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Finance Minister Bill Morneau waited 2 years to disclose his French villa to ethics watchdog

Finance Minister Bill Morneau waited 2 years to disclose his French villa to ethics watchdog
From CBC - October 13, 2017

Finance Minister Bill Morneau waited two years to disclose avilla in southern France that he owns with his wife through a private corporation to Canada's ethics watchdog, CBC News has learned.

In fact, Morneau only disclosed thecorporation to conflict of interest and ethics commissioner Mary Dawson's office after CBC News discovered its existence and began asking questions.

While Morneau's office says the failure to disclose the company is the result of "early administrative confusion," opposition critics say they are troubled by the finance minister's failure to fully disclose all of the private companies he owns.

"I guess that he expects us to believe that he's so rich that he just forgot that he has a private corporation in France and a wonderful villa in Provence," said Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre. "It's a little hard to believe."

Morneau's disclosure came after a search by CBC News of corporate records in France revealed that Morneau is listed as a partner in the company SCI Mas des Morneau, which owns and manages avillain the picturesque town ofOppdein France's Provence region.

Morneau's wife, Nancy McCain, a member of the wealthy family that owns McCain Foods, is named as a partner.

According to the Greffe du Tribunal de Commerce d'Avignon's registry, the company was incorporated on Aug.17, 2007.Among the company's activities listed in the registry are real estate, rentals and leases.

Tax experts say there can be some advantages to holding real estate in France through a company such Mas desMorneau, includingavoiding inheritance tax.It is a completely legal and commonly used method.

But while Morneau has owned the company for a decade and was named finance minister two years ago, the company was only added to Morneau's ethics filings on Sept. 22as CBC News was pressing his office repeatedly for information about the company and why it did not appear in his public ethics declaration.

Dawson's office says MPs are supposed to disclose any private companies they own anywhere in the world. Any private companies that are disclosed to the ethics commissioner's office are listed in the public registry of ethics filings maintained by the office.

Some assets must be disclosed to the commissioner's office but are not listed in the public registry, such as an MP's family home or properties used primarily for recreation.

Jocelyne Brisebois, spokesperson for Dawson's office, said the ethics commissioner can fine a public office holder if she believes they have contravened the law. Under the Conflict of Interest Act, fines can range up to $500.

Brisebois said there is currently no examination or inquiry underway.

Since 2009, Dawson has fined four cabinet ministers $100 each for not disclosing changes to their assets within 30 days as required. One cabinet minister, Conservative Peter MacKay, was fined $200 twice for failing to provide a description of his assets while Liberal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay was fined $200 in 2016 for failing to declare a gift he received within the deadline.

Morneau's director of communications, Dan Lauzon, described Morneau's failure to initially declare the company as "early administrative confusion" when contacted by CBC News on Thursday.

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