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Ethics watchdog clears Canada finance minister of insider trading

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Ottawa (AFP)

Canada's ethics watchdog on Monday cleared Finance Minister Bill Morneau of accusations that he illegally profitted from his own tax policies when he sold shares in his family business.

Opposition parties had asked parliament's independent ethics commissioner, Mary Dawson, to probe the sale of shares in Morneau Shepell in late 2015, days before a major tax announcement that sent the company's stock price spiralling downward.

In a letter to Morneau seen by AFP, Dawson said: "I am of the view that (Morneau) did not benefit from insider information."

She notes that the increase in income taxes on the country's highest earners that precipitated the share sell-off had been part of the ruling Liberals' election platform and was also touted in the media a month prior to Morneau dumping his shares, which were worth millions of dollars.

In a separate review, Dawson also cleared Morneau of allegations that he pressed the Bank of Canada to renew its contract with Morneau Sheppell to manage its employee pensions last year.

"I am satisfied that, as minister of finance, you had no involvement in the Bank of Canada's decision of the renewal of the Morneau Shepell Inc. contract," she said.

In the last months of 2017, Morneau had been a drag on his Liberal party's popularity, which started with a backlash over proposed changes to Canada's small business tax regime.

Almost daily attacks from opposition benches ensued over his failure to disclose his full holdings to the ethics commissioner after he took office, including a villa in southern France.

Morneau defended his actions as simple administrative failures.

It all came to a boiling point at the end of November when Morneau was accused of insider trading, which he angrily rejected.

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