Tag Archives: Justin Trudeau

Wooing the middle-class voter

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With all the strength and stridency his office demanded of him, the second coming of Pierre Elliot Trudeau – specifically, his eldest son Justin, a la the “just society” of three decades ago – importuned the assembled Liberal faithful at the Party’s conference this past weekend to embrace and fully engage the Canadian middle class. 

And that immediately raised a question: Which middle class?

Just as the charismatic Grit leader bemoaned the fact that “middle-class Canadians struggle to balance their cheque books” a formerly confidential government report (made public through an Access to Information request by Canadian Press) resonantly declared that “the Canadian dream is a myth more than a reality.”

In fact, its conclusions “point to a middle class that isn’t growing in the marketplace, is increasingly indebted though it has a relatively modest standard of living, and is less likely to move to higher income (i.e., the middle class is no springboard to higher incomes).”

Other findings include:

“Over 1993-2007, there has been a slight hollowing out of the middle class, and the face of the middle class has changed considerably. Couples without young children and unattached individuals now account for most middle-class families.”

Meanwhile, “although middle-income families experienced a good progression in after-tax income, the same cannot be said of their earnings. In particular, the wages of middle-income workers have stagnate.”

Then, there’s that whole golden-goose phenomenon in which, it seems, the more money you manage to earn today, the more likely you will continue to comfortably line your pockets in the future.

“Although the middle class holds a relatively fair share of the ‘wealth pie’, higher-income families have far greater nest eggs,” the report observes. “Furthermore, wealth is not equally divided among middle-income families, with those headed by younger individuals being at a disadvantage.”

Finally, middle earners in this country are spendthrifts who burn through more than they bring in, “mortgaging their futures” with cheap and easy credit “to sustain their current consumption.”

Under the circumstances, it only make senses that all three major federal parties are obsessed with the middle class; with its welfare, its return to strength, its re-invigoration. After all, the storied bourgeoisie made this country what it is today?

Well, didn’t it?

“My priority is the Canadians who built this country: the middle class, not the political class,” thunders Mr. Trudeau in one recent ad.

Adds his nemesis, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, “Today, our country faces levels of income inequality not seen since the Great Depression, and the middle class is struggling like never before. Middle-class wages are consistently on the decline. Yet the Conservative solution is to demand even more from you and to leave even less to our children and our grandchildren.”

Poppy-cock, the Tories rejoin. They remain singularly fixated on the condition of Canadian “families” to which they say they are committed with their “low-tax plan and measures to help sustain a higher quality of life for hard-working Canadians.”

Of course, the problem with all of this is that, these days, just about everyone calls himself a member of the middle class. So, targeting the message, at least politically, is getting trickier.

One member of your audience may draw a salary of $40,000 a year and another, $80,000. Technically, they both qualify for membership in the middle class (a membership that, increasingly, promises few privileges).

But their experiences and circumstances – their very diversity thanks to decades of neo-liberal and neo-conservative attacks on government protections, prudent market regulation and labour unions – have rendered them utterly unalike.

While one toils at a boutique design studio that offers full-time hours and pretty good benefits, the other owns a craft shop and pays through the nose for private health insurance. The former is a wobbly centre-right Conservative; the latter is a raging lefty with a bone to pick.

To whom do Messrs. Trudeau, Mulcair and Harper address themselves when they go stumping about the country squawking about the  struggling wage earner of moderate means?

The middle class is no longer the monolithically predictable, ideologically stable voting block it once was. Those in office who entertain hopes of remaining their would do well to remember that.

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The true grit of political battle

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To appreciate just how rattled federal Conservatives are about the prospect of facing an invigorated Justin Trudeau clad in the full metal jacket of his pre-election campaign armour, consider the strange plight of retired Canadian Forces lieutenant-general Andrew Brooke Leslie.

He’s the army officer who led the country’s mission in Afghanistan in 2006. Earlier in his career, he served as Winnipeg Area Chief of Staff during that city’s spring floods in 1997. Later that year, he commanded the 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, providing disaster relief in the storm-lashed south shore of Montreal.

