Saturday October 21, 2017

A finance minister under siege: What's next for Bill Morneau?

Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Listen to Full Episode 49:59

The opposition is showing no sign of letting up on federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, despite his latest efforts to end the ethics controversy swirling around his personal finances.

In an interview with The House, Morneau again insisted he divulged all of his assets to Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and diligently followed her recommendations.

"What we saw this week — over the last few days — is some people saying, 'Maybe that's not enough,'" Morneau conceded.

On Thursday, the embattled minister announced he would divest all of his shares in Morneau Shepell — the human resources and pension management company he and his father built over 25 years — while placing his other assets in a blind trust.

"That's much more than [the ethics commissioner] would have expected, but for me, that's okay," Morneau told The House. "I want to get on with what Canadians have asked us to do, which is to continue doing well for them and their families."

Morneau has been in the opposition's crosshairs since Monday, when the Globe and Mail reported that he had not put his assets in a blind trust. On Tuesday, the ethics commissioner said she had told the minister a blind trust wasn't necessary.

But opposition parties accuse Morneau of exploiting a loophole in Canada's conflict of interest legislation, which does not cover assets held indirectly through a holding company — like Morneau's shares in the family business.

Critics say that puts the finance minister in a conflict of interest, given that he's sponsoring Bill C-27, which proposes changes to public pensions that could benefit Morneau Shepell.

Morneau rejected those accusations on The House.

"That's a very narrow interpretation," he said. "We're trying to move forward with an additional possibility, so that people can have greater pension security."

Morneau also defended the small business tax changes the Liberals have put forward, even after the government backed down on some of its proposals over the past few days.

"We wanted to make sure that small businesses continue to thrive, but you need to listen to people to get to the right answer," Morneau said. "We're meeting our objectives. We're listening to people to make sure that we get it right."

Those proposals have been overshadowed by the ethical storm that has engulfed the finance minister this week. Conservative ethics critic Peter Kent argued the blame for the scandal falls squarely at Morneau's feet.

"When an adult is faced with choices, he or she exercises judgment," Kent said. "And as we learn by the day now — in any number of instances — judgment has not been a key consideration in the finance minister's decision-making."

NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen told The House the controversy is a clear sign Morneau didn't go far enough to shield himself from reproach. As for the finance minister's decision to put his assets in a blind trust and divest all of his family's assets in Morneau Shepell, Cullen says it's too little, too late.

"Clearly, he's taking all these steps, because — both in perception and I would argue reality — for the last couple of years, the finance minister has been in a conflict of interest," Cullen said.

If there's a silver lining in this controversy, Cullen said, it's that it might push the government to close loopholes in the Conflict of Interest Act.

"Canadians don't care whether it's directly or indirectly — if you're getting benefits from decisions you're making, that's no good," Cullen said, adding that his party will put forward proposals to toughen the legislation.


Delay on sexual assault training bill 'makes my blood boil': Ambrose

Ambrose Interview 20170518

Conservative Interim Leader Rona Ambrose is shown during an interview with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, Thursday, May 18, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

In the wake of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's meteoric downfall over sexual misconduct allegations and the rise of the #metoo campaign, former Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose said it's frustrating the Senate still hasn't passed her bill mandating sexual assault training for judges.

"It makes my blood boil, to be honest, because it's really about creating a level of confidence so that people will come forward," Ambrose told The House.

Before leaving politics, Ambrose introduced Bill C-337 to mandate training for judges on sexual assault law, saying it was needed after a series of high-profile cases revealed many judges adhere to archaic stereotypes about women who are subjected to sexual violence.

In one notable case, former Federal Court judge Robin Camp questioned why a sexual assault complainant couldn't "just keep [her] knees together."

Camp later resigned.

Bill C-337 passed the House of Common with bipartisan support in May, but has languished in the Senate ever since.

The issue of sexual assault is pervasive, said Ambrose, pointing to the lightning rod of the #metoo social media movement.

Thousands of women are identifying themselves as victims of sexual harassment or assault by using the hashtag #metoo following the Weinstein scandal.

Some women have gone a step further in explaining they didn't feel comfortable or supported enough to report incidents.

"And the judiciary is unfortunately part of one of those institutions where people think, 'they're not going to help, they don't understand. I will not get justice there,'" Ambrose said.

"I think there are a lot of people in this day and age who still don't realize what a huge public issue this is."

Ambrose notes that despite some of the campaign's shortcomings, mainly that it doesn't call for concrete action, the #metoo hashtag is bringing some empowerment to a space that's often hurtful towards women.

"Social media itself has been a very abusive, misogynistic place for a lot of women," said Ambrose, adding that Twitter, especially, can be "a sewer for women in politics."


The Insiders discuss the 2nd anniversary of the Liberals' election victory

2015 year in photos Justin Trudeau election 42 win Oct 19

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau waves while accompanied by his wife Sophie Gregoire (2nd from R) as he arrives to give his victory speech after Canada's federal election in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Two years removed from Justin Trudeau walking into a Montreal hotel ballroom to celebrate his party's historic election victory, the Liberals are now struggling to regain control of their political narrative.

"There's no advantage in politics like being in government because you control the agenda, so the government has a lot of tools at its disposal over the course of the next two years to take back the agenda," said David Herle of the Gandolf group.

Herle added that: "on the big issue things, whether it is the child benefit, whether it is their approach to the United States, they've been doing well on the most important things. What they need to do is get those kinds of things back in the window, and I think they probably will have a strong set of proposals leading up to the next election."

Jaime Watt of Navigator Ltd. agreed with Herle... to a point. "David is right that the government controls the agenda, that is, until they don't."

Watt argued that the election of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh means that the Prime Minister needs a few political wins in order to be able to introduce some new policies and a fresh agenda.

"He's got to introduce some dramatic and aggresive policies that's going to not just solidify his base, but protect from an incursion on the left for that base."

"We're going to see some spending," predicted Kathleen Monk from Earnscliffe. "They want to change the channel, they want to roll out some good news."

Monk added that the Liberals need to be careful. "The danger that exists constantly for Liberals is moving into arrogance, and I think that they have to be careful about that in the next two years. Remain focused on Canadians, focused on the middle class, and focused on serving them."

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