Ottawa bloodsport: Calling for Bill Morneau to resign

Will the finance minister step down? Now that the opposition has made a demand, one of Parliament’s most relentless traditions begins.


 
Finance Minister Bill Morneau shakes hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after delivering his fall economic statement in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Oct.24, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Finance Minister Bill Morneau shakes hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after delivering his fall economic statement in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, Oct.24, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Minister of finance, beware the case of the rancid tuna. In 1985, the opposition Liberals started calling for the resignation of cabinet minister John Fraser, minister of fisheries and oceans, who approved the sale of more than a million cans of spoiled tuna to protect east coast jobs. The fish was unfit for human consumption, and the opposition claimed Fraser was unfit for office. “Tunagate” spilled pressure onto former prime minister Brian Mulroney, and the opposition did not rest until Fraser resigned.

“You get a minister on the run, and you continue to campaign, adopt a siege mentality, and go after that like some wounded animal you’re hunting down,” says Paul Thomas, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Manitoba. “Some call it a bloodsport.”

Bill Morneau’s assets are not tuna, and he likely won’t surrender, but the Conservative crusade for a resignation will serve their motives anyway. On Nov. 29, opposition leader Andrew Scheer called for Morneau to resign after learning that someone sold 680,000 shares of Morneau Shepell in November 2015, shortly before the government introduced tax rate changes that could possibly affect the company’s share price. The Tories suggest it might have been Morneau. On Nov. 30, Global News reported that Morneau’s father sold 200,000 shares in the company in the two weeks leading up to the tax announcement.

Morneau has called these allegations “absurd” and reportedly said in the House of Commons, “What we’re hearing now is in my mind [an] absolutely crazy idea that something that we campaigned on, that we talked to 36 million Canadians about, which was a rise in taxes in the top one per cent, was somehow knowledge that was only my knowledge.”

Scheer and his finance critic, Pierre Poilievre, pose to repeat relentless demands for resignation, a political tactic that could fatigue the already besieged minister or spark a lawsuit that would threaten Liberal votes (Morneau suggested he would sue Poilievre for defamation). This crusade could serve to derail the government’s agenda, and Morneau’s alleged behaviour on the Toronto Stock Exchange could down the road spark a Trudeau staff exchange if he intolerably burdens the boss.

RELATED: Bill Morneau has a good news story to tell—if anyone’s listening

“You don’t give up a finance minister because there are howls from the opposition bench that he or she should resign,” says Thomas. “You make a hard-headed calculation: at what point does the finance minister become more of a liability than an asset?” Thomas says Trudeau won’t give into Conservative requests “because in some ways, he’s saying if you can maintain your challenge day in and day out, you can convince the Prime Minister that maybe the finance minister’s time is up.”

In the rare resignations of past Canadian ministers, the opposition has driven them out for both personal failings and job performance. After Bev Oda billed taxpayers for a $16 glass of orange juice, her most infamous travel expense, she resigned as Stephen Harper’s international cooperation minister in 2012. Francis Fox stepped down from Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet after forging the signature of his girlfriend’s husband so she could get an abortion, and Maxime Bernier resigned in 2008 after sources said he left confidential documents (for a NATO summit in Romania) lying around at his girlfriend’s house.

The Morneau gun is not smoking, but rather emitting consistent puffs. He didn’t recuse himself from Bombardier discussions that the opposition says pose conflict of interest; he failed to disclose to the ethics commissioner a company that owns a villa in France, and most recently, Scheer accuses Morneau of using government intelligence to make shrewd family business moves. Scheer told reporters Wednesday, “The finance minister isn’t competent, and he can’t follow the rules, so why is he still in cabinet?”

In the House of Commons, Scheer double-teamed with his finance critic, resembling opposition attacks on Conservative John Fraser over the cans of Star-Kist tuna. “It was the same thing as they’re doing here, just weeks and weeks of questioning,” says Gary Levy, former editor of the Canadian Parliamentary Review. “It happens once or twice in every Parliament.”

It happened last April, when the Conservatives called for the resignation of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, after he over-attributed himself as the “architect” of an operation in Afghanistan. The Tories eventually gave up after Sajjan said sorry, but Morneau is stubbornly unapologetic, and the Tories could be saving more pointed questions for the new year so that the controversy doesn’t disappear over the holidays. “It could be a kind of game they’re playing,” says Levy, “that they have some information that they’re just sitting on for a week or two” and then “they’ll spring it out.”