More recently, General Leslie hitched his political star to Mr. Trudeau and company, becoming the co-chair of the Liberal International Affairs Council of Advisors as well as a possible candidate for office.

And for that, apparently, the military leader, patriot and, some might even say, hero cannot be forgiven – at least not within the ranks of his former Tory bosses.

Earlier this week, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson described a recent moving bill, for $72,000, the general charged the taxpayers thusly: “grossly excessive”. Specifically, he questioned “how an in-city move could possibly total over $72,000. In the meantime, it is important for Andrew Leslie to explain why he believes this is a reasonable expense for hard working Canadians to absorb. This is a matter of judgment and the responsible use of taxpayers dollars.”

Sure, it is, except for one thing: It’s all perfectly legal.

The amount might seem extraordinary, especially in light of the ongoing toothache that is the Senate expense scandal. But, in fact, the payout is standard operating procedure for senior military personnel; they get one final move, on the public dime, to anywhere they’d like in Canada.

Besides, as General Leslie explained in his own statement on Facebook, “Each step of the process is overseen by a third-party supplier, and independent approvals for every expenditure are required, as directed by the Treasury Board of Canada. Costs are paid directly to the suppliers (real estate agents, movers etc.) by the Department of National Defence.”

If we’re apt to blame anyone for such largess, then blame the rules-makers and keepers in Ottawa who are master adepts in the fine art of separating the taxpayer from his wallet, for all manner of “legitimate” exercises. After all, what’s a few million bucks for a water park, replete with gazebo, en route to a billion-dollar economic summit in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?

In fact, it is General Leslie’s outspoken support for “a change in how politics is conducted” in this country that has unnerved the Tories and inspired their partisan barbs.

A former top-ranked military officer with a distinguished service record, a chest full of medals and a vocally Liberal perspective on current affairs is the sort of nightmarish figure that keeps Conservative strategists up into the wee hours, popping handfuls of no-doze.

Combine that with a charismatic, telegenic and increasingly shrewd Grit leader, and the Tory Party’s road ahead to 2015 does seem suddenly long, winding and rough. At the very least, it’s clear that Mr. Trudeau is no longer the lightweight (if he ever was) his detractors have portrayed. Indeed, coming into Thursday’s Liberal policy convention, even his vaguer pronouncements sound formidable.

“The challenge and the responsibility for this year and over the next year and a half is to pick the team and build the plan,” he told the Globe and Mail last week. “And always get the big things right.”

The big things like, presumably, education, infrastructure, and the economy. To date, Mr Trudeau has avoided cornering himself with specific policy objectives and procedures. He is wisely keeping his powder dry. After all, a lot can happen in 15 months. Why make promises which might well prove untenable to keep?

In the meantime, the signs and portents in the body politic suggest that the tide of opinion in the country is shifting ever so slightly to the left. When establishmentarians such as Andrew Leslie publicly declare their allegiance to the Liberals, every true, blue Tory knows what that means.

It means war.

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The Red Chamber’s not so red anymore

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In question period on Wednesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau needn’t have uttered a word; the self-satisfied and supremely amused look on his face spoke volumes. It was the sort of expression one adopts when one has eaten somebody else’s lunch and gotten away with it.

The lunch, in this case, was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s who has been dancing around the complex and thorny issue of Senate reform for years; one tends to forget that overhauling the Red Chamber, making it more representative and democratic, was a signature plank in the Tory leader’s campaign for federal office.

But it was Mr. Trudeau who pounced, instead.

“As of this morning,” he said in a statement, “only elected Members of the House of Commons will serve as members of the Liberal Caucus. The 32 formerly Liberal Senators are now independent of the national Liberal Caucus. They are no longer part of our parliamentary team. . . .Let me be clear, the only way to be a part of the Liberal caucus is to be put there by the voters of Canada.”

