On Monday, The Globe and Mail reported that federal finance minister Bill Morneau had used a legal loophole to avoid placing $40 million of his business assets in a blind trust when he began his term in office. Technically, what the minister did was not illegal, but the criticism from Canadians has been so harsh over the past few days that Morneau announced today he will be placing his assets in a blind trust after all.
Typically, when politicians assume office, conflict-of-interest laws require them to place business assets in a blind trust, meaning they will be managed by another party for the duration of the officer’s term. Morneau’s shares in Morneau Shepell–a pension services company owned by his family–are ‘independent assets,’ meaning he has no control over how they are managed. When he took office, ethics commissioner Mary Dawson informed Morneau that under the Conflict of Interest Act, he was not required to put them in a blind trust. This is a loophole in the law that Dawson flagged four years ago and suggested closing.
The problem for Canadians is not a legal one, it’s of ethics. As political commentator, Brittany Andrew-Amofah points out, ‘When you’re finance minister, you need to go above and beyond the law, especially when you’re dealing with finances.’
Canadians across the country–especially that ‘middle class’ that Morneau and the Prime Minister claim to be so eager to help–were understandably upset by the situation, which for many stinks of elitism. Having a wealthy finance minister who apparently uses loopholes in the system when it comes to his personal finances does not exactly build confidence in his ability to sympathize with the middle class.
On Tuesday, Morneau requested a meeting with the ethics commissioner to advise him on what his next steps should be.
I’ve asked for a meeting with the Ethics commissioner – I respect her role and guidance. pic.twitter.com/lDzobxYHgT
— Bill Morneau (@Bill_Morneau) October 17, 2017
Though Morneau–and the Prime Minister–assert that there is no legal wrongdoing here, the minister will be selling all his shares in the business and putting all remaining assets in an arm’s length blind trust.
‘I perhaps naively thought that in Canada following the rules and respecting the recommendations of the Ethics Commissioner … would meet up to [Canadians’] high expectations,’ he told the press, ‘In fact what we have seen over the last week is I need to do more.’ He went on to say that it is time to move on from discussing his personal situation and focus on the concerns of middle class Canadians and small businesses in the Liberal’s new tax plan.
Nice segue, Mr. Morneau. We can only hope that he’s genuine when he speaks about helping the middle class, even if he’s not a part of it.