Sale of shares not an admission of conflict of interest, says Morneau

By , on October 29, 2017


A new institute for artificial intelligence research opened Thursday in Toronto with funding from the federal and Ontario governments and the private sector.  (Photo: Bill Morneau/Facebook)
FILE: Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Photo: Bill Morneau/Facebook)

OTTAWA — Donating money he made from shares in his family business since taking office is not an admission that he was in a conflict by controlling those shares, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau told a political talk show that aired Sunday.

Morneau told Global TV’s The West Block he made the move simply to reassure Canadians that he isn’t in politics for his own benefit.

The minister announced last week he’ll donate to charity the difference in the value of his shares in Morneau Shepell between the date he was elected in October 2015 and the day they’re sold.

He made the pledge after revealing that he would sell his shares in Morneau Shepell, the human resources and pension management firm he helped build with his father, and that he would place all of his other assets in a blind trust.

The move also came after days of allegations from Morneau’s political rivals that he was in a conflict of interest over his sponsorship of a pension bill that could benefit Morneau Shepell.

When asked directly whether donating the money was an admission that holding the shares in the first place was a conflict of interest, Morneau replied “Really, no.”

“I believe that when people have questions you need to listen to those questions and decide if there’s a way that you can assure people that they’re not something they need to be concerned with,” Morneau later added.

“And I’ve chosen a way to do that that makes absolute assurance that no one can have any question.”

In a separate interview aired on CTV’s Question Period, Morneau said he didn’t believe he was in a conflict by introducing C 27, which proposes changes to private pension plans — legislation that could benefit Morneau Shepell.

“I don’t see that as a conflict at all,” Morneau said, telling interviewer Evan Solomon he’s dealt with pension issues “for decades,” and that the Liberal government’s long-term goal is to ensure pensions are available so Canadians can retire in dignity.

On Thursday, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson told New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen she would investigate his concerns that Morneau’s sponsorship of the proposed law may violate the Conflict of Interest Act.

Cullen said it’s clear to him that, at the very least, Morneau should not have put his name behind legislation that proposed to make changes that could improve his family fortunes.

“It seems pretty obvious to most people that if you’re into this type of pension work prior (to taking office), your company is still in it, you still have shares in it, you stand to benefit from it, then don’t introduce legislation,” Cullen told a political panel.

For its part, Morneau Shepell said that, even though it supported C 27, it wasn’t involved in consultations on the bill, nor would it greatly benefit from the legislation.

“Bill C 27 is not expected to have a material impact on our company,” Morneau Shepell said in a statement issued Friday.

The proposed law would give federally regulated pension plans the option to adopt target benefit pension plans, which critics argue transfer much of the risk of ensuring retirement benefits to employees and away from employers.

“Several provinces have already enacted similar enabling legislation for pension plans that they regulate, but in practice, very few employers have adopted it,” said the Morneau Shepell statement.

The Opposition Conservatives have also pounced on Morneau, suggesting the controversy isn’t about to go away anytime soon.

Ontario Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu said on Sunday that it’s “ridiculous” for Morneau to say he’s not in a conflict, pointing to several files where the minister could stand to benefit through decisions taken by the Liberals, including lending Bombardier $372 million dollars to back up the aerospace firm’s C Series jet program.