Furthermore, he said, “I challenge the Prime Minster to match this action. As the majority party in the Senate, immediate and comprehensive change is in Conservative hands. I’m calling on the Prime Minister to do the right thing. To join us in making Senators independent of political parties and end partisanship in the Senate.”

Later, speaking with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, he said his timing had nothing to do with an auditor-general’s investigation of Senate expenses, which could embarrass some federal Liberals, calling that a “separate problem from the excessive partisanship and patronage. . .which is what I have moved to eliminate today. . . It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.”

All of which left Ottawa reeling, including Grit senators.

“We are the Senate Liberal caucus and I will remain the leader of the opposition and we will remain the official opposition in the Senate,” the former Liberal Leader of the  Senate James Cowan said.

“I’m still and Liberal senator, not an independent,” Senator Mobina Jaffer piped up. “I’ve always been a Liberal.”

Meanwhile New Brunswick Senator Pierrette Ringuette called the move surprising, but not shocking, and a “giant step in the right direction. . .If we want to reform the Senate, senators need to be independent of groups and parties, and that’s what the leader has done today.”

In fact, with this move, the leader has done quite a few things.

For one, he’s grabbed the initiative and stamped the future of Senate reform with the Liberal brand. Even if the momentum shifts back to the Tories, they can never again claim that they lead the charge.

Paul Poilievre, the Minister for Democratic Reform, questions the wisdom of freeing unelected senators from the influence and control of elected Members of Parliament (specifically, the prime minister and opposition leaders).That, however, is a point of process; how, exactly, the selection process will work is not yet clear.

What is clear is widespread, even overwhelming, public support for dramatic Senate reform, without which most Canadians would rather bid the institution a long overdue fare-thee-well.

Mr. Trudeau’s initiative, they will say, may not be perfect. In the long run, it may not even be workable. But at least he’s doing something. And that, alone, stands him head and shoulders above the rest on the Hill.

The move has also upended the Prime Minister’s Office’s strategy of keeping the Senate, with all of its attendant scandals, out of the news as much as possible. According to polls, the Mike Duffy-Nigel Wright affair has seriously damaged the government’s credibility.

“What the Liberal Party doesn’t understand is that Canadians are not looking for a better unelected Senate,” Mr. Harper told the House of Commons.  “Canadians believe that for the Senate to be meaningful in the 21st century it must be elected. . .I gather the change announced by the Liberal Leader today is that unelected Liberal senators will become unelected senators who happen to be Liberal.”

It was a good line. It’s too bad lunch was over when he delivered it.

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Pot’s “cool” factor is fading fast

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Never to be outdone – especially not by a Liberal usurper to the parliamentary throne – Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (how is that guy even alive?) now professes to have smoked pot. Whereas Justin Trudeau confirms that he has sucked back on a spliff maybe six times in his life (yeah, right), Hog Town’s burgemeister giggles, “Oh yeah, I won’t deny . . .I smoked a lot of it.”

Given his performance in office, that particular admission is not likely to cheer those who insist that marijuana does not impair one’s judgement. Still, he does appear to be in good company.

Ever since Mr. Trudeau’s calculated announcement this month, elected officials from all points on the political spectrum have been fairly tripping over themselves to cash in on this newest “cool” factor in Canadian politics.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says smoking pot is among the “personal decisions that people make. I’m not going to weight in on a decision of another politician or individual.” As for her own “personal decisions,” she adds, “I have smoked marijuana, but not for the last 35 years. . .and certainly not since my children were born. It has never been a big part of my life.”

Liberal MP Wayne Easter says, “Yes I tried it once about probably 40, 45 years ago now and once what enough for me.”

His colleague Sean Casey explains, “I did as a teenager, I tried it couple of times. I didn’t like it, I was never a smoker and I hacked and coughed so much it didn’t do anything for me, quite frankly.”

Meanwhile, Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay sounds almost ashamed when he admits “I have never smoked marijuana. . .Well I guess down in Magel it was hard to find. I didn’t know much about it back then.”

