In her final day on the job, federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has cleared Finance Minister Bill Morneau of any wrongdoing linked to the sale of shares in his former family firm, Morneau Shepell.
Morneau has acknowledged that he sold the shares — about half of the two million shares he owned in the firm — in late 2015. The Conservatives asked Dawson to investigate the timing of that transaction, alleging Morneau and his father may have benefited from insider information to save half a million dollars.
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The sale, they argued, came just days before a major tax announcement that may have triggered a dip in the stock market.
The Tories alleged Morneau’s December 2015 announcement about raising income taxes on the highest earners had a wide-reaching market impact, because it encouraged wealthier shareholders to sell off some their stock before the changes came into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
In a letter to Morneau sent on Monday, Dawson says she is of the view that the minister did not, in the end, benefit from any insider information.
“The evidence shows that the income tax increase for Canadians earning more than $200,000 was publicly announced by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and available to the public as early as Nov. 4, 2015,” Dawson wrote.
“This was well in advance of the sale of your Morneau Shepell Inc. shares on Nov. 30, and your tabling of the Dec. 7, 2015, Ways and Means motion on this matter.”
Chloé Luciani-Girouard, press secretary for Morneau, said he has received the letter from Dawson and is “pleased” with the outcome.
“As well, the Minister will continue to work with the office of the Ethics Commissioner to ensure he is in full compliance with the rules,” she added.
“The Minister has gone above and beyond the initial recommendations from the Ethics Commissioner by divesting all his family’s holdings in his former company, donating upwards of $10 million dollars to charity and setting up a blind trust.”
In a separate review, Dawson is also clearing Morneau of allegations that he was involved in the Bank of Canada’s renewal of its contract with Morneau Shepell to manage its employee pension plan. She says she’s satisfied Morneau was not involved in the Bank of Canada’s decision to renew its contract with the company in February 2017.
“For these reasons, I consider both matters closed.”
Dawson’s letter comes just a few weeks after she found that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke the rules when he vacationed on a private island owned by the Aga Khan in late 2016.
-With files from the Canadian Press