It’s going to be a happy Hallowe’en for finance minister Bill Morneau.
Morneau Shepell Inc., the Toronto-based financial services and consulting firm founded by Morneau’s family, declared a dividend this morning of 6.5 cents per share, payable Oct. 31.
Morneau on Thursday said he holds “about a million shares” in Morneau Shepell Inc. (MSI) which means his Hallowe’en treat from the firm which bears his name will be worth $65,000.
The Hallowe’en dividend cheque will the the last, though, of 25 monthly dividend cheques he’s received since becoming MP. Morneau on Thursday said he will sell all his holdings in MSI and place the rest of his assets in a blind trust.
In total, the dividends paid to him by MSI while he was an MP total $1.625 million.
WATCH: Justin Trudeau continues to fend off questions over Morneau’s finances
MSI has been reliably churning out a dividend of 6.5 cents a share every single month that Morneau has been an MP and a shareholder. Which means every single month he’s been an MP and the finance minister, Morneau has been getting a cheque for nearly $65,000. By contrast, his monthly paycheque from the government of Canada has been just under $22,000.
All of this has the opposition parties crying foul because, all the while that Morneau has been receiving dividend cheques from MSI, he’s been pushing a bill through Parliament, Bill C-27, that would improve business opportunities for firms like Morneau Shepell. Indeed, MSI is believed to be one of just four firms in the country which will benefit from new pension administration rules if C-27 becomes law.
“We may be looking at the most blatant conflict of interest in modern Canadian history,” NDP MP Nathan Cullen said in the House of Commons earlier this week.
Morneau, at a press conference Thursday, rejected the idea that there was any conflict of interest. In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Morneau’s boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said Morneau had done nothing wrong, noting that Parliament’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson signed off on the arrangement of Morneau’s financial affairs as soon as he took office.
Morneau, on Thursday, said that he believed the discussion about his personal wealth had become “a real distraction” for his government. He said that, even though no law requires him to do so, he was selling his shares and moving everything else to a blind trust in order to focus on what believed was the important work of his government.
“I need to do more,” Morneau said.
Morneau holds his shares in MSI through an Alberta numbered company. By placing his shares in a numbered company in Alberta, he exposes himself to less than tax than if he’d put them inside a numbered company in Ontario. The three shareholders of that Alberta numbered company are Morneau himself, his wife Nancy McCain, and an Ontario numbered company. The sole owner of the Ontario numbered company is — Bill Morneau.
Morneau’s million shares, which trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange and are part of the basket of blue-chip companies in the TSX Composite Index, are worth around $21-million, based on their Thursday afternoon share price.
Global News has learned that Morneau sold about 1.3 million shares he held in MSI just before assuming his office and that he has neither sold nor bought any MSI shares while he was finance minister.