It’s the same species of answer that Nova Scotia Liberal Leader, Stephen McNeil, gives when he says he, too, is a virgin to weed: “It probably has something to do with a mother who was a sheriff and five brothers who are law enforcement officers.”

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was actually out front on this issue back in 2011 when he volunteered, “I was a normal kid, I had a normal upbringing, a normal life in university. I experimented from time to time with marijuana. In other words, it was nothing to write home about in the “grand scheme of things.”

At around that time, U.S. President Barack Obama cracked up the Washington press corps when, in response to a question about whether he ever inhaled, he declared: “Frequently. . .That was the point.”

As a Wikipedia entry points out, “Prior to prohibition, U.S. politicians known for growing cannabis include some of the nation’s Founding Fathers and Presidents.” There’s Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and James Madison. There’s also Franklin Pierce, Zachary Taylor and George Washington.

More recently, since pot’s interdiction, a virtual bevy of prominent baby boomers have admitted to using the stuff, including Bill Clinton, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

All of which raises the question: How cool can something be if everyone is (or was) doing it?

I was roundly considered a nerd in high school in large part because I refused to  toke up. I wish I could say this was one of my principled stands. The truth is I didn’t like the smell, though I didn’t (still don’t) begrudge anyone else’s decision to partake.

The legal alcohol I consume actually makes me more of an outlier (if not an especially cool one) than the marijuana some of my friends and associates smoke. I’m edgy and dangerous, flirting with disaster. In contrast, they’re all too bloody normal, even, dare I say, conformist.

Rob Ford – who has been lambasted in the press for his alleged appearance in a video with drug dealers and his infamous declaration, “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine” – wonders why all these politicians “are all coming out” regarding their use of marijuana. It is, he seems to suggest, no big deal.

For once, he’s dead right.

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The high times of Justin Trudeau

Death in Dhaka...600 and counting

Politically, at least, it appears federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau can smoke pot and chew gum at the same time.

His admission last week that he partook in a celebratory exchange of herb at a party with friends three years ago generated not much more than polite applause among most Canadians, who care more about their mounting household debt than the recreational indiscretions of their elected officials.

The CBC’s “Community Blog” members seemed only too willing to forgive.

“So he’s human! It makes him even more likeable,” one posted.

Declared another: “And he’s honest. It raises him in my esteem, and I’m not even a Liberal.”

Added another: “I will vote for Trudeau on this alone. . .don’t decriminalize it, legalize, regulate and tax it. And I don’t even smoke weed. It makes sense.”

Indeed, one observed, “Name me one politician who hasn’t? Seriously, does this have to be an issue? I think issues such as honesty are a lot more important.”

In contrast (naturally) the federal Conservatives reacted less sanguinely to Mr. Trudeau’s confession. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the wayward fellow’s actions “speak for themselves”. Justice Minister Peter MacKay insisted the Grit honcho exhibited a “a profound lack of judgment. . .By flouting the laws of Canada while holding elected office, he shows he is a poor example for all Canadians, particularly young ones. Justin Trudeau is simply not the kind of leader our country needs.”

But if they were trying to have a field day at Mr. Trudeau’s expense, they soon recognized that few in the media or, indeed, the public at large were willing to play that particular game. In fact, this is becoming a pattern – as heartening to Liberal brand masters as it is worrying to their opposite numbers in the Tory encampment.

Justin Trudeau is gaining momentum as fast as Stephen Harper is losing it. Oddly, parliamentary prorogation helps the former far more than it does the latter. Although the prime minister may enjoy a short break from Question Period, his Grit rival is free to pontificate at length on social and economic justice issues about which, increasingly, Canadians care. What’s more, in sending his messages, Mr. Trudeau is using major and social media to marvelous effect.

Last week, he came out first and forcefully on the subject of Quebec’s decision to curtail expressions of religious affiliation among public servants in that province.  “I have enormous concerns about the limits that would be imposed on people, on their religion and on their freedom of expression,” he told reporters following a consultation with Premier Pauline Marois. “I don’t think it’s who we are and I don’t think it honours us to have a government that does not represent our generosity and openness of spirit.”

