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

Bella Coola RCMP appeal for public’s help in wake of suspicious fires

Four suspicious fires in the span of four months prompted local RCMP to bring in fire specialist

UBCM passes historic resolution brought forth by CCRD

If the resolution is successfully realized, it will mean groundbreaking change for local governments

Municipal spending outpaces population growth 4-fold in B.C.: report

Canadian Federation of Independent Business has released its annual operational spending report

Series of suspicious fires prompt Bella Coola RCMP to bring in special investigator

Police investigate four fires set between June and Sept. in 4-Mile

B.C. parents leery of HPV cervical cancer vaccine

Provincial registration uptake among lowest in Canada

B.C. RCMP turn to Const. Scarecrow to shock speeders into slowing down

New addition will watch over drivers from a Coquitlam median for first-of-its-kind pilot in Canada

B.C. woman facing animal cruelty charges after emaciated dog seized

Kira, a Rottweiler, had kidney and bladder infections

Kim agrees to dismantle main nuke site if US takes steps too

Kim promised to accept international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile test site and launch pad and to visit Seoul soon.

Dozens speak at Vancouver hearing that could see duplexes replace single homes

The city clerk says 73 people signed up to speak at the hearing that began early Tuesday evening and adjourned hours later with 34 speakers still waiting.

North Carolina gov pleads with storm evacuees to be patient

The death toll rose to at least 37 in three states Tuesday, with 27 fatalities in North Carolina.

North and South Korea say they plan to bid for 2032 Olympics

Moon and Kim announced a sweeping set of agreements including a vow to work together to host the Summer Olympics in 2032.

Russia’s reinstatement after doping scandal goes to a vote

The World Anti-Doping Agency is due to vote Thursday Sept. 20, 2018, on possible reinstatement of Russia.

Ontario wins stay on ruling that struck down council-cutting plan

The province had argued the stay was necessary to eliminate uncertainty surrounding the Oct. 22 vote, and the Court of Appeal agreed.

B.C. cannabis producer Tilray hits at $20-billion high as stock price explodes

This is the first export of a cannabis product from a Canadian company to the U.S.

Most Read