Opinion

There's zero proof of Morneau's nefariousness. If only the minister still had his credibility: Robyn Urback

The Tories are making some pretty serious allegations with very little evidence. The problem for Finance Minister Bill Morneau is that benefit of the doubt went out the window the day Canadians learned he still owned shares in his family's company when he controlled the government's purse strings.

The Tories are making some pretty serious allegations with very little evidence

Benefit of the doubt went out the window the day Canadians learned Finance Minister Bill Morneau still owned millions of dollars worth of shares in Canada's largest human resources firm at the time he controlled the government's purse strings. (Stephen MacGillivray/Canadian Press)

A Senate page could've wet his or her pants on the floor of the House of Commons Thursday, and no one would have noticed.

Amid the routine feckless shouting and heckling, the Speaker of the House had to remind the prime minister to refrain from calling other members liars, before ejecting Conservative MP Blake Richards, who refused to settle down.

About 24 hours earlier, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called on Finance Minister Bill Morneau to resign, and 24 hours before that, Morneau threatened to sue members of the Opposition for their not-so-subtle insinuations that he engaged in insider trading with regards to his involvement with Morneau Shepell — the company for which Morneau had previously served as executive chair and from which he did not divest after becoming finance minister, even though everyone thought he did. The Aristocrats!

Tax changes and a price drop

To be clear: there is zero actual evidence that Morneau engaged in insider trading. None.

What the Conservatives have done is latch onto a couple of major unloads of Morneau Shepell shares, which happened days before the Liberal government announced tax changes in 2015, which may or may not have caused Morneau Shepell's price to drop.

To buy the Conservatives' version of events, we'd have to believe that the drop was a consequence of the announcement — for which there is no evidence — and that Morneau had anticipated that result and thus sold off and/or advised his friends and family to dump their shares. For which there is no evidence.

The tax changes tabled in the House of Dec. 7, 2015 were hardly a surprise: there was a new 33 per cent income tax rate for high earners and a cut for the middle class. The change, which was slated to take effect the following year, might have compelled some high earners to realize their gains in 2015 to avoid the new bracket, as many financial advisers were advising at the time. Or it might not have. We don't know.

What has the Conservatives squawking to the point of ejection from the House are a couple of conveniently timed sales: someone sold 680,000 company shares on Nov. 30, 2015, a week before the tabled changes. Morneau will not confirm or deny whether that "someone" was him, even though his office told the National Post back in October that the minister sold 680,000 shares after taking office.

A paternal connection

Then on Thursday, Global News reported that Morneau's father sold 100,000 shares on Nov. 23, 2015 and another 100,000 shares on Dec. 1 that year. The implication is that Morneau told his dad of the government's upcoming announcement (which was pretty much written in the Liberals' campaign platform, but never mind), and that his dad sold a bunch of shares in anticipation.

But again, to believe that something nefarious was going on here would be to assume that Morneau knew that his announcement would see that share price drop, and to also accept that the announcement caused the share price to drop, meaning that it wasn't a result of a myriad of other factors. For the record: Morneau denies that he discussed the government's tax changes with his father. This might all look very suspect, but we don't have hard evidence just yet.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is calling on Bill Morneau to resign, saying the "finance minister isn't competent, and he can't follow the rules." 2:01

All of this said — none of this matters.

Benefit of the doubt went out the window the day Canadians learned that Bill Morneau still owned millions of dollars worth of shares in Canada's largest human resources firm at the time he controlled the government's purse strings.

His subsequent refusal to answer very legitimate questions about why he failed to correct the record on whether had put his shares in a blind trust, and initial dodges regarding whether he recused himself on a bill that could've helped his family firm's bottom line, have only further eroded his credibility.

The Conservatives are making some pretty serious allegations here with very little actual evidence. Fortunately for them, the finance minister isn't in the best of standings. Morneau could venture down a path he's been avoiding for the last several weeks and offer a real, unscripted, thorough explanation. Then again, it might already be too late.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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