Online reaction to his remarks was swift and broadly supportive, if not uniformly for their contents then unanimously for their candor.

“Slowly but very deliberately Mr. Trudeau is showing Canadians that he is a different kind of of political animal,” one reader posted to the Globe and Mail’s website. “He is offering a potentially refreshing choice and is starting to prove that he is not afraid to run the risk of taking positions that may not appeal to everyone.”

Another pointedly observed, “I think it’s absolutely hilarious that after taxpayers have spent a lot of money paying for Mr. Harper’s strategically planned Arctic dog-and-pony show, he’s been bumped off the stage by Mr. Trudeau. Substance (no pun intended) prevails over photo-ops.”

This week, Mr. Trudeau launched another salvo into the hull of the Conservative dreadnaught by stating that the much-vaunted economic recovery, for which the Harper government adores taking credit, is unequal and, therefore, unfair to many middle-class Canadians. Speaking for himself (but clearly with his leader’s sanction, Liberal finance critic Scott Brison told The Globe’s Jane Taber, “The economic recovery has left behind a lot of middle-class Canadian families. Young Canadians and their middle-class families are facing real challenges, near-record levels of personal debt, some of the worst job numbers in decades.”

About which one commentator, representatively, posted, “Looks like we have a young leader who is getting better and better as he goes along. I’ll take that over Harper and his Band of Bucketheads any day.”

All of which suggests that Mr. Trudeau is riding high and in more ways than one.

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Justin Trudeau’s pot smoke and mirrors

If mystery still shrouds federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s reason to suddenly and forthrightly support legalizing marijuana, one need only check out the CBC story posted to the Corp’s website last week for elucidation.

Scroll down through the statements and declarations, past the partisan reactions and mealy-mouthed disclaimers, and you arrive at the heart of the matter right below the counter that indicates this relatively short item generated a whopping 3,499 comments in less than 48 hours. The temper of many of the remarks tells you all you need to know about Mr. Trudeau’s political acuity.

“I have to give it to Justin Trudeau on this one since he has the guts to stand up and say what people want to hear even if they disagree,” writes STIL SMOKING. “The cons walk that fine line of poll results and reaction then change what they said and say they didn’t say what was printed.”

Adds toothpainpick, “I look forward to legalized marijuana. Legalization of marijuana will open up recruitment into our police forces across the country and allow current members to consume it, should they wish. This should reduce the alcohol driven militarized mentality of our present forces and perhaps lead to a more thoughtful intelligence in the administration of law upon our streets.”

Meanwhile, HS1979 wastes no time getting to the point: “I will be voting Liberal. Well done, Justin Trudeau!”

Well done, indeed. But not for the reason most advocates of legal pot might assume. Until, quite literally just the other day, Mr. Trudeau evinced almost no interest (at least, publicly) in sanctioning soft drugs – certainly not as a plank of Liberal party policy. In fact, his pronouncements tended to fall well within the mainstream of political thinking, which remains far less enlightened than public opinion on the subject of  cannabis use.

As recently as last year, Mr. Trudeau say weed is “not great for your health” as it “disconnects you a little bit from the world.” Three years ago, he told a magazine interviewer “It’s not your mother’s pot.” It’s stronger and, he said, “We need all our brain cells to deal with our problems.”

Well, maybe not all our brain cells, after all.

Last week, while in British Columbia (otherwise known as spliff central), Mr. Trudeau declared to assembled members of the media, “Decriminalization is a great first step (but) I’m in favour of legalization as well, because we control it, tax and regulate it, we allow for development of a medical marijuana industry,” before adding carefully, “I certainly wouldn’t want to encourage people to use it. . .but in terms of respecting Canadians and their choices. . .and following where the science leads us is a responsible way of government.”

