Opinion: It’s time for the PM to sack Finance Minister Bill Morneau

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is on track to surpass any previous regime in decades when it comes to lack of trust in government ethics and corruption.

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Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is on track to surpass Harper’s Tories with regards to untrustworthy government ethics and corruption scandals.

The current scandal surrounding Finance Minister Bill Morneau is quickly eroding what trust voters might have had when they elected a fresh government. It is time for the Prime Minister to remove Morneau from the file, if not out of cabinet entirely.

A black eye for the for the minister

Morneau has been trying to conduct political damage control for over a week, ever since the existence of his undisclosed French corporation, which he uses to control his villa, became public knowledge.

The corporation, called SCI Mas des Morneau, lists Bill Morneau and his wife as partners. While it is not an uncommon or illegal, entities such as international corporations are commonly used to avoid Canadian taxes.

Records show the company has been in existence since 2007 and its existence is in fact legal. It should have been a simple matter for the minister to disclose his involvement with the corporation in 2015 when he was elected.

But almost two years later, it took a public and blistering CBC report for the minister to inform the ethics commission on Sept. 22nd of the company and villa.

This revelation occurred at a particularly poor time, as the government has been floating changes to the small business tax laws with the aim of curbing tax avoidance.

While an undeniable political black eye for the minister, in and of itself, SCI Mas des Morneau isn’t a threat to governing Liberals. Mistakes happen, and according to this minister’s office, this mistake can be chalked up to “early administrative confusion.”

I have no idea what that means.

Combination of entitlements and arrogance

What isn’t a mistake is when we found out this week the minister is directing the assets of his family-owned company, Morneau-Shepell Inc., from an Alberta numbered company.

This company is owned by three people: Morneau, his wife, and a second numbered company from Ontario which is owned by… Morneau. This shell game is, of course, used to evade higher taxes in Ontario, where Morneau-Shepell is based.

As one might expect, the minister did not disclose any of this to the ethics commission until it was discovered by the Globe and Mail.

Worse still is that Morneau-Shepell Inc. is a pension management and human resources firm, which are industries that could easily be affected by his actions as finance minister.

Morneau also sponsored Bill C-27, which makes changes to private pensions that could benefit his family’s company.

Those are clear and undeniable conflicts of interest, that neither the Finance Minister nor the Prime Minster seem to acknowledge.

That they feel someone can fairly regulate and pass laws pertaining to industries they personally profit of off is the worst combination of entitlement and arrogance displayed yet by this government.

Adding insult to injury

The fact that the minister has been managing tens of millions of dollars in personal assets while pushing for legislation that would benefit him personally, is the very definition of corruption.

The fact that, in 2015, Morneau said he would put those assets in a blind trust, but decided against it because there wasn’t a law forcing him to, shows a lack of ethical forethought.

There should be little argument that Morneau needs to be replaced as finance minister, but there is ample evidence that he should not be trusted with any other file.

However, Morneau decided, in the most tone-deaf fashion, to add insult to injury for every middle class and working class voter by paying himself a monthly dividend of $65,000 from his tax-dodging Alberta Company. That amounts to three-time his monthly salary as a government minister!

It is appalling that he accepts these monthly payments when the average Canadian worker makes less than a sixth of his ministerial salary. Moreover, he would have us think it’s entirely appropriate. I personally believe that our MPs and MPPs should be compensated well for the work they do, but that belief also means it is inexcusable that an MP should be making money outside of parliament.

The minister’s answer to this criticism is to sell the offending assets, as if that solves the core problems, and giving him a windfall of over $20 million. This behavior is so out of touch with the reality most Canadians face, it is unacceptable of any elected official and even worse for a Finance Minister.

The Prime Minister needs to wake up

Morneau needs to go and Trudeau needs to wake up to his own entitlement, and decide if his talk about helping the middle class was just that — talk. Because, at the moment, his government and economic policy are just as out of touch for the average Canadian as Stephen Harper’s was.

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Marco Coletta

Marco is a former NDP candidate and Campaign Manager. Educated at York University in History and Political Science, Marco is a committed progressive activist and commentator from Toronto. He currently works as a political consultant and is extremely involved in local politics.

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