Question period turned into a numbers game Tuesday as Finance Minister Bill Morneau tried to flip the script on Conservatives pressing to know what assets he holds in his numbered companies.
Yet, Tory finance critic Pierre Poilievre may have scored the last laugh.
Conservative MPs have taken to directly asking Morneau to provide information on the numbered companies he disclosed with the federal ethics commissioner after being elected. The holding companies have names such as 1446977 Ontario Inc. or 2135042 Ontario Inc.
While Morneau accused opposition MPs of being "obsessed" with his personal finances, Conservatives argue that questions about the companies are fair game.
The finance minister did not put his assets into a blind trust after he was elected in 2015 and continued to own shares in his family business, pension management firm Morneau Shepell, despite sponsoring pension legislation.
After weeks of pressure, he promised last week to use a blind trust and to sell his Morneau Shepell shares, donating to charity the difference in the value of those shares between the day he was elected and the day they are sold — expected to be about $5 million.
Morneau comes out swinging
On Tuesday, Morneau came prepared to turn up the heat on 21 Tory MPs who also own private corporations. He asked several of them if they might wish to disclose the assets they hold in the numbered companies, saying at one point he could do this "bingo game," too.
Poilievre is one such Tory MP with a numbered company.
"The minister wants to know what's in my company. I'm one of the 21 he just listed. It's a rental property. How hard was that? How hard was that?" Poilievre asked, spurring laughter applause from Tories.
"What is in 2254165 Ontario Inc.?" he asked Morneau. A summary of the finance minister's financial disclosure with ethics watchdog Mary Dawson lists the company as a real estate holding company in Toronto for which he shares ownership with four siblings.
The finance minister responded that none of his assets are "controlled" and that he's disclosed everything to the ethics commissioner. He did not specify whether any of his assets are still held "indirectly." His shares in Morneau Shepell were held indirectly and that's what landed him in hot water.
None of them own stocks in a company that they regulate. Only the finance minister has that distinction.Pierre Poilievre
He wondered whether Tory MPs had disclosed their holdings to the watchdog.
"Whether the member from Calgary Rocky Ridge has disclosed everything in 638484 Alberta Limited or whether the member from Fort McMurray has disclosed everything in 615783 Alberta Limited at DBK Holdings," he said. "These are questions that are quite interesting."
Poilievre rose again to joke that, while Morneau was speaking, all 21 MPs Morneau referenced had time to chat.
"And they have all confirmed that none of them own stocks in a company that they regulate," he shot back. "Only the finance minister has that distinction."
Poilievre was shut down when he again pressed Morneau about about 2254165 Ontario Inc.
"I can only assume that the continuing obsession with my personal finances is because the members on the opposite side don't want to think about what's actually happening for their own constituents," Morneau said.
Scheer, Trudeau exchange fire
Earlier in question period, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau threw a jab at Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer over a CBC News report that Scheer has ownership in three real estate limited partnerships. A Liberal MP told CBC that Scheer's use of the tax shelter was "hypocritical" given his attacks on Morneau.
As he has for weeks, Trudeau said his finance minister has followed the advice of the ethics watchdog and suggested there are better things to talk about.
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"I am absolutely certain that the leader of the official Opposition also followed the advice of the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner in accordance to his own personal tax dispositions," Trudeau said.
"Mr. Speaker, the key difference here is that I disclosed everything to the ethics commissioner and the finance minister did not," Scheer shot back.
With a file from The Canadian Press, Althia Raj
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