October 17, 2017 / 10:08 PM / 2 years ago

Canada finance minister seeks advice on conflict of interest

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau asked on Tuesday to meet with the country’s ethics watchdog, according to a letter released by his office, amid charges by opposition politicians that he has a conflict of interest because his personal holdings are not in a blind trust.

Canada's Finance Minister Bill Morneau takes part in a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Morneau, the former president of human resources management firm Morneau Shepell Inc (MSI.TO), confirmed on Monday a report by the Globe and Mail that he did not put his assets into a blind trust. Morneau said he sought the advice of Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to avoid conflicts of interest.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put his assets in a blind trust.

Questions about Morneau’s personal wealth come on top of a backlash over his attempts to reform taxes on wealthy Canadians, which has emerged as a major stumbling block for Trudeau’s two-year-old Liberal government.

In the letter Morneau said he is willing to act on any revised recommendations, including a blind trust, that Dawson may have.

Dawson’s office did not immediately return calls for comment.

Morneau owned 2.07 million common shares in Morneau Shepell when he was elected in 2015, now worth about C$43 million, according to the Globe and Mail.

A spokesman for Morneau declined to say whether the minister holds any Morneau Shepell shares or what he did with his assets and holdings to guard against conflict of interest. The company’s most recent filings do not show Morneau holding any significant stake.

“We’ve been careful about releasing any of the minister’s personal information. That is information he has shared with the ethics commissioner, in order for her to make her recommendations,” Morneau’s spokesman, Dan Lauzon, said in an email.

Members of the opposition Conservative party repeatedly asked in the House of Commons on Tuesday whether Morneau had sold his shares in Morneau Shepell.

“The law is in place to prevent conflicts of interest, and Canadians deserve to know whether the minister is using his position to benefit his family company,” said Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins and Leah Schnurr; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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