OTTAWA - The Trudeau government seems intent on proceeding with a pension bill which opposition parties maintain puts Finance Minister Bill Morneau in a blatant conflict of interest.
New Democrats gave the government a chance Wednesday to withdraw the bill, but Liberals denied the unanimous consent necessary to shelve it.
Morneau introduced Bill C-27 a year ago, while he still held about $21 million worth of shares in his family's pension administration and human resources firm, Morneau Shepell.
The bill, which has languished on the order paper since it was introduced, would allow pension administrators to convert direct benefit pension plans to targeted benefit plans — a change for which Morneau Shepell had lobbied.
NDP pension critic Scott Duvall moved Wednesday to have the bill withdrawn but Liberals in the House of Commons refused to give the motion unanimous consent.
NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen called Duvall's motion "an olive branch" that would have gotten rid of a bad bill and allowed Morneau to extricate himself from the worst ethical tangle resulting from his failure to divest his Morneau Shepell shares or place them in a blind trust when he was appointed to cabinet two years ago.
"Liberals seem unwilling or unable to help themselves and Canadians," Cullen said after the motion failed.
According to Cullen, the value of Morneau Shepell shares rose in the days immediately following the introduction of C-27, earning the minister some $2 million in just five days.
Morneau is now in the process of selling off his shares and placing his other considerable assets in a blind trust. He has promised to donate to charity any gains in the value of his shares since taking office in 2015.
Two years ago, federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson advised Morneau that he wasn't required to place the shares in a blind trust because they were indirectly held by a holding company owned by the minister. She recommended that he set up a conflict of interest screen to prevent his involvement in any discussion or decision that could benefit Morneau Shepell.
Morneau followed her advice but last week, in response to a complaint from Cullen, Dawson said she has concerns about the minister's involvement with Bill C-27 and would follow up with him on the matter.
In the meantime, Dawson has posted a notice on her website indicating that she fined Morneau $200 for failing to disclose a private corporation, in which he is a director, that owns a villa in France. The notice indicates that Morneau has paid the fine.
Morneau had disclosed ownership of the villa to Dawson but, due to what his office calls an administrative oversight, failed to disclose that ownership was through a corporation.
In the Commons, Conservative MPs pounced on the fine to repeatedly charge that Morneau had "broken the law."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed the "personal and nasty attacks" on his finance minister as opposition "noise."
New Democrats repeatedly asked Trudeau if he would withdraw Bill C-27. He never directly answered.