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Ethics czar clears Morneau over sale of shares

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OTTAWA – Finance Minister Bill Morneau has been cleared by ethics commissioner Mary Dawson regarding his 2015 sell-off of Morneau Shepell shares.

Dawson was asked by the opposition to look into the minister over his, and his fathers’ selling of Morneau Shepell shares in the fall of 2015.

The opposition had alleged Morneau had been in a conflict of interest by selling off and advising his father to sell off what totaled millions of dollars’ worth of shares, ahead of a tax change that raised taxes on the wealthiest one per cent and lowered them for the middle class.

In a letter to Morneau from Dawson, the conflict of interest and ethics czar said that she did not find the finance minister to have benefitted from insider information, pointing to evidence that showed that the government’s plans to make the income tax change was public information “well in advance” of the stock selloffs.

The tax change was also a 2015 federal election campaign pledge of the Liberals, though Dawson considered this irrelevant, “because electoral promises are not official government matters.”

At the time the opposition made the allegations, Morneau denied speaking to his father about the coming tax policy change. He called the accusations baseless and he threatened to sue the opposition for making them, if they were to repeat them outside of the House of Commons where MPs don’t have parliamentary privilege.

Dawson was also asked to look into Morneau’s involvement with the Bank of Canada renewing its contract with Morneau Shepell to manage its employees’ pension plans. The commissioner concluded that Morneau had “no involvement” in the Bank’s decision.

“I consider both matters closed,” Dawson said in the letter, dated Jan. 5.

“We are pleased with the outcome,” said Morneau spokesperson Chloe Luciani-Girouard. She said the minister will continue to work with the ethics commissioner to make sure he is in compliance with federal conflict of interest rules.

Morneau has divested himself from his holdings in the human resources company that bears his family name, set up a blind trust, and has donated the gains in the value of his shares since being elected in 2015.

Today is Dawson’s last day on the job. The Liberals have appointed Mario Dion to replace her.

‘Not good enough’: Poilievre

“It is not good enough for ministers to boast that their actions are not illegal,” said Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre in a statement. He said Morneau exercised “terrible judgement” in not putting his holdings in a blind trust from the get-go

On CTV Power Play, NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen, who pushed Dawson to look into Morneau’s selloff of shares, told host Don Martin that while he’s not that surprised by Dawson’s finding, he disputes her notion that the coming tax hike on the wealthiest was publicly known.

Cullen said that while yes, a “vague notion” that tax rates were going up for top earners, “no one knew how much, only Mr. Morneau and a few of his officials.” It’s something he will likely raise with Dawson when she testifies at the House of Commons ethics committee on Wednesday when she appears to discuss her finding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breached federal ethics rules.

Bill C-27 probe ongoing

Dawson’s share selloff finding is unrelated to a separate investigation regarding Morneau’s sponsorship of Bill C-27 regarding pension reform.

This investigation got underway in November, after a series of news reports revealed that Morneau continued to indirectly own shares in the human resources company.

Cullen considers the C-27 investigation to be the “larger” case against Morneau.

That probe is ongoing, though with a new commissioner taking the helm it will be at his discretion whether or not it continues.

With a report from CTV News’ Michel Boyer

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Ethics czar clears Morneau over sale of shares

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