Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Dawson vs Morneau: If the Laws Aren't Enough, Who Should Take the Next Step?

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Dawson vs Morneau: If the Laws Aren't Enough, Who Should Take the Next Step?

Article excerpt

Could Dawson have gone farther on Morneau?

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OTTAWA - As controversy rages over whether Bill Morneau's personal fortune has compromised his work as finance minister, the governing Liberals are taking shelter from the storm in the only place they can find it: the office of ethics commissioner Mary Dawson.

Ask any Liberal MP or cabinet minister the same question Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked Friday and you're likely to hear variations on the same theme: that Morneau followed Dawson's instructions to the letter in order to avoid ending up in a conflict of interest.

Indeed, Dawson herself has acknowledged that Morneau's existing system of numbered holding companies in Alberta and Ontario meant that he was already protected, and that a blind trust would not be necessary.

"I'm saying to Canadians that it's important for all parliamentarians to follow the recommendations made to them by the ethics commissioner," Trudeau told a news conference in the suburbs of Montreal.

"And I can reassure Canadians, as the minister of finance has done many times, that he did in fact follow all the recommendations she made to him."

Dawson and others have long argued, however, that the laws currently on the books to prevent holders of public office from landing in the ethical soup simply don't go far enough.

If that's the case, could -- and should -- Dawson herself have given Morneau better advice?

"I think there are obvious loopholes in the act that prevent her from doing what common sense would suggest," said NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen.

"But it is also challenging if people are using loopholes to avoid her. Could there be more energy put into the pursuit of things? Sure. And I think she might agree."

The longtime public servant acknowledged this week that the conflict-of-interest screen she instructed Morneau to set up bears further scrutiny to see if it indeed worked in the case of Bill C-27, a pension reform bill he introduced last year.

Some say the legislation will end up benefiting Morneau Shepell, the Morneau family's pension management and human resources firm. The company issued a statement Friday strenuously denying any such possible benefit. …

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