Kent calls on ethics commissioner to investigate Morneau over corporation that holds French villa

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is facing a call for an investigation into his failure for two years to disclose one of his private corporations to Canada's ethics watchdog.

Morneau didn't disclose company that owns his villa in France for two years

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is facing calls for an ethics investigation over the private corporation that owns and manages his French villa. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is facing a call for an investigation into his failure for two years to disclose one of his private corporations to Canada's ethics watchdog.

In a letter to Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, Conservative MP Peter Kent asks her to take a closer look at SCI Mas des Morneau, a company incorporated in France that owns and manages Morneau's villa in the picturesque town of Oppède in France's Provence region. Morneau and his wife, Nancy McCain, are listed as partners.

While Morneau's office says the finance minister had previously told Dawson about the villa, he only disclosed the private corporation on Sept. 22 after CBC News began asking questions about it.

The disclosure came a decade after the company was incorporated and nearly two years after Morneau was named finance minister.

Members of Parliament are supposed to disclose any private companies they own anywhere in the world to Dawson's office. Any private companies disclosed to the ethics commissioner's office are listed in the public registry of ethics filings located on the commission's website.

Despite not being in Question Period himself, Finance Minister Bill Morneau's villa in France was the topic de jour. 1:18

Call for investigation

Morneau's office has said the failure to disclose the private corporation was the result of "early administrative confusion."

In a letter dated Oct. 13, Kent asks Dawson whether Morneau ever disclosed the private corporation to her office and whether he misled her office "about the nature of his private interests in France."

"In light of these serious questions as a result of public disclosures made by Mr. Morneau, I would like to request that you initiate an investigation into Mr. Morneau's private corporation in France and whether or not he is in contravention of the Conflict of Interest Act."

Conservative MP Peter Kent says if anyone should disclose all their assets it should be a finance minister. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

In an interview with CBC News, Kent said it is important for Morneau to disclose everything he owns.

"There's probably no single minister other than the prime minister for whom clear and timely and honest disclosure is more important than for the finance minister."

Kent said Morneau's failure to respect the rules requiring him to disclose all of his private corporations could shake public confidence in his integrity.

Kent said arguing the failure to disclose was an oversight or the fault of a staff member is not acceptable.

Morneau's villa is located in the picturesque town of Oppède, France (Shutterstock / Magdanatka)

Most Canadians can't afford the kind of high-priced financial advisers who would counsel them to own a villa in France through a company rather than directly, Kent added.

"Only the wealthiest have reason to engage expensive tax advisers to protect their wealth," Kent said.

Reached by CBC News on Sunday, Morneau's office said they will work with Dawson.

"Since becoming a public office holder, the Minister has been working with the Ethics Commissioner and will continue to work with her office to ensure full compliance with the spirit and the letter of the rules," said press secretary Chloe Luciani-Girouard.

Heat over proposed tax changes

Morneau's own financial affairs have been in the spotlight in recent weeks as the opposition has increased its attacks over his proposed changes to the tax rules that apply to private corporations.

The Conservatives have been dragging the giant Morneau Shepell human resources company that Morneau used to head into their Question Period attacks. The opposition points out that the proposed tax changes will hit small businesses, farms and professionals like doctors but not large companies traded on the stock exchange like Morneau Shepell.

The town of Oppède is located in the southern French region of Provence (Shutterstock / Pack-Shot)

On Monday, Morneau's proposed changes to the tax rules are expected to be in the spotlight when Liberal MPs gather for a special early-morning caucus meeting. Some MPs have been critical of the proposed changes and they are returning from a week in their ridings where some may have received an earful from those opposed to the changes.

Morneau has suggested he is open to amendments and is expected to give MPs an idea Monday of just what he is prepared to change to calm the controversy. 

CBC News has confirmed that will include following through on the Liberals' campaign promise to cut the small business tax rate to nine per cent from 10.5 per cent.

About the Author

Elizabeth Thompson

Senior Reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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