Justin Trudeau and unions

Should a political leader accept thousands of dollars from an interest group and then take positions on policy issues that defend the interests of that group?

That’s the question put to me by Terrance Oakey, the president of Merit Canada, which advocates for “open shop” construction associations (and therefore, against closed union workplaces).  Oakey is concerned that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau lists several labour unions among the organizations to which he’s sold his services as a public speaker, as revealed on the list of clients Trudeau has voluntarily made public. And he’s especially concerned that Trudeau has promised the Liberals will continue to fight Bill C-377, which the House passed in December and which would force unions to make details of their financing and spending public. 

That looks like a pretty strong quid pro quo. Oakey’s an interested party in the matter, and a Conservative of long standing, but I think the questions he asks are fair. Here’s an abridged version of the argument he put to me:

Between 2006 and 2010, Justin Trudeau collected $112,500 from various unions for speaking fees. As a political candidate, it would have been illegal for unions to donate any money to him under federal electoral laws.

Trudeau has promised that Liberal Senators will work “hard to try and slow down, block, impede” Bill C-377 and he has promised to repeal it if it becomes law, should he become Prime Minister. At the same time, Trudeau is promising to increase transparency, yet is fighting a bill that would actually have seen unions have to disclose the $112,500 they paid him for his speeches.


Trudeau on getting Liberal Senators to delay/fight C-377 and promising to repeal it if it passes:

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says if the bill becomes law, he’d repeal it as prime minister.
“I haven’t given up hope, however, that the Liberal senators who are doing good work are working hard to try and slow down, block, impede or make less damaging this particular bill,” Trudeau said Thursday after speaking to a carpenters’ union in Toronto. ( May 31, 2013)

Time for audience questions! First one is about Bill C-377, the Tories’ “union transparency” bill. “When you become Prime Minister of Canada, will you repeal this bill?” Trudeau says he will. ( May 30, 2013)

Trudeau speaking fees from unions:

From the official list Trudeau’s campaign gave to reporter Glen McGregor – $87,500

May 3, 2006 – Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. $10,000

November 17, 2006 – Alberta Teachers’ Association. $7,500

March 15, 2007 – Alberta Teachers’ Association. $10,000<

May 4, 2007 – New Brunswick Teachers’ Association. $10,000

October 24, 2007 – Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. $10,000

February 4, 2008 – Canadian Association of Food Service Professionals. $10,000

February 9, 2008 – Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. $10,000

March 5, 2010 – Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union. $20,000

Other events have been identified as actually being paid by unions, though they were identified incorrectly as paid by school boards in the list given to McGregor, which the boards have confirmed were paid by unions, that brings it up to $112,500:

These were the two events:

November 6, 2009 – Waterloo Catholic District School Board. $15,000
February 9, 2007 – Ottawa Carlton District School Board. $10,000


Me again. Wells. First, it’s worth noting that at no point does Oakey suggest Trudeau contravened current party-funding laws or did anything that wasn’t stricktly legal. Second, of the 10 events he lists, only two took place after Trudeau became an MP. Finally, I think it’s possible to believe that there is no direct causal link between the speaking fees Trudeau pocketed and his position on C-377. A handful of Conservative MPs voted against the bill on grounds of privacy and free association, as did all New Democratic MPs. They did it for free, as far as anyone knows. But it would be fair for voters to associate the money Trudeau made with the political position he took. And while Liberals may not like the association, they’d better be prepared to face such questions when an eventual campaign rolls around.