It’s a line of reasoning from which we may infer that any other position, from any other political party, is disrespectful of “Canadians and their choices”, anti-scientific and an irresponsible “way of government”. Or, as Mr. Trudeau, himself, observed, “The Conservatives base their approach on ideology and fear. I prefer to base my approach on evidence and best practices and I think that is what Canadians will respond to.”

If recent polls are any indication, he’s right. His fellow citizens generally support legalizing marijuana just as they generally disapprove of the hard-line elements in Conservative Party’s social agenda.

Observers on the right of the political spectrum think Mr. Trudeau has given Prime Minister Harper a cudgel with which to beat him. They’re also right. But, in this case, it won’t matter.

By aligning himself with the majority opinion, Mr. Trudeau forces his political enemies to defend the minority position. The more they fall for the bait, the more ridiculous they appear in the eyes of the voting public.

Here’s Justice Minister Peter MacKay sounding like a bewigged, 19th Century barrister, full of bluff and bluster, as he told the CBC last week: “Our government has no intention of legalization. I would think Mr. Trudeau should look at other areas in which we can end violence and drug use and end this societal ill. . . I find it quite strange frankly that Mr. Trudeau would be talking about legalization as a priority at this time.”

Strange? Perhaps. Crazy? You bet – like a fox.

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The rise of Trudeaumania, redux

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Charging twenty-thousand bucks to a charity that looks after old folks for speaking at one of its fundraising events would be, for anyone, tantamount to committing political suicide. Anyone, except the ridiculously telegenic Justin Trudeau.

The federal Liberal Leader, it seems, can do no wrong, which is not how Conservative and NDP oddsmakers hoped the world would be working by now, mere months after the Grit convention.

As the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported last week, Mr. Trudeau’s offer to return his appearance fee to the Saint John-based Grace Foundation has met with stony silence. According to the story, “Kate Monfette (spokeswoman for the Leader) said the Grace Foundation is the only organization so far to indicate it wants a refund,” and yet, she said, “We have made initial contact with all organizations and so far we have not received a request for a refund.”

Methinks, the organization has thought better of its original decision to tap Mr. Trudeau for the largesse. The firestorm of controversy that erupted in the wake of its highly public request barely singed the young politico.

Indeed, recent public opinion surveys tell a convincing tale

“A new poll shows the federal Liberals continue to pound the Conservatives, with Canadians saying for the first time leader Justin Trudeau would make a better prime minister then Stephen Harper,” The Montreal Gazette reported late last month. “According to a new Léger Marketing poll, 27 per cent of Canadians now think Trudeau would be a better prime minister than Harper, who has a score of 23 per cent.

New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair is seen as the best prime minister by 14 per cent. It’s the first time Léger has reached such a polling conclusion since Trudeau took over the party April 14, said Léger vice-president Christian Bourque. ‘It’s the Trudeau phenomenon,’ said Bourque. ‘In our polling it’s the first time that he’s edging ahead of Stephen Harper.’

In fact, the newspaper added, “The national poll, conducted for The Gazette and Le Devoir, showed the Liberals under Trudeau would have rocketed into a majority government had an election been held this week. With distribution of the undecided vote, the Liberals now stand at 37 per cent in the polls – up seven percentage points from March – followed by the Conservatives at 29 per cent – down two from March – and the NDP at 21 per cent – down three points from March.”

Meanwhile, it seems, Atlantic Canadians are warming even more steadily to the prospect of federal Liberal government. According to a CBC News story last week, “The federal Liberals opened up a wide lead in party support in May, earning the support of 49 per cent of Atlantic Canadians, compared to 24 per cent for both the Conservatives and the NDP.

“Don Mills, the chief executive officer of Corporate Research Associates, said the Liberals received the jolt in popularity after Trudeau won his party’s leadership.

‘He has had, obviously, a pretty significant impact in the resurgence of the Liberal party. It was only in 2011, just before the election, where the Liberals fell to the lowest support ever in 25 years of tracking in Atlantic Canada,’ Mills said in an interview. ‘Now we see the NDP are falling back to more traditional levels of support and the Liberals are seeing the highest amount of support in eight years.’”

