OTTAWA — Finance Minister Bill Morneau found himself fending off fresh Opposition broadsides Thursday during another fiery question period — this one so heated that one Conservative MP was booted from the House of Commons.
Morneau has been at the centre of an ethics controversy for weeks, and the latest questions were focused on new revelations his father sold off about $1.5 million shares in their family−built company right before the minister made a major 2015 tax−change announcement.
Opposition MPs say they believe the tax news led to a dip in the stock market — including the value of Morneau Shepell shares.
All week, the Conservatives and the New Democrats have been grilling the Liberals about Morneau’s late−2015 sale of millions of dollars worth of his own shares in Morneau Shepell Inc. — a transaction that took place days before the Dec. 7 announcement. They insist the early sale resulted in a savings of half a million dollars.
Opponents allege Morneau’s 2015 tax news, which included the government’s plan to raise income taxes on the highest earners, had a wide−reaching impact because it encouraged wealthier shareholders to sell off some their stock before the changes came into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
On Thursday, the finance minister’s political foes seized on new information about two large 2015 sales of Morneau Shepell stock — 100,000 shares each — made by Morneau’s father, William Morneau Sr., on Nov. 23 and Dec. 3.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said the value of the shares fell five per cent in the days that followed, but not before “someone” got out.
“Correction, it wasn’t just someone — there was someone else,” Poilievre said, referring to the sale made by Morneau’s father, who founded the company.
Morneau later told the House he didn’t know Poilievre “could sink any lower.”
“I didn’t know that was possible — he has actually taken efforts today to actually move from me to talk about my family,” Morneau said in the House, where MPs enjoy the legal protections afforded by parliamentary privilege.
“If he wants to insinuate something about me, he should say it here, he should say it now and he should say what he means. And then he should move it out into the foyer, because truth matters.”
The feisty debate prompted Speaker Geoff Regan to take the rare step of having Tory MP Blake Richards removed from the Commons by the sergeant−at−arms. Richards, who was thrown out for heckling Morneau during the debate, was not immediately available for comment.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called for Morneau’s resignation because of the 2015 stock sale and other conflict−of−interest allegations that have dogged the finance minister for weeks.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly defended his minister and has called the attacks “unfounded, baseless allegations” and “slander.”
Earlier in the week, Poilievre went so far as to suggest that Morneau used his access as a minister to benefit himself financially, telling the Commons that “it is actually the responsibility of government to ensure that no minister ever uses inside knowledge to benefit from transactions on the stock market.”
On Wednesday, NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice said: “Mysteriously, thousands of Morneau Shepell shares were sold a few days before a major tax announcement. When people say that they no longer believe politicians and that they think all of us in here are crooked, this is what we’re talking about.”
Trudeau and Morneau have dared opponents to repeat their suggestions outside the House, where they would be subject to libel and defamation laws.
“Which is why they’re not saying any of these allegations outside of this House — because they don’t want to get sued,” Trudeau said Thursday during question period.
“I don’t blame them — you get sued when you don’t tell the truth.”
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Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press