Question periods now become deja-vu as the same shots fire between the same names. Another Paul Thomas, who is also a political scientist but at Carleton University, explains, “every day they’re talking about this, the government is thrown off from its agenda.” For the Tories, “in some ways, the resignation would be a nice cherry on top of the cake.”

Neither Thomases expect an obvious resolution from Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, who “has suddenly had this very hot potato thrown at her, and she has to try to get to the bottom of it,” says Thomas of the University of Manitoba. If she doesn’t conclude this case, she’ll prove “she doesn’t bark very loudly, and certainly doesn’t bite very often.”

Ethics aside, Morneau shows promising work ethic. The Canadian economy grew three per cent this year, on track to become the strongest economy among G7 countries, and the Prime Minister could sabotage his support from Bay Street if he replaced Morneau. The Liberal caucus doesn’t hold any other clear candidates for the job, other than perhaps Ralph Goodale who is already needed as a stronghold on cannabis legalization, and Trudeau wouldn’t want to appoint an interim finance minister until the next election; as Thomas of Carleton University explains, “it’s not a job for caretakers.”

But Morneau may soon need to take care of a lawsuit. The opposition holds parliamentary privilege inside the House of Commons, protecting them from certain charges of defamation or libel when insinuating Morneau abused his ministerial power, but Poilievre suggested he take the questions outside the House if Morneau won’t reveal whether or not he was the one who sold the 680,000 shares shortly before the tax change.

Even if Morneau wins the lawsuit, “it could be possible for them to lose in public opinion because it could be seen somehow as trying to stifle freedom of speech in Parliament,” says Thomas at Carleton.

And even if Morneau wanted to step down, the Prime Minister would likely talk to him about a latent goodbye rather than reactionary escape. “I’m sure if there’s considerations of resignation, it would involve a fireside chat,” says Thomas in Manitoba.

In all cases, Morneau will require a complexion tougher than skin. Scales might do.

MORE ABOUT BILL MORNEAU:


 

Ottawa bloodsport: Calling for Bill Morneau to resign

  1. ” … but Poilievre suggested he take the questions outside the House if Morneau won’t reveal whether or not he was the one who sold the 680,000 shares shortly before the tax change.”

    This is ridiculous. Morneau should not have been in control of Morneau Shepell shares to begin with (massively bad advice from the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner notwithstanding). And, in fact, up until not too long ago, he was quite content to let us believe that his assets had been placed in a blind trust. So, the least he can now do is officially confirm or deny that he was the one that sold the 680,000 shares. Transparency requires nothing less.

    • Bill Morneau is not going anywhere, he got more credibility in his big toe, than any one in the con party or the NDP. This was nothing but a smear, and chances are this is going to fly back in the face of the both opposition parties(lowest blow i’ve ever seen in the HOCs), this desperate attempt to make a guy who has the credentials today, to say he and his party created 80,000 jobs this month with the lowest unemployment rate in ten years, falling 5.9%, sounds like a guy cheating the government to me, like ducks. The MSM should castrated for allowing these kind of slanderous smears to be allowed to flow over the airwaves, the MSM should be ashamed of themselves for chasing a whisper campaign in order to smear Bill Morneau, what about the homophobia in the Conservative party, now that is a story, and the legal pot poem in the HOCs today, what does that say about the cons, ‘Status Quo’ for the next election .

      • Carpet Bomber. I could not agree with you more. The cons are getting desperate as they see what they could not do in ten years of Harper mismanagement being done by a PM that is “Just not ready” and his great choice for Minister of Finance (a rookie) in less than a two year span. (Oil crisis and all) The walking out of the HOC prior to the apology to the LGBTQ2 shows the true stripes of the CPC and their #scheerlunacy . Nothing has changed with the CPC. Fact is it has become worse not better under the “New and Improved” leadership of Andy and his hapless sidekick Pierre (a.k.a.) “Skippy” Poilievre, Sad really.

        • Exactly so. The Conservatives have proven that they have not changed one bit and have leaned nothing.

