As 2017 comes to a close, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending his embattled finance minister insisting that he told Bill Morneau to “tell the truth” over a series of ethics-related controversies.
“He did follow the rules. Could he have done more? Sure. As soon as it was brought to his attention, he did do more,” Trudeau told Global News’ Vassy Kapelos. “I told him to tell the truth and be responsible. And that’s exactly what he’s continuing to do and to stay focused on delivering on the real things that matter, which we’ve been able to do.”
In a year-end interview, Trudeau defended his government’s track record amid fierce criticism from the Opposition as the Liberals passed the two-year mark in their mandate.
Morneau has come under fire over his handling of his personal finances after coming to office, with questions swirling around his shares in the human resources firm Morneau Shepell, which his family built. He held the post of executive chairman of the company until the 2015 election win. Global News first reported that Morneau’s father sold a significant number of shares days before his son announced a major tax policy change.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, among others, has repeatedly demanded Morneau resign over the issue.
“This is something that has been really focused on by the Opposition. And one of the things you sort of have to reflect on is if they’re spending all their time on personal attacks and on supposed ethical issues, why aren’t they talking about the economy?” Trudeau asked. “Why aren’t they talking about job numbers? Why aren’t they talking about the things that matter concretely in people’s day-to-day lives? And the answer is they don’t have much to criticize us on, on that level.”
Morneau has since sold off the remainder of his holdings in the company — worth roughly $21 million — and has said he will place his other assets in a blind trust.
There was also the furor over a private villa in France. He failed to disclose the administrative vehicle that actually owned the property to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson. Morneau is also facing conflict-of-interest allegations over proposed pension reform he introduced. Critics alleged he would benefit financially from those reforms.
Trudeau said despite the string of ethics controversies, his government has been doing well: he touted Canada’s recent jobs gains — strongest growth among G7 countries — the new Canada Child Benefit, investments in infrastructure, and shepherding a changing economy where technologies like artificial intelligence threaten traditional jobs.
“There’s not a lot for the Conservatives, the NDP to really attack us on so they pick an issue that is, of course, important in ethics, and they’re trying to push it as hard as they can but there’s not really a huge amount there,” the prime minister said. “People care about ethics. People care about values. I mean we ran a campaign on more openness, more transparency, and we’ve largely delivered on that.”
The Liberals faced yet another uproar over the summer when Morneau announced tax reform proposals he maintained were aimed at stopping the wealthy from using the incorporation of their small businesses to gain unfair tax advantages.
Doctors, lawyers, accountants, and farmers were furious not only with the changes, they were also upset the Liberals were implying they were avoiding paying taxes. Morneau eventually changed the language in his tax plan while scrapping some ideas entirely.
Yet Trudeau stood by his government’s proposed changes to the tax system, which he said would be more equitable.
“We inherited a system that allows and encourages wealthy individuals to use different methods legitimately within the system that ordinary people don’t have access to,” Trudeau said. “We are lowering taxes for 100 per cent of small businesses.”
“There are smaller issues like income sprinkling, where only three per cent of the 1.8 million small businesses in this country actually use income sprinkling, and we’ve specified and clarified the rules so that folks that have spouses that work in the business, kids that work in the business, will continue to be able to do that. But those who are using it unfairly will no longer be able to.”