Finance Minister Bill Morneau would have sold shares of his former company earlier had he known back in October what he knows now, he admitted this week.
“Obviously following the ethics rules was really important but once people said there’s a perception of an issue I decided I needed to sell all my shares,” he said in an interview with Global BC’s Sophie Lui.
“Of course, had I known back then what I know now I would have done that earlier, but of course I didn’t.”
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Morneau has faced scrutiny over his personal finances since the summer, when the government proposed controversial tax code changes aimed at small business owners who have incorporated.
In October, Morneau revealed that he had not put his substantial assets in a blind trust and was instead using a conflict screen as per ethics commissioner Mary Dawson’s recommendation.
Those assets included about a million shares of Morneau Shepell, the finance minister’s former firm.
Following intense pressure from the opposition, Morneau announced on Oct. 19 that he would place his assets in a blind trust and sell the Morneau Shepell shares.
But since then, the ethics commissioner has fined Morneau $200 for failing to disclose a private corporation for which he’s a director, that owns a villa in France.
Dawson is also investigating whether Morneau’s sponsorship of a pension bill constitutes a conflict of interest.
“We’ve seen a shift in popular understanding of what someone in my position should do,” Morneau told Lui. “It wasn’t what was expected in the past.
“So following the rules was important and I’ve taken the decision to go further.”
Morneau suggested that he would be open to looking at whether conflict of interest laws should change following his ordeal.
“That’s a question I guess we’ll have to address,” he said.
“We’ll have to make sure the rules keep up with what our expectations are and certainly that’s one of the things that I will make sure we talk about in the months and years to come.”
Dawson, who is leaving her post as ethics commissioner, made substantive recommendations to tighten up those conflict of interest laws back in 2013.
No government – either this one or the previous one – has acted on her changes.