What accounts for Mr. Trudeau’s rock-star status, particularly on the East Coast, has less to do with his policy statements – which are, frankly, as thin a gruel – and more to do with who he is not; namely Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair. That and the fact that he appears genuinely happy to be wherever he is found, captured on video, compensates for his youth, relative inexperience and the odd misstep.

For all the legitimate criticism he could draw for charging charitable organizations for the pleasure of his company, none of it will stick. The Grace Foundation’s silence might only signify its dawning realization of the reality of their own awkward circumstances.

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The perils of pontificating for money

Not $20,000 in the penny plastic

Not $20,000 in the penny plastic

From time to time, I augment my absurdly meagre living by crafting speeches for famous people. It’s nice work, when I can get it. I have noticed that the more exalted the public figure, the less inclined he is to draft his own addresses.

Still, the real money is not in the writing, but in the yakking.

Sir Richard Branson of Virgin territory can command upwards of $250,000 per appearance. These days, he’s fond of making commencement speeches (I have no idea what, if anything, the billionaire charges for these). His recent post on the social networking site, LinkedIn, suggests that in such circumstances he prefers to forgo his customary fees and handle them personally, which means haphazardly:

“I have been offered to do graduation speeches over the years and did accept an honorary Doctor of Technology from Loughborough University. It was strange at the time, but now we have Virgin Galactic perhaps it’s not so strange! I was chuffed to receive it, having left school at 15. It was a hell of a lot easier than going through university to get it! If you are graduating, congratulations and good luck for your future. Every graduate – scratch that – every person has the chance to reach for the stars in their chosen field.”

The king of all toastmasters, however, must be former U.S. President Bill Clinton who has, according to some estimates, raked in as much as $89 million pontificating before rapt crowds of establishmentarians since the end of his second term. An item in the New York Daily News, published earlier this month, notes that the “retired” Commander in Chief “has earned a whopping $500,000 speaking advance to deliver a 45 minute speech at the 90th birthday bash for Israeli President Shimon Peres – putting (his) price tag at roughly $11,100 per minute.”

On the other hand, “The Democrat won’t personally benefit from the sum, as it will reportedly be directed to the William J. Clinton Foundation. Clinton’s foundation did not respond to a request for comment. . .Initially, invited guests were asked to pay an $800 entrance fee but President Peres pulled the plug on the cover charge, saying he wouldn’t attend the party in his honor if it turned into a fundraiser.”

All of which brings us to the odd case of Canadian Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who has promised to reimburse New Brunswick’s Grace Foundation – whose mission is to support the “St. John & St. Stephen Home” for the elderly – $20,000 he charged for a speech he delivered last year, when he was just a lowly Member of Parliament.

The decision, he announced on CTV’s Question Period, was “the right thing to do.” What’s more, he vowed, he was prepared to work with any group he might have addressed in his official capacity as an elected representative “to try to fix it and make it right.” If news reports are correct, that’s a lot of fixing.

According to last week’s Globe and Mail, “Mr. Trudeau won’t necessarily reimburse every organization that paid for his services – including schools and non-profit organizations – saying he was ‘open to exploring all options with them.’ Doing so could cost him most of the $277,000 he earned for speeches since becoming an MP. Mr. Trudeau earned a reported total of $1.3-million during his entire public-speaking career before running for party leader last year.”

The question, of course, is: If the repayment is the right thing to do now, why wasn’t it the right thing to do in March when he initially rejected the Grace Foundation’s request for recompense? (Its fundraiser actually lost money thanks, in part, to Mr. Trudeau’s pricey stipend).

Do sitting politicians have an obligation to present themselves at charitable functions free of charge? Or do they only see the light when Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Mac Harb are on the hot seat over dicey expense accounts?

These are issues only Mr. Trudeau can resolve. Big bucks carry big responsibilities – the best reason, perhaps, for keeping one’s trap shut whenever at all possible.

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