Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take the floor in this debate. It seems some people are surprised to see me wearing a bow tie. I have received a few oblique and humorous comments about it on Twitter. I just want to say that it is in support of my colleague from Hull—Aylmer, who is my MP when I am here in Gatineau, and the Movember movement.
Today’s motion is about ethics, and there is no more sensitive and serious topic in politics than ethics. Debates are never more fierce and passionate than when the subject of ethics comes up, because ethics are so very dear to our hearts, and should be closely monitored. Today we are talking about the Minister of Finance's ethics.
For almost a year, I had the pleasure and honour of being the official opposition’s finance critic, so the finance minister was my counterpart at the time. I have expressed the respect and esteem I have for this man on several occasions, and I would like to do so again, even despite his serious ethical problems.
When a man of his calibre, a Bay Street baron, goes into politics and decides to help Canada in his own way, the political class as a whole is the better for it. However, as a high-profile minister, he must meet the highest ethical standards, and there is the rub. Unfortunately, the minister’s ethics seem to have eroded over time.
What happened when this fantastically successful businessman, an inspiration to all Canadian entrepreneurs, entered the political arena? What did he say? On November 4, 2015, a few weeks after the election, on CBC’s Power and Politics, a show then hosted by Rosemary Barton, who now co-anchors the evening news, the Minister of Finance said the following:
He said, “I resigned my position as chair of the firm that I was chair of before and I expect that all my assets will go into a blind trust. I’ve already communicated with the ethics commissioner in that regard and I do need to work through that process and will do in the appropriate time frame.” I repeat that he stated, “all my assets will go into a blind trust.”
That day, the Minister of Finance said that all of his assets would go into a blind trust. Well, two years later, when we looked for this blind trust, we realized that we had been utterly misled. The Minister of Finance had been playing semantics. That is the sad part.
The hon. members across the aisle keep repeating that the minister followed the Ethics Commissioner’s recommendations, but we know he was playing semantics. He said that he did not hold any shares in his company directly, but that he did own a numbered company that just happened to run his company. Playing semantics means playing fast and loose with one's ethics, and above all, one's honour. As Global News reported:
Records show that before the 2015 election Morneau held nearly 2.07 million common shares in Morneau Shepell through the Alberta numbered company, 1193536 Alberta Ltd. There is no public data about his current holdings in the company. At their current value of just over $20 per share, those holdings would be worth more than $40 million.
It seems, then, that the Minister of Finance was playing semantics. Rather than acknowledging that he had a company and that he had direct access to Morneau Shepell, he played semantics, saying that it was a numbered company. The Ethics Commissioner was misled just like the rest of Canadians. Every month, the Minister of Finance was receiving $65,000 in dividends from this numbered company. That is considerable.
Then, we learned that he hid information from the Ethics Commissioner about the numbered company, which, among other things, owns a villa in Provence, France.
In my riding, I have had a condo for the past 15 years or so; I am very proud of it. I presume that some of my colleagues have a principal residence, a cottage and things like that.
However, forgetting that you have a house in Provence, France, probably does not happen very often. It is only when the minister was caught with his hand in the cookie jar that the Ethics Commissioner investigated and found him guilty. That is why he was ordered to pay a measly $200 fine.
Once all of his numbered companies and the villa in Provence had been exposed, what did the minister do? Recognizing that he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he decided to do what he should have done from the start: sell his shares. He also decided to donate all of his company’s profits to charity. I cried a little when I heard that.
If that is not an admission of guilt, I do not know what is. If I suddenly decided to sell something that I insisted for two years I had nothing to do with, it might be because I wanted to clear my conscience.
That is the saddest part of this whole mess. Unfortunately, this senior member can be forgetful and enjoys playing semantics. He is acting only now that he has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar; he should have taken the appropriate action two years ago. Canadians are not fooled by this sad state of affairs. Remember that the minister’s assets increased by $5 million in the past two years. He is Minister of Finance, and Morneau Shepell, a company founded by his father and built up by the minister himself, is in direct conflict of interest with the Minister of Finance.
Let me explain. Morneau Shepell is one of the biggest players in pension plans. The Minister of Finance establishes the government’s financial and tax policy. This is a direct conflict of interest. I know what I am talking about. I used to work at TQS, whose pension plan just happens to be administered by Morneau Shepell. When I received the envelope seven or eight months ago, I was amused, and I even mentioned it to the minister. He had simply forgotten to tell me that, at the time, he was still in control of the company, which he also forgot to tell Canadians.
I am getting to the heart of the matter. The minister himself introduced Bill C-27. Morneau Shepell, his family company, specializes in pension plans. Bill C-27 is a bill that directly concerns pension plans. That, right there, constitutes a direct conflict of interest. Worse still, Morneau Shepell is the company that designed the pension plan for the Province of New Brunswick. Bill C-27, it just so happens, is largely based on what Morneau Shepell did with New Brunswick’s pension plan. That is the definition of conflict of interest.
What did the minister say then? He said that he his actions were sanctioned by the Ethics Commissioner. That is not true. He went to see the Ethics Commissioner after introducing the bill. That is the most crooked part in all this. He played semantics with his numbered company, he forgot his house in Provence, and then he claimed to have worked with the Ethics Commissioner, even though he only met with the Ethics Commissioner after he introduced the bill. How can you trust someone who changes his story every time he gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar?
That is what is so sad and unfortunate in this case. That is why, as we speak, the Minister of Finance is being investigated by the Ethics Commissioner. The Prime Minister is, as well. For the first time in the history of Canada, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance are both under investigation by the Ethics Commissioner.
It is sad to see that the Minister of Finance, who has a noble, rich and exciting past and who is such an inspiration for all business people or would-be politicians who are now in business, has burned away all of his prestige by making basic errors of ethical judgment. It is unfortunate.
That is why we have introduced this motion calling on the Minister of Finance to declare all of his assets once and for all, like all members of Parliament must do, and that he disclose what assets he holds in his numbered companies.