The parliamentary secretary to Bill Morneau says he can understand why some Canadians might be unsatisfied with the finance minister’s explanations surrounding his personal finances and potential conflicts of interest but maintains there is no “conspiracy” afoot on Parliament Hill.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos, Quebec MP Joël Lightbound defended the choices Morneau made regarding the more than one million shares he held in his former company, Morneau Shepell.
WATCH: Will Morneau putting assets in blind trust end the controversy?
Lightbound repeated that those choices, which included setting up a holding company for the shares rather than a blind trust, were within the boundaries set out by the federal ethics commissioner. Morneau has now said he will set up a blind trust in an effort to end the controversy, and then proceed to sell the shares.
“That’s going even above and beyond what the ethics commissioner has recommended,” Lightbound noted.
However, considering that Morneau has recently been cracking down on loopholes that some Canadians are using to lower their tax burdens, Lightbound said he can see why Morneau’s explanation that he was simply following the rules himself has been unpalatable.
“I hear and I understand, in a way, but I think that when you get elected, when you enter Parliament, the expectation of you is to be always in full compliance with what the ethics commissioner recommends to you, and that’s what the minister has done,” Lighbound said.
The parliamentary secretary also said that if Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson wants to make changes to the law governing conflict of interest, he would support that.
Dawson has suggested, for example, that allowing shares to be placed in a holding company is a way to get around the requirement to either sell them or put them in a blind trust.
“I think it might be a discussion, and I value the ethics commissioner’s point of view highly, so if she says it, I think that it’s worth hearing what she has to say,” Lightbound told Kapelos.
“If there are things that can be made better, I think we have to listen to the ethics commissioner, for sure.”
Lighbound was also asked specifically about share prices for Morneau Shepell going up by five per cent the day after Morneau personally tabled legislation (Bill C-27) in the House of Commons that would affect pensions, which the company sells.
The NDP have called for an investigation into the potential conflict of interest that situation created.
“Bill C-27 has not been adopted by Parliament, it’s only passed first reading,” Lightbound replied. “It’s public, it’s out there, so I don’t see any conspiracy there.”
He added that he finds it “a bit unfortunate that this has caused such a distraction” over the last week.
Morneau back on the road
Morneau, who declined a request for an interview with The West Block this week, was in Waterloo on Friday, where he attempted to highlight how his department will modify and improve the controversial tax proposals.
But once again, he was forced to answer questions about his personal finances instead.
WATCH: The ethics of Bill Morneau’s actions
Asked why he had been keeping his shares in Morneau Shepell in a holding company based in Alberta rather than Ontario, Morneau did not answer directly (the answer is likely relatively simple: corporate tax rates are lower in the western province).
“Seriously, what I’ve done is exposed all my assets to the ethics commissioner,” he said.
“What I did yesterday was say, you know, I’m going to take some additional steps that are beyond the steps that she recommended to me … The process that we have in our country isn’t that I report to journalists on my personal situation, it’s that I report to the ethics commissioner.”
– Watch the full interview with Joël Lightbound above.