Conflict-of-interest screens working well, Trudeau cabinet ministers say

Allegations of conflict of interest that have stalked Finance Minister Bill Morneau

Several members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet are using conflict-of-interest screens to keep them out of controversy — and they insist the tools work very well.

The screens have been pulled into an intense public debate in recent weeks amid allegations of conflict of interest that have stalked Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Morneau set up one of the screens after entering office in 2015 on a recommendation from the federal ethics commissioner, who told him a blind trust wouldn’t be necessary since his shares in his family’s firm were indirectly held through private companies. Therefore, she said, they were not considered a controlled asset under the Conflict of Interest Act.

Political opponents have attacked Morneau for choosing a screen rather than a blind trust. For his part, Morneau has maintained that has not been in a conflict of interest.

A few of Morneau’s cabinet colleagues also have screens, however, for different reasons.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi are using conflict-of-interest screens to prevent them from participating in matters or decisions related to company holdings involving their spouses.

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc also has a screen to ensure he abstains from participating in decisions related to J.D. Irving Ltd. because of his close friendship with the Irving family.

LeBlanc said Monday that ethics commissioner Mary Dawson recommended he set up an ethics screen for any cabinet or privy council documents that have anything to do with J.D. Irving Ltd., or its affiliates and subsidiaries.

“Under the rules, you shouldn’t be using … your public office to benefit a friend,” LeBlanc said. “From my perspective it’s working very well.”

LeBlanc’s screen, in place since early 2016, means he wouldn’t have been privy to cabinet information about shipbuilding contracts or even the Energy East pipeline, both of which have connections to Irving.

Sohi said Monday that he has a screen in place to prevent him from participating in decisions that could benefit his wife’s holdings in a company that’s also a partial owner of farmland in Alberta.

He argues the screen, which is overseen by his chief of staff, has already proven to be an effective tool.

Sohi said because of the screen he’s been him removed from the approval process for an infrastructure project that was proposed by the province. It would be in close proximity to the farmland.

“My chief of staff has made sure that I do not participate in any shape or form in the approval of that particular project,” Sohi said.

“It will be done by a different minister and it would have to go the Treasury Board to make sure there’s no conflict whatsoever.”

Wilson-Raybould’s profile on the ethics commissioner’s website states that she must abstain from decisions or matters related to self-government talks with First Nations and Indigenous communities with the consulting company, KaLoNa Group, in which she holds a significant interest. Her spouse is also the president and controlling interest holder of the firm.

The added public scrutiny on the conflict-of-interest issue has been driven by allegations related to pension legislation Morneau introduced in the House of Commons.

Opponents allege the pension reform could benefit Morneau Shepell, a human resources and pension management firm he helped build with his father before entering office. Morneau maintains he was never in a conflict of interest.

In response to accusations that he’s personally profited from decisions he’s taken as finance minister, Morneau has promised to sell off $21 million worth of shares in his family’s company and place the rest his substantial assets in a blind trust.

Morneau has also promised to donate to charity any gains in the value of his Morneau Shepell shares since he was elected two years ago. The gains are estimated to be worth more than $5 million.

Dawson recommended the screen for Morneau to prevent any appearance of a conflict of interest and maintain the public’s confidence.

Her office also confirmed Monday that up to four cabinet ministers currently hold controlled assets indirectly, but would not share the names nor provide a more-precise number.

The issue of indirect holdings in a company have been at the centre of the debate around Morneau.

Dawson urged the previous Conservative government in 2013 to amend the law to require blind trusts for personal assets owned by ministers, regardless of whether they were directly or indirectly owned — a change that was never made.

The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Comox Valley climate crisis series continues with a look at local altered landscapes

World Community’s four-part series Addressing the Climate Crisis: Activism, Adaptation, and Resilience… Continue reading

Courtenay achieves climate action milestone

The City of Courtenay’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in corporate… Continue reading

Shipping container housing for homeless to open this month at Courtenay site

Project is partnership of Comox Rotary and Dawn to Dawn and will help address housing needs

Annual Denman Island shoreline cleanup set to tackle growing debris

The annual cleanup is set from Sept. 21 to 28, and is looking for volunteers

Temporary street closures upcoming in downtown Courtenay

Work is underway on a section of Fitzgerald Avenue in preparation for… Continue reading

‘It’s almost surreal’: B.C. fire chief, sidekick Sammy recap rescue mission in Bahamas

Chief Larry Watkinson and Sam the disaster dog spent 8 days assisting a search and rescue team

‘Time to take action:’ Children advocates call for national youth suicide strategy

Council wants Ottawa to make reporting of suicides and attempted suicides mandatory for data collection

Canadian inflation decelerates to 1.9% as gas prices weaken

August was the sixth straight month that price growth was 1.9 per cent or higher

Man who crushed Nanaimo RCMP cars with stolen truck gets more jail time

Majore Jackson, 34, sentenced to two more years in jail in provincial court in Nanaimo

Defense says burden of proof not met in double murder case against Victoria father

Closing statements begin in trial for man accused of killing daughters Christmas 2017

B.C. dog breeder banned again after 46 dogs seized

The SPCA seized the animals from Terry Baker, 66, in February 2018

B.C. Ferries wants input on concepts for a Horseshoe Bay terminal re-design

Ferry corporation accepting public feedback until Oct. 13

Surrey mom allegedly paid $400,000 for son in U.S. college bribery scam

Xiaoning Sui, 48, was arrested in Spain on Monday night

B.C. population on pace to fall behind Alberta

Provincial population could reach almost seven million in 2043, but Alberta is growing faster

Most Read