POLITICS

Morneau Gets Into Testy Exchange Over $10-Million Stock Sale

The finance minister's office called a new Tory accusation "absurd."

11/27/2017 19:29 EST | Updated 11/28/2017 07:03 EST
Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Finance Minister Bill Morneau stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 27, 2017.

OTTAWA — The finance minister faced another thrashing in question period on Monday, accused by the opposition of selling $10 million in shares one week before the government tabled tax measures that negatively affected their value.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre grilled Finance Minister Bill Morneau over the timing of the sale that happened nearly two years ago.

"The Liberal platform would have us believe that revenue from this tax change would only start to be realized at the beginning of the fiscal year," Poilievre said of the motion announced back on Dec. 7, 2015 to raise income taxes on high-income earners.

The announcement caused stock markets to drop.

"He indicated it would take effect at the beginning of the calendar year. That news moved markets, but not before someone was able to sell their shares and save half a million dollars. Was that person the minister of finance?"

WATCH: Poilievre and Morneau's testy exchange

Morneau responded by saying he's already disclosed "100 per cent" of his assets to the ethics commissioner. "That is the way it works in this House," he said.

Opposition House Leader Candice Bergen disagreed. She pointed to the example of the finance minister failing to put his approximately one million shares in his family's company, Morneau Shepell, into a blind trust.

Bergen also brought up Morneau's failure to tell the ethics commissioner about his joint ownership of a private company that owns a family villa in France.

"This is why his credibility is on very shaky ground, and he is doing nothing to get himself out of that situation," she said.

Morneau's continued hesitation to disclose details of his personal finances has allowed opposition MPs to criticize government transparency and its adherence to ethics rules.

The National Post's John Ivison shared details of the stock sale Morneau faced scrutiny over in question period:

Poilievre told reporters because he didn't get any straight answers from the finance minister, that he intends to raise the issue again on Tuesday.

"I think if he comes forward and explains to us the dates on which he sold his directly-held Morneau Shepell shares then we can determine whether or not we need to take the matter further," the Carleton MP said.

The Canadian Press
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 27, 2017.

But Morneau's office seemingly isn't concerned with the Conservatives' new strategy to chip away at the finance minister's credibility.

The finance minister's press secretary told HuffPost Canada there isn't any weight behind Poilievre's attack.

"The absurd allegations being made by the opposition are completely and utterly false," Chloe Luciani-Girouard told HuffPost Canada. And since investigating allegations of insider trading goes beyond the scope of Parliamentary business, she challenged the opposition to bring the issue to regulators if they're confident in their accusation.

Luciani-Girouard called the opposition's debate tactic a distraction from recent government measures including the unveiling of a much-anticipated national housing strategy, as well as tax benefits for low income workers.

Morneau served as executive chairman of Morneau Shepell until shortly after the 2015 election.

Months of controversy for Morneau

Since the summer, the finance minister has faced continued criticism about his integrity after it was revealed the ethics commissioner told him he did not have to divest his company shares or put holdings into a blind trust after being named finance minister.

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is currently investigating him for a potential conflict of interest related to Bill C-27, a pension-reform bill, after critics claimed it would personally benefit Morneau's former company.

He looked evasive. And my Liberal colleagues looked incredibly concerned.Nathan Cullen, NDP MP

NDP MP Nathan Cullen told reporters he intends to follow up with the ethics commissioner about the latest Morneau allegation. He said he will ask if she knew about the Morneau Shepell stock sale prior to them being sold, and if she approved of the transaction.

Cullen, who is vice chair of the House's standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics, said he isn't calling for Morneau to resign, but stressed that confidence in the finance minister has been "eroding steadily."

"He looked evasive. And my Liberal colleagues looked incredibly concerned," Cullen told reporters.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Finance Minister Bill Morneau stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 27, 2017.

A Hill Times story published earlier in the day, quoted anonymous rookie Liberal MPs saying they're concerned the finance minister's ethics issues is making the government look like "a bunch of elitists." Cullen said frustration is permeating at the top, too.

"One minister last week told me, Mr. Morneau doesn't even realize he's in trouble," he said. "He lamented the notion of a rookie minister being put in such a high portfolio with a whole bunch of potentials for conflict of interest."

Cullen did not disclose the minister's name.

With files from The Canadian Press

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