Morneau open to changing financial affairs as rivals demand ethics investigation

OTTAWA – Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he’d be willing to make changes to his financial affairs if asked to do so by the federal ethics watchdog as pressure mounts over why he hasn’t put his substantial assets in a blind trust.

Questions about Morneau’s holdings and his credibility continued to dog the Liberal minister during a news conference Tuesday in Montreal.

The former businessman was even asked if the escalating ethics controversy had him reconsidering his career in politics.

“Absolutely not,” Morneau said in French.

“I know that we still have things to do and, for me, I have a great privilege to have the opportunity to be with a team that will do very important things for people here, for the rest of our country. I would like to continue with this work.”

Rumours have been circulating around Parliament Hill that Morneau’s interest in politics has waned.

A key player in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet and architect of the Liberal government’s economic agenda, Morneau has faced mounting questions about his financial holdings after a media report revealed he did not put his assets into a blind trust.

The day he was named to cabinet in November 2015, Morneau told CBC he had communicated with the ethics commissioner about his holdings in his human resources company, Morneau Shepell. He said he expected to put them in a blind trust, much like former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin did with Canada Steamship Lines.

Morneau said Tuesday that after he became minister, he did everything ethics commissioner Mary Dawson asked of him to avoid any conflicts of interest — and is willing to do more, if necessary.

“I will continue to consider exactly what I have to do to be certain that I don’t have conflicts,” Morneau said. “That’s our system. To me, I think it works well and if she gives me more recommendations to change my affairs in the future, I will do it.”

Around the same time that Morneau spoke in Montreal, opposition parties in Ottawa were demanding more clarity about Morneau’s financial holdings.

New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen called it a “striking example” of the appearance of conflict of interest involving a cabinet minister, since Morneau remains involved in Morneau Shepell, which works in the field of pensions and pension shifting.

“The appearance of conflict of interest in this case is worrisome, it is shocking,” said Cullen, who has called on Dawson to investigate Morneau over pension-reform legislation that could benefit the finance minister through shares he owns in his company.

“These increases in targeted benefit plans — that’s what Bill C-27 deals with — directly benefit Morneau Shepell and directly benefit the finance minister.”

The Conservatives demanded that Morneau publicly divulge everything he has submitted to the ethics commissioner since the Liberals took office in 2015.

In particular, Tory MP Pierre Poilievre said Morneau should disclose who controls his interests in Morneau Shepell.

“Minister Morneau has not told the nation what became of his $30 million in Morneau Shepell shares,” Poilievre said. “We’re just asking him to come clean with Canadians.”

In the House of Commons, opposition parties have attacked Morneau over the lack of a blind trust, as well as last week’s revelation that he failed to disclose a private company that owns a family villa in France.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who defended Morneau at a joint news conference Monday to the point of awkwardly fielding questions on his behalf — insists his finance minister has followed all federal ethics rules.