          Mud slinging is all they know and they are slinging it desperately for fear anyone should notice what a good job this finance minister is doing as the economy hums along as it never did under their tenure and also to avoid anyone actually turning their attention to the CPC itself.

          They are also quickly burning through their own reputation as anything other than crass opportunists.

          MP Gladu was all over the panel programs today huffing and puffing but I note she didn’t refer to her newly minted poem opposing the legalization of pot
          which she just delivered to the House of Commons. Had she done so it might at least have given her fellow panelists a good laugh.

          Speaking of burning through their reputations, Nathan Cullen has done a good job of burning through his as he wasn’t the spokesman for the NDP on this file this morning as he has been up until now…. sadly it seems as though the NDP are trailing along with the CPC just as they did in the last election and the one before that.

        • I agree with these comments but I would prefer we do not stoop to the CPC level and be insulting by making up derogatory names.

  2. ‘one of Parliament’s most relentless traditions begins’….yes, it’s all they spend their time doing.

  3. When one calls for a minister to resign, one actually doesn’t want him to resign. One wants to force the prime minister to keep him till the next election, and not let the prime minister shuffle him or her off to another portfolio in a shuffle before the election.

    Morneau and Trudeau, the “‘eau bros” are poster boys for Canada’s elite, entitled to their tax loopholes.

  4. Now they have smeared the integrity of the Morneau family.
    How low can they go?
    In the US they say where’s the bottom? It can go lower says Maggie H.
    In Canada the Finace Minister has now been charged with a crime punishable with jail time, insider trading, using his position for personal gain.
    Maybe the Conservative back bench will lead us in a chant of “Lock him up”.
    Time for some big wheel Ottawa pundits to say: enough is enough.

    • Sure took a long time for somebody to finally say this in plain language.
      From Globe editorial:
      “This is not a person who entered political life for personal gain.”

      • True enough – it’s very, very unlikely he entered political life for personal gain. But he has exhibited extremely poor judgement re his personal assets almost from day one.
        – Didn’t put his assets into a blind trust after saying he would.
        – Put his shares into a holding company controlled by him, which clearly does nothing except satisfy a technicality that even the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner had said should be removed.
        – Allowed us to continue believing his assets were in a blind trust after putting them in the holding company.
        – Didn’t recuse himself from pension legislation that would potentially impact Morneau Shepell, which he had millions of dollars of shares in.
        – Forgot to declare his villa in France.
        – And now he refuses to confirm or deny that he sold the 680,000 shares in Morneau Shepell (that by any objective observation should have been disposed of one way or another prior to becoming finance minister).

        There is little or no proof that Morneau acted with malevolence. But, he has exhibited extremely poor judgement, and that’s the best that can be said about him. His credibility is shot.

        And, BTW, despite what they say, the Conservatives are secretly praying he stays on as Finance Minister.

        From a CBC opinion piece:
        “His subsequent refusal to answer very legitimate questions about why he failed to correct the record on whether had put his shares in a blind trust, and initial dodges regarding whether he recused himself on a bill that could’ve helped his family firm’s bottom line, have only further eroded his credibility. ”

        See: h$$p://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/morneau-share-sale-opinion-1.4427358

      • I don’t know about that. It certainly looks like Morneau and Trudeau are trying to sell Canada and Canadians out to the highest bidder.

        Particularly the privatization bank, where the global elites are going to receive above market returns for no risk, with any risk of loss shifted to the taxpayer. It would be much cheaper to the Canadian government to just borrow the money, and own the infrastructure ourselves, rather than not own the infrastructure and be responsible for all the losses.

        Trudeau and Morneau are also contemplating asset stripping as part of this infrastructure privatization…i.e. selling off airports and the like.

        This should set both up well for cushy positions internationally post political life…

  5. Well ….
    1. I believe the conflict of interest guidelines say that up are guilty even if you are perceived of breaking the rules.
    2. If he didn’t make those transactions on purpose, he is awfully uninformed.
    3. He has a history of not declaring his assets / numbered companies.
    4. He’s guilty by association.

    • I’ve seen you on TV.
      Which member of the Ottawa pundit class are you?

  6. The press has been protecting Morneau by referring to the to suspect / inside stock trade by the number of stocks not by the dollar value involved.

