The Canadian Press
OTTAWA–Bill Morneau made further attempts yesterday to silence accusations he personally has profited from decisions he’s taken as federal finance minister.
He announced he’ll donate to charity any gains in the value of his family business’s shares since he was elected two years ago.
But that announcement immediately was undercut by news the federal ethics watchdog is looking into opposition accusations that Morneau was in a conflict of interest when he introduced a pension bill that could benefit Morneau Shepell–his family’s pension management and human resources firm in which the minister still owns some $21 million worth of shares.
“Your letter leaves me with concerns in relation to Mr. Morneau’s involvement with Bill C-27,” ethics commissioner Mary Dawson wrote yesterday in response to a complaint lodged last week by NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen.
“Consequently, I will follow up with Mr. Morneau and will inform you of the outcome in due course.”
Morneau announced last week that he will sell all of his roughly one million shares in Morneau Shepell and put all his other considerable assets in a blind trust.
In a bid to finally spike continuing opposition accusations that his actions as minister could have increased the value of those shares, he went one step further yesterday.
He announced he will donate to charity the difference in the value of the shares between the date he was elected in 2015 and the day they’re sold.
Morneau made the announcement in the House of Commons after meeting with Dawson.
He said later she agreed this additional action was “appropriate.”
Morneau said he doesn’t know how much his decision will wind up costing him but it could be as much as $5 million.
“Whatever the value is, that’s our decision,” he said outside the Commons.
“My goal is to make sure that I’m doing the work that I came here for,” he added.
“For me, the work that I’m doing right now is the most important work that I will ever do and I want to make sure that Canadians have confidence in that work. . . .
“Taking these extra steps to give absolute assurance is important,” Morneau stressed.
The announcement did little to quell opposition accusations that Morneau’s failure to divest his Morneau Shepell shares or put them in a blind trust when he first took office two years ago put him in blatant conflict of interest.
Cullen quickly labelled the donation “guilt money.”
“I think what we saw today was an admission of guilt,” Cullen charged.
“From my experience, people don’t generally pay a fine or a fee if they’re innocent of something.
“He’s in a conflict of interest that helped his own personal wealth grow substantially and now he’s saying, ‘I’ve got to put some guilt money together and try to buy my way out of this problem.'”
Conservative MP Gerard Deltell similarly said Morneau’s announcement “is just proof, without a shadow of a doubt, that he was in a pure, profitable conflict of interest for the last two years and he only act when he’s trapped in a corner.”