“Charity creates a multitude of sins”

Your Working Girl’s dear friend Oscar Wilde knew a thing or two about sin and, perhaps unpredictably, quite a bit about charity.  For anyone involved in the fundraising world, the early reports of what’s going down with the Grace Foundation in St. John, New Brunswick could make you a bit queasy.

A board member of the Grace Foundation wrote a letter to Justin Trudeau asking him to return his speaking fee of $20,000 because their event last year was a “huge disappointment and financial loss.”

Are they serious?  Let’s call Your Working Researcher.

Board member Susan Buck wrote the letter in March. The Foundation, which is listed by the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) as the Church Home Charitable Foundation, is a small charity that supports a nursing home.   It reported expenditures of $107,597 on revenue of $73,173 in fiscal 2012.  (A bit of dipping into the reserves to make that equation work in real life thinks Your Working Accountant.)

So what in the hey-ho was an obviously ill-resourced foundation doing by hosting an event where a speaker was brought in for a $20,000 fee.  It’s a dubious fundraising scheme Your Working Consultant thinks when one expense on an event amounts to 27% of your prior year’s revenue. It’s sometimes hard to understand the inner musings of boards of directors.  (That, Gentle Readers, is fodder for another day.)

The queasy part is that the letter writer, Ms Susan Buck, serves on the Board of the Foundation with one Judith Baxter.

The CBC reported that Ms Judith Baxter is the wife of Mr Glen Baxter. And Mr Glen Baxter sits on the riding executive of Mr Rob Moore, the Conservative MP for Fundy-Royal in New Brunswick.

Oh dear.

Conservative Rob Moore awarded Ms Baxter one of the Queen’s Jubilee medals that were up for grabs last year.  The 60,000 medals (1,000 for each year on the throne) were given to people who made “a significant contribution to their fellow countrymen, their community, or to Canada over the previous sixty years.” And in many cases those medals were given to fine community-minded citizens.  Your Working Girl herself knows an incredibly deserving recipient in the Rexdale area.

Alas.  Because the award recipients were nominated by their MPs, the medals were often used by politicians to reward political favours. Your Working Girl is sad for the Queen.

But Mr Moore’s generous nature with other people’s things has vanished.  He is now officially taking umbrage.

“Instead of being in his riding and listening to his constituents, Justin Trudeau was in Saint John, taking money from one of our local charities,” he crowed with righteous indignation this week.

In the meantime, the righteously indignant letter by an apparently mischief-making New Brunswick partisan was sent off to the Prime Minister’s Office who dutifully had copies made and widely circulated.

Dirty tricks from the heartland … so this is what yucky looks like.

Because it doesn’t matter now how bogus the claim is or where the story came from.  We as Canadians exist to bear witness to the undignified scene of Mr Trudeau offering to give money back to the charities whose events he’s headlined.  Charities look senseless at best and political tricksters at worse.

In their last day sitting in the House of Commons, insults were hurled across the aisle as the Harper Conservatives had a little field day going after Mr Trudeau on a manufactured issue just before they break for the summer.  Sigh.

With new revelations, it appears the PMO did a lot more than spread this partisan letter from the hinterland.  It called up newspapers in many communities looking to plant stories about Mr Trudeau’s speaking engagements for other organizations.

The Barrie Advance was one newspaper approached by the PMO.  They supplied invoices and other promotional material to the paper about a speaking engagement Trudeau did for Georgian College in 2007 before he became an MP.  Managing Editor, Lori Martin wisely decided the real story was that the PMO feeding trickster stories about Trudeau to media outlets as opposed to the fact that he charged speaking fees.

For their bravery, Andrew Coyne has called for the Barrie Advance to be named newspaper of the year.

But over where the big dogs lie, the Globe and Mail got into the act with its finger-wagging editorial yesterday saying Trudeau “should never have charged a speaking fee in the first place.”

“It’s difficult to see his charitable work in the same way anymore,” they grieved.

A bit rich coming from the Globe and Mail whose readership pretty well charge speaking fees.

The idea that charities should somehow be perceived as not having business relationships is a smoke screen.  That we should be appalled by charities who pay for services rendered is ridiculous.

Should the University of Toronto not pay someone to come and speak?  It’s a charity after all.  Was Christopher Hitchens doing all that debating for free?

Should Sick Children’s Hospital Foundation, which carries the heavy burden of three quarters of a billion dollars in assets, not pay an artist to play at one of their galas because it’s a charity?  Should people sweep the floors for free?  Doctors donate their services?  It’s for charity after all.

The Speaker’s Bureau of Canada would be out of business if charities, non-profits and associations did not pay people to come and speak to them and their supporters.

And there are fine speakers – many of whom are journalists and activists themselves – listed in the Speakers’ Bureau for just such a purpose.  They include: Carolyn Abraham, Kim Campbell, Andrew Coyne, Romeo Dallaire, Phil Fontaine, David Frum, Edward Greenspon, Deborah Grey, Chantal Hebert, Jay Ingram, Michaelle Jean, Craig Keilburger, Michelle Landsberg, Frank McKenna, Maureen McTeer, Steve Pakin, Andre Picard, Lorne Rubenstein and David Suzuki.

Speaking fees is part of how they make their living.  Would the Globe and Mail suggest its writers, columnists and editors not accept speaking fees from charities (or, for that matter, any organizations they happen to be covering)?

Make no mistake.  Charity is big business.  And because a coterie of partisan New Brunswickers egged on by the PMO is using the perception of charity to horsewhip a popular political leader is, not to put too fine a point on it — nauseating.  Please excuse Your Working Girl … she has to go lie down.

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