Finance Minister Bill Morneau has confirmed he will be placing his personal assets in a blind trust, and will ultimately divest “all of my and my family’s assets in Morneau Shepell” to ensure he is “completely free of conflict.”
At the same time, Morneau has released a confidential document outlining the original advice he received from federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson. He confirmed that he followed that advice, but now feels he needs to go further.
WATCH: Morneau says his assets will be put into a blind trust to avoid any conflict of interests.
Morneau made the announcement on Thursday afternoon as he returned to Parliament Hill for the first time this week.
It comes on the heels of several days of intense controversy over the status of the minister’s personal assets, during which time Monreau asked to meet again with the ethics commissioner to reassess how his personal finances were being managed.
Morneau has maintained he did nothing wrong when he chose to use two privately held corporations, one registered in Ontario and the other in Alberta, to hold his substantial shares in his former firm, which were believed to total over 2 million shares worth upwards of $45 million.
Morneau clarified on Thursday that he actually only has about one million shares remaining.
The corporate structure meant the shares were no longer considered “controlled assets,” allowing Morneau to avoid selling them in an arm’s-length transaction or placing them in a blind trust. He also continued to receive dividends from those shares as Morneau Shepell paid them out on a regular basis.
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It was a unique arrangement that was cleared by the ethics commissioner and which conformed to the letter of the law. But several other cabinet ministers and the prime minister himself have opted to use blind trusts to ensure they do not face accusations of conflict of interest.
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The controversy followed Morneau across the country this week even as he attempted to change the channel with announcements about new tax policy. On Thursday, he said the matter had become “a real distraction” in recent days.
“I, perhaps naively, thought that in Canada, that following the rules and respecting the recommendations of the ethics commissioner … would be what Canadians would expect,” he said.
“I need to do more.”