The price of a speech from Trudeau

So the Liberal leader is going to make amends. Now what?

So Justin Trudeau is going to make amends with any organization that feels it didn’t get its money’s worth when it paid to have him speak at an event. In the specific case of the event in Saint John, I don’t think Mr. Trudeau can really be blamed for the Grace Foundation’s losses—the foundation’s treasurer has conceded that it was Grace’s mistake, not Mr. Trudeau’s and the math ($20,000 paid to Mr. Trudeau, $52 per ticket) does seem difficult to justify—but morally and politically this is surely the right move.

The larger principles at play here are more difficult to resolve.

There is something odd about an elected politician being paid to deliver a speech—speechifying being something they are expected to do in the general carrying-out of their responsibilities as an elected politician. At the same time, of the time period involved—2008 through 2012—Mr. Trudeau was only officially employed as the elected representative of the constituents of Papineau. It was not necessarily his job as the MP for Papineau to deliver speeches anywhere but the House and his riding.

If there’s an argument to justify his speeches to various audiences across the country that might be it—though I’m not sure it quite convinces me. Of course, since he is now leader of the Liberal party, that argument obviously no longer applies, but it doesn’t seem he’s charged for a speech since June 27, 2012.

Complicating matters are two questions. First, should any charitable organizations have been charged for his services as a public speaker? Kevin Newman quibbled with this in the CTV interview, but I’m not familiar with the standard practice in the speaking industry. Second, did he neglect any of his duties as a parliamentarian as a result of his work as a public speaker? Global, for instance, has Mr. Trudeau missing two votes in the House on the day he was giving a speech in Saskatchewan (though I suppose whether the speech caused him to miss the votes or whether he was already out of the House for some other reason might have to be clarified).

The Conservatives, of course, might have to explain their own position on this issue given the previously reported speeches of senators Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy, Larry Smith and Jacques Demers.

Beyond the specifics of whether parliamentarians should be paid for delivering speeches, whatever the circumstances, there is the larger question of whether MPs should be able to derive any income beyond what they are paid by the public treasury. In the abstract, that’s what Mr. Trudeau was doing. Before being elected, he was employed, in part, as a public speaker. And he continued to do such work after being elected. By one count, in 2010, 151 of 308 MPs had some other source of income—here is Glen McGregor’s complete tally of filings.

In that sense, it’s harder to draw a line. You could attempt to ban all MPs from deriving any other income beyond the salary and any bonuses they receive as a parliamentarian. But then you’d have to accept the possibility that some worthy individuals might not be willing to seek office as a result. And you’d have to deal with the argument made here by Ned Franks that we’re better off with MPs who maintain such a tangible connection to the outside world.

The better rule would be this: Full and complete disclosure of all other sources of income, including time spent on such endeavours and money earned (down to the cent). If the Conservatives are truly troubled by Mr. Trudeau’s activities, they might include such rules in their rumoured sequel to the Accountability Act.