December 1, 2017 10:34 pm
Updated: December 2, 2017 2:12 pm

Ethics watchdog wants to talk to Bill Morneau about his 2015 stock trades

Questions keep swirling about finance minister Bill Morneau's shares in his family business, Morneau Shepell. As David Akin reports, the opposition continues to demand answers.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Bill Morneau already held the shares in a numbered company before he met with Mary Dawson.

The House of Commons conflict-of-interest and ethics watchdog wants to know more about Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s 2015 $10-million stock sale, a sale made days before the Trudeau government tabled documents in the House of Commons detailing a major new tax policy.

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Mary Dawson, the Conflict-of-Interest and Ethics Commissioner, is not ready to open a formal investigation into Morneau’s Nov. 30 sale of 680,000 Morneau Shepell Inc. shares but she tells NDP MP Nathan Cullen in a letter obtained by Global News that “in light of the allegations, my office will look further into the matter and will followup with Minister Morneau in due course.”

READ MORE: Bill Morneau threatens to take Tories to court over ethics allegations

Morneau’s chief spokesman, Dan Lauzon, said: “We have received the letter from the Commissioner and respect her diligence in following-up on complaints made by the Opposition, no matter how spurious. We will, of course, continue to work with her office to provide all the information necessary to support her work, and find it unfortunate that the Opposition is choosing to place her office at the centre of baseless partisan games.”

Dawson’s interest in Morneau’s Nov. 30 share sale is the latest headache for the embattled finance minister, who is already under investigation by Dawson’s office for a potential conflict-of-interest associated with his introduction of Bill C-27, a piece of pension reform legislation that would have opened up new business opportunities for Morneau Shepell Inc., the firm founded by Morneau’s family, which, among other things, helps employers manage pension plans.

READ MORE: Bill Morneau’s father sold 200K shares in family company days before tax changes announced

Earlier this fall, Dawson fined Morneau $200 after Morneau acknowledged he breached the law requiring that all office holders report their assets to Dawson’s office. Morneau, blaming an administrative oversight, forgot to report a holding company he controls that, among other things, owns his villa in France.

Cullen, reached by phone Friday night in the Yukon as he travelled back to his riding in northern British Columbia, was pleased that Dawson will make inquiries about Morneau’s share sale.

“He’s got very little credibility to say just trust me and have Canadians say, oh yeah, he’s been shown to be upright in all of his dealings,” Cullen said.

Morneau has been slow to answer opposition questions about his 2015 share sale but, on Thursday, told reporters that, after winning office in 2015, he directed his financial advisor to dispose of some shares.

“When I came into office I decided to sell shares in my family company and I gave direction to do that around the time I came into office. I can tell you right now I don’t know the exact date that I gave direction for that to happen. I didn’t follow the date that they actually sold. They were sold,” Morneau said.

Asked specifically if he told Dawson ahead of time about the sale of the shares, Morneau said he directed the shares be sold as he came into office “before working with the ethics commissioner.”

Morneau held the shares in an Alberta numbered company. Morneau as an individual and another numbered company he owns are the only two shareholders of the Alberta company. Those shares generated a dividend for the finance minister of about $65,000 each and every month, until last month when Morneau decided to sell them all.

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Dawson, in her initial response to Cullen’s complaint, explained that one of the reasons she could not launch an investigation was because she was unclear which section of the Conflict of Interest Act Cullen believes Morneau violated when he sold 680,000 shares on Nov. 30, 2015, days before a Dec. 7, 2015 unveiling of the government’s proposed tax changes, changes which were to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

Cullen, in a letter dated Dec. 1 and sent to Dawson’s office late Friday evening, said he believes Morneau has violated the section that says: “No public office holder shall use information that is obtained in his or her position as a public office holder and that is not available to the public to further or seek to further the public office holder’s private interests or those of the public office holder’s relatives or friends or to improperly further or to seek to improperly further another person’s private interests.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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