    Morneau’s father’s stock trade was at 15.20 for 100,000 1,520,000 and another 100,000 @ 15 for 1,500,000 total 3,020,000. After Morneau’s announcement the share price dropped to 14.09 total value of the shares 2,818,000. The person or pension fund that bought these shares lost $202,000.

    Had Morneau’s dad needed 3 million walking around money after the announcement the dumping of 200,000 share would have significantly lowered the share price… The daily average volume of Mourneau-sheppell shares trades id 45,000.

    That amount being earned by a regular Canadian would put them in the bracket where they should be paying more taxes to support Canadian social system!!

    The enormity of the wealth and dealings of Canada’ elite is frighteningly shocking to Canadian voters.

    Dad needed 3M ???? for what?

    • What is frighteningly shocking is the malice and ignorance of the Conservative Party though it really shouldn’t be a surprise after all this time.

      This is not after all,really the PC Party, it is the Reform Party. Virtually all the PC members have long fled including myself.

      Above all they dont want us to see the difference between the able and qualified minister of finance and the resoundingly unqualified lot the CPC have on offer.

      Andrew Scheer wrote an op ed calling on Britain to vote Brexit (how is that turning out folks) and the Conservative shadow minister for finance and future finance minister in a Scheer government,Pierre Poilievre tweeted out about “hundreds of millions of Canadian families” indicating that he either knows nothing about numbers or nothing about Canada – or both. His ludicrous tweet was used jokingly as an argument for bringing back the long form census.

      But then neither Scheer nor Poilievre have held any work experience outside politics except for a 6 month stint as a trainee insurance salesman on the part of Scheer.

      Since they have nothing to offer they rely on trying to throw mud on someone who is eminently qualified and is doing an excellent job for Canadians.

  7. “Scheer accuses Morneau of using government intelligence to make shrewd family business moves.”

    ===================

    They really bank on the fact that by-and-large, Canadians are not even smart enough to realize that had Morneau cleared his cupboard shortly after his government taking office, rather than wait two weeks before tabling a tax bill, he wouldn’t be in so much trouble. Our politics are corrupt in Canadian, but the irony is, the Conservatives are as much to blame as the Liberals. (oh and our media).

  8. So are the RCMP able to answer all these questions raised?
    Corruption and Disobedience
    Marginal note: Bribery of judicial officers, etc.
    • 119 (1) Everyone is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years who
    o (a) being the holder of a judicial office, or being a member of Parliament or of the legislature of a province, directly or indirectly, corruptly accepts, obtains, agrees to accept or attempts to obtain, for themselves or another person, any money, valuable consideration, office, place or employment in respect of anything done or omitted or to be done or omitted by them in their official capacity, or
    o (b) directly or indirectly, corruptly gives or offers to a person mentioned in paragraph (a), or to anyone for the benefit of that person, any money, valuable consideration, office, place or employment in respect of anything done or omitted or to be done or omitted by that person in their official capacity.
    • Marginal note: Consent of Attorney General
    (2) No proceedings against a person who holds a judicial office shall be instituted under this section without the consent in writing of the Attorney General of Canada.
    Fraud
    • Affecting public market
    (2) Everyone who, by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, whether or not it is a false pretence within the meaning of this Act, with intent to defraud, affects the public market price of stocks, shares, merchandise or anything that is offered for sale to the public is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.
    • R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 380;
    • R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), s. 54;
    • 1994, c. 44, s. 25;
    • 1997, c. 18, s. 26;
    • 2004, c. 3, s. 2;
    • 2011, c. 6, s. 2.
    Legislation
    Breach of trust by public officer
    122. Every official who, in connection with the duties of his office, commits fraud or a breach of trust is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, whether or not the fraud or breach of trust would be an offence if it were committed in relation to a private person.
    R.S., c. C-34, s. 111.
    – CCC

    Elements of Offence
    The Crown should prove the following:[1]
    1. The accused is an official;
    2. The accused was acting in connection with the duties of his or her office;
    3. The accused breached the standard of responsibility and conduct demanded of him or her by the nature of the office;
    4. The conduct of the accused represented a serious and marked departure from the standards expected of an individual in the accused’s position of public trust; and
    5. The accused acted with the intention to use his or her public office for a purpose other than the public good, for example, for a dishonest, partial, corrupt, or oppressive purpose.
    1.
    R v Boulanger 2006 SCC 32 at para. 58