PMO caught pushing the Trudeau-speaking engagement story

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

It turns out that the Prime Minister's Office is perpetuating, prolonging and even gleefully advancing the Justin Trudeau/speaking engagement story.

Trudeau has been under fire for months, for earning $277,000 for speaking engagements since becoming an MP in 2008. A good chunk of the money was earned from charities and publicly funded organizations.

Last week, a letter from the Grace Foundation surfaced asking Trudeau for a refund because they lost over $20,000 on their Trudeau-speaking event in 2012. It didn't take long, however, for the Twitterverse to discover that members of the Grace Foundation — a seniors charity in St. John — had ties to the Conservative party and particularly the PMO.

[ Related: Justin Trudeau vows to 'make things right' with charities, evokes memory of his father on Father’s Day ]

And now there's this: According to journalist Laurie Watt of the Barrie Advance, she received an email from the PMO on Monday about a Trudeau-event at the Georgian College.

On Monday, PMO communications officer Erica Meekes sent The Advance details of an engagement that netted Trudeau a $10,000 fee, but left Georgian College with a $4,118 shortfall. The information was sent via email with the caveat it be referred to as coming from a “source,” not the PMO, when used.

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!”

Other news outlets also received the same 'story' from the PMO.

We shouldn't be so naive to think that this sort of thing doesn't happen in politics — at all levels by all parties — all the time.

[ Related: Is Stephen Harper a poor judge of character? ]

But this PMO advance is a little strange for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, why did the push come from the prime minister's office and not the Conservative Party?

The Toronto Star's Susan Delacourt explained this problem in her blog post on Tuesday morning.

"The Prime Minister's Office is supposed to represent all Canadians, including ones the Conservatives don't like," Delacourt, who received a telephone call, on Monday, from the PMO about the Georgian College speech.

"This is why the staffers get paid their public salaries — ie, by you and me. This is why they get extra-special security clearance; so they can be trusted with sensitive information — not available to other opposition parties, or, we presume, the Conservative party. The official told me that the PMO was simply "contrasting" leaders, as is its job. I wondered to myself if this would include going through, say, tax records of other leaders."

The other reason this story is important is because it shows how very afraid the Conservatives are of the new Liberal leader.

Since Trudeau won the Liberal leadership in April, the Tories have been proactively on the attack with negative ad campaigns, regular bulletins and talking points and with members' statements in the House all with the same message that 'Justin Trudeau is in over his head.'

"Justin Trudeau still has them spooked," Liberal insider and Sun News analyst Warren Kinsella wrote on his website on Tuesday morning.

"Otherwise, why make such a pathetically-transparent attempt to change the channel, orchestrated in the highest office in the land?"

The Tories' Trudeau fears aside, this was a good story for them: Most Canadians would agree that an MP charging speaking fees to charities is just wrong. And for Trudeau to do that — even though he now is willing to pay back some of the money — made him look bad.

But by perpetuating the story in this manner, the Conservatives have made a bad news story about Justin Trudeau into a bad news story about themselves.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

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