on top of being MPs. They seem to be able to do that without issue.

          • Actually *Proportional Representation* was rejected in 4 provincial referendums, not Preferential Voting. PV keeps our existing system intact, it just changes the ballot. People rank choices instead of selecting one.

            It’s the same system all federal parties use to elect their leaders. It requires that MPs actually represent their constituents by getting a majority of the vote. FPTP doles out power to the leading candidate, which means voters often get saddled with politicians and governments they don’t want and didn’t vote for.

            Since PV only upgrades our existing system (like fixed election dates) it can be legislated without a referendum (unlike PR which is a major overhaul of our system of government.)

        • I don’t believe it’s yet been proven Justin missed a session in Parliament (i.e. weekdays, not evenings and weekends) for a paid engagement. Until then, your analogy really becomes as such: you hire a guy, they work at your job, they also work at a second job on weekends that does not affect your job. You fire that guy? Most definitely wrongful dismissal.

        • 151 of 308 MPs have outside incomes. Some from each official party.

          Traditionally MPs were not paid and being an MP was not considered employment. Just some things to keep in mind.

        • Well of the other 307 MPs, how many actually disclosed their financial records for you to make a comment like that. Based on what I’ve see so far in the CON ranks missteps, I would like to see similar disclosure for all MPs.

          • No, I’m right with you on that. Especially now that I’ve discovered that Joyce Murray and her husband run an environmental company loaning money to other environmental groups.

    • Election financing 101, courtesy of the Accountability Act:

      A candidate can contribute up to $2,100 to their own campaign – the $1,100 individual donation limit all individuals are limited to, plus an additional $1,000.

      At a maximum, Justin can use $2,100 in his campaign. Everything else is personal income, unusable as far as political purposes go. Campaign financial reports are on the Elections Canada database to ensure all is above board (well, unless your name is Peter Penashue)

      Thanks for trying, Rick, but no dice.

  8. ‘It is to make sure that the values of the people who elected me in Papineau are being heard in Ottawa and across the country’. Hmmmm. He wants me to hear the values of the people in Papineau? Yes, perhaps in Ottawa, but across the country? From what I have heard of Papineau, I’m not sure I want their values.

    • Probably better values then the smugness and arrogance in your post.

  9. The Liberals are at 3rd party status in the house. It might be better for opposition MPs to fully boycott the House of Commons to shame the government in allowing it to operate as intended. I don’t claim the Liberals were that much better either when they were in control.

  10. Wherry, you entirely miss the point.

    It’s not the speaking engagements that are the problem, it’s the payments. These people are paying not because he’s a rock star or a hollywood celebrity. They’re doing it for political favoritism. It’s influence peddling. It’s currying favour. It’s campaign donations when there is no campaign, in other words it’s “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”. It’s lobbying. All of it is unethical.

    How many cabinet ministers are running around getting paid to do speeches? None of them.

    So why is this any different for an opposition MP? They’re all doing it because they believe he may become leader of the Liberals.

    For Wherry to focus on anything other than the payments is ridiculous.

    • It certainly was a rather long shot bet. The Ethics Commissioner has taken the opposite view. As it happen JT is a very good public speaker. Perhaps the best in the H of C. But I rather suspect that people were hiring him to speak because of who his father was rather than the chance he would become PM himself. Now that that seems likely he has stopped giving paid speeches.