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Trudeau forced to defend Morneau's decision not to put business shares in a blind trust

Trudeau forced to defend Morneau's decision not to put business shares in a blind trust
From CBC - October 18, 2017

In question period on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeaudefended his finance minister's decision not to puttens of millions of dollars' worth of shares in his company into a blind trust before joining the federal cabinet.

Trudeau took every question, as has become convention in the House of Commons on Wednesdays, and all but a few were about the conflict of interest controversy involving Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

"When the finance minister was first elected, he clearly said that he was going to put his vast fortune into a blind trust. We learned two years later that in 2015 he had a choice between selling the shares and putting them in a blind trust, and lo and behold, he did neither," deputy Opposition leader Lisa Raitt said in the House.

"Mr. Speaker, I want to know one specific thing.When did the prime minister learn that the minister of finance did not dispose of his sharesin accordance with the ethics commissioner?" Raitt asked.

Trudeau said he knew that all his ministers discussed their financial holdings withConflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and that Morneau, like other members of the Liberal cabinet, followed her advice.

Within the first 60 days of a cabinet minister's appointment they must provide a list of assets, liabilities, income and any other related financial information to the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

Advisers in the office then tell ministersand parliamentary secretarieswhat they need to do to be in compliance with the Conflict of Interest Act.

The law says ministers are not allowed to hold on to any controlled assetsthose that are directly held by a public office holder. They must either sell the assets or put them in a blind trust for as long as they remain in office, or until the assets have been depleted.

Blind trusts

Blind trusts, according to the office, are legal instruments managed by a third party, which have to be at "arm's length" from the elected official. The trustee, therefore, cannot be a friend, relative spouse or dependant. The trustee is the only one with the authority to buy or sell the assets they are managing.

In November2015, Morneau appeared on CBC News Network's Power & Politics and was asked about his assets.

"What I have personally done is, I have resigned my position as chair of the firm that I was chair of before," Morneau told host Rosemary Barton. "I expect that all my assets will go into a blind trust."

Morneau's comment can be found at the 7:20 mark in thevideo below, originally posted in November2015.

Indirectly held assets

When Morneau was appointed to cabinet, he revealed his assets to the ethics commissioner, including the shares he owns in Morneau Shepell, the human resources and pension management company his father founded.

On Tuesday, Dawson said she told Morneau that he did not need a blind trust.

"I told him that it was not required," she told reporters. "I took a look at what he disclosed, and according to what was disclosed, and which I do for everybody, I make a judgment as to what's necessary."

Morneau's share ownership

@Bill_Morneau

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