Politics

Bill Morneau violated Elections Act ahead of 2019 election: commissioner

Bill Morneau violated a part of the Canada Elections Act last summer when he promoted prospective Liberal candidates in the lead-up to the federal election while acting in his capacity as minister, according to the commissioner of Canada elections.

Former finance minister must pay $300 fine

Bill Morneau announced his resignation as finance minister during a news conference on Parliament Hill last month. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Bill Morneau violated a part of the Canada Elections Act last summer when he promoted prospective Liberal candidates during the lead-up to the federal election while acting in his capacity as minister, says the commissioner of Canada elections.

The independent officer, who is responsible for ensuring compliance with the act, posted a copy of his findings online Thursday morning.

According to the agreed-upon statement, Morneau gave a speech to the Oakville Chamber of Commerce on July 29, 2019, during the pre-writ period, in his official role as minister of finance.

Following this event, Morneau participated in a roundtable discussion with local business owners and residents, toured a clothing factory and met leaders of the Muslim community with then-prospective candidate Anita Anand.

All four events were posted to the Department of Finance's website.

During his speech, Morneau singled out Anand. "When such a person steps forward for public life — with significant accomplishments in their private-sector life — I think it's important that ... we support them and encourage them," Morneau said, according to the commissioner's findings.

Anand went on to win the Oakville riding and has since been promoted to a cabinet position.

Morneau must post findings online, pay a fine

On Aug. 27, just two weeks before the official start of the 2019 campaign, Morneau toured a Caledon-area business — again, in his role as minister — where he posed for photos with Michele Fisher, the Liberal candidate for Dufferin-Caledon. Elections Commissioner Yves Côté said that also contravened the act.

Former finance minister Bill Morneau in downtown Ottawa Sept. 10, 2020, the day it was revealed he violated a part of the Canada Elections Act in 2019. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

His findings said Morneau's promotion of both prospective candidates meant the expenses related to the events benefited the Liberal Party of Canada.

Morneau, who announced his resignation as finance minister and MP for Toronto Centre last month, must pay a $300 fine. His riding association has now paid back the costs of the two events — about $1,661.

Morneau must also post a copy of the commissioner's findings on his personal website or social media channels.

The commissioner says there is no indication Morneau meant to use public resources for partisan purposes or that he was involved in planning the tours.

WE ethics investigation continues 

It's not the first time Morneau has come under scrutiny by an officer of Parliament — a fact the Opposition pounced on today.

"Once again, another Trudeau Liberal has been found guilty of breaking the law," said Conservative MP Michael Barrett, the party's ethics critic.

"Whether it's ethics violations or elections violations, the Liberals clearly don't think the law applies to them. It's time to bring back good ethical government under the leadership of Erin O'Toole."

NDP critic Daniel Blaikie said Canadians deserve more from their elected officials.

"This is who the Justin Trudeau Liberals are. It's in their DNA. They think the rules don't apply to them," he said.

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is carrying out investigations on Morneau and Prime Minster Justin Trudeau's participation in a cabinet decision to award a multimillion-dollar summer student grants contract to WE Charity.

The Opposition pushed for the probe, saying neither Trudeau nor Morneau recused themselves from cabinet talks on the deal, despite both having close family ties to the organization.

WE Charity announced Wednesday that it is winding down its operations in Canada following a summer spent in the political spotlight.

With files from J.P. Tasker

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