8. The day

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On June 16, 2013, Susan Delacourt published a piece in the Toronto Star describing Trudeau’s pledge to repay any organization that felt dissatisfied with his speaking services. The following  morning, she received an unusual phone call from Stephen Lecce, the PMO’s Deputy Director of Communications at the time.

Lecce told her he had some information about Justin Trudeau — but he did not want her to reveal the PMO as the source. She says she was taken aback by this. Granting some degree of anonymity is part of the work of a journalist, according to Delacourt, especially when someone comes to a journalist and says they have information. Usually she would look at the information and then negotiate the level of anonymity, but in this instance the PMO was flat out asking for anonymity from the start.

“I told him I found it odd and I wasn’t pleased about it,” she says. “He said why? And I said because it wasn’t coming from the Conservative Party. He didn’t seem to care too much about that.” [1]

Meanwhile, at the Barrie Advance (which is owned by Metroland Media, the community-newspapers division of the Star’s holding company) editor-in-chief Lori Martin had also received a phone call from the PMO.

This had never happened before; it was unusual for the PMO to be contacting a local newspaper in Barrie. Erica Meekes, a media officer, told Martin that she had some documents for the paper about Justin Trudeau speaking at an event at a local post-secondary institution, Georgian College.

Meekes said she expected the Advance to grant the PMO anonymity in exchange for the documents. Martin simply said she would agree to look at the information being sent, and she hung up the phone.

 

Shortly after, she received an email from Meekes attaching invoices, a promotional poster for Trudeau’s event at Georgian College and a hotel receipt for the Toronto Four Seasons. Meekes commented: “To be fair, there is an in-house yoga studio at the Four Seasons!”

The email restated that the PMO expected anonymity, something Martin hadn’t agreed to.

Martin stood up and looked across her desk to Laurie Watt, a news reporter for Metroland North Media — which includes the Advance — for almost 20 years, and told her what her what had transpired. “I’m concerned if they’re sending it out anonymously that it’s even from the PMO,” said Martin. [2]

Watt began to investigate. She started off by verifying that Erica Meekes worked at the PMO — the email had an electronic signature but that was not something Watt was willing to take at “face value,” especially considering the unusual circumstances.

Scanning the email, Watt found another red flag. She noticed that the speaking fees in question were from 2007 — a year before Trudeau entered politics. At that time, he was a private citizen. “I could see no relationship between how he could have used public funds to subsidize any kind of speaking engagement designed to increase his profile,” says Watt.

“I thought, well, wait, hold on a minute, Mr. Trudeau didn’t abuse my tax money. Why is the PMO doing this?”

The Toronto Star's Ottawa bureau
The Toronto Star’s Ottawa bureau

For Delacourt at the Star‘s Ottawa bureau, “it was a busy day,” she says. “There isn’t a lot of time for those arguments. The Star bureau on the Hill is a huge L-shaped thing. There’s the main newsroom and I sat on the other end of the L. So, I stomped down into the middle of it and said, ‘What do you think?’ Then I walked back to my little corner of the L and sent a note to Lecce.

“I think one of the ways I’d hoped to get around it, was getting him to answer questions via email and once he’d named himself… — he then said, ‘This goes under the previous off-the-record’ arrangement, as well,” she says.

“It was just looking for clarification. I smoke, so I’d go outside and smoke and think of a question that would get him to answer on-the-record. That was the idea. It did go on for a bit that day.”

The important question both Delacourt and Watt asked when first inspecting the information sent by the PMO was: Why? Why would a government office, funded by taxpayers, be looking to share compromising information on the opposition leader to news outlets, and on the condition of anonymity? And did this meet their respective standards for honouring that anonymity?

 Next: Red Flags


1. Delacourt, Susan. Personal Interview. 4 December 2014. Unpublished.
2. Martin, Lori, and Laurie Watt. Personal interview. 8 December 2014. Unpublished.

 

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