Let’s begin with the law of the land: “A public office holder is in conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests.”
Anyone who has been paying attention knows that Canada’s finance minister, Bill Morneau is, if not in direct violation of the law, certainly violating its spirit.
Too many companies and too many numbered companies are regulated by the Finance department, one company specifically carries his name — Morneau Shepell, which has made an enormous profit since he’s been in office.
After two years in office, Morneau has finally been forced to disclose what his real balance sheet is all about. It includes a number of offshore companies, one of which contains a villa in France, but all of which contain opportunities to avoid paying Canadian taxes.
The revelations shatter the laughable lie that he’s a champion of the middle class wanting to penalize Canadians who have found creative ways to dodge taxes. If he really thought those Canadians were cheating the system, he would have to be considered the cheater in chief.
But the news of who he really is and what he’s really been doing puts the prime minister in a box. How does he justify keeping a person with Morneau’s assets in the role of finance minister regardless of whether he is dragged, kicking and screaming into putting his mountain of wealth in a blind trust?
WATCH: Justin Trudeau asked about Bill Morneau controversy
Would a person who owns millions of shares in Husky Oil be considered for the position of Resources Minister? Would a person with a substantial interest in the pharmaceutical industry be appointed Minister of Health? Would a person who has been convicted of tax fraud be qualified to be the Minister of Justice? No matter how you cook this ethical pasta, the Canadian people find it inedible.
Earlier this week, Morneau tweeted his change of heart on a major proposal which would have affected Canada’s farm families. “Farmers, we listened. We will not be moving forward with proposed measures to limit access to the Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption,” said the finance minister.
Does anyone reading this believe this is about Morneau getting new information from farmers and listening to them? Farmers weren’t telling him anything about his reform proposal that he didn’t already know. His company advises all businesses, large and small, and that includes farmers.
Morneau knows this stuff cold. His decision is based on listening to farmers wanting to enlighten him. What he is now listening to are people telling him that ticking off farmers is stupid politics. Farmers are a sacred cow in the Canadian pasture.
They grow food, doing something important for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Whether you’re living in a condo or a bungalow, you don’t grow your own wheat or corn or soybeans. Farmers are one of the designated groups intelligent politicians don’t target.
They share that space with firefighters, paramedics and police. All of these professionals protect us in a way that we cannot protect ourselves. And yes we need to add doctors and dentists to that group. Morneau’s tax reforms may create a lot of new business for Morneau Shepell, putting more money into Morneau’s deeper-than-the-ocean pockets.
WATCH: Morneau says he doesn’t “report to journalists”
But if Morneau is walking back his dumber-than-a-bag-of-hammers political strategy it’s because he’s listening to farmers.
He’s listening to people who might be smarter than the fools who sold him on the tax raid proposals. But apparently, those folks haven’t counselled him successfully on communications.
When journalists were asking Morneau to explain what all his numbered companies are all about and why some of them are based offshore, he told the reporters they were offside, told them he wasn’t answerable to them, only to the ethics commissioner.
Does the amateur public servant not get that Canada is one of many democracies where a government official is answerable to the public and must engage in public discussions? This isn’t a closed boardroom country, it’s an open democracy.
Here again Morneau — who wanted desperately to be seen as one of us — has failed in his tax. While his head is still living on Bay Street, the people he answers to live on Main Street. Only days ago he pouted about how he didn’t want to be answerable to us: his boss. The prime minister wouldn’t even allow him to answer media questions.
In a joint appearance when a Global News reporter, among others, put questions to him, Justin Trudeau told the media that they should address their questions to the prime minister. He was now speaking for the finance minister.
WATCH: The ethics of Bill Morneau’s actions
This was odd politically and embarrassing to a democracy. Trudeau unwittingly made Morneau look like the ventriloquist who wasn’t going move his lips, but rather have the dummy speaking for him. The prime minister didn’t want to look like a dummy, but he did.
On top of all this, Morneau keeps saying that the media should get off this subject because it’s a “distraction.” But as longtime Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella told our CKNW Vancouver-based Corus radio show: “Morneau needs to understand he is the distraction.”
And that’s why if there is only way for the prime minister to get the public to change the channel, he needs to follow the path laid out by the poet:
You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free
Follow the advice of Paul Simon, prime minister, tell your finance minister to “hop on the bus Gus.”
— Charles Adler is host of the Charles Adler Tonight show on CKNW, 630CHED, CJOB and NewsTalk 770.