News / Ottawa

Who owns what in the Liberal cabinet?

Experts say the recent firestorm over Bill Morneau's personal fortune shows that Canada’s conflict of interest law is too weak. Here’s what we know from public disclosure of assets for Ottawa’s most powerful politicians.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chats with owners of Pastaggio Italian Eatery in Stouffville before making an anouncement on taxation along with federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau Monday. Oct. 16, 2017

Mike Barrett / Torstar News Service Order this photo

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chats with owners of Pastaggio Italian Eatery in Stouffville before making an anouncement on taxation along with federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau Monday. Oct. 16, 2017

OTTAWA—The political conversation in the nation’s capital has been dominated in recent weeks by questions of whether Bill Morneau has placed sufficient distance between his personal fortune and his actions as finance minister. Now, the microscope is veering toward other members of the Liberal cabinet.

The scrutiny stems from the ongoing controversy over whether Morneau was in a conflict of interest for holding roughly $21 million in shares in his family business, human resources and pension giant Morneau Shepell, while promoting legislation that could benefit the company.

Critics have also blasted Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act, which allowed Morneau to keep his shares in Morneau Shepell outside of a blind trust by “indirectly” holding them inside a numbered company. Under opposition pressure that has yet to wane, Morneau announced he would sell the shares and place his assets in a blind trust — moves that are not required by law.

Andrew Stark, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said this shows that Canada’s conflict of interest law is too weak.

Ministers don’t have to publicly disclose the investments they hold inside private corporations, for example, which in many instances — including for the prime minister, Morneau and others — involves nondescript numbered companies.

The exact holdings and assets of such companies have to be shown only to the ethics commissioner, who is not authorized to make the information public, said Margot Booth, a spokesperson for the ethics commissioner, in an email Tuesday.

Ministers also have to separate themselves only from “controlled assets,” such as publicly traded securities, by selling them or placing them in blind trusts. The law doesn’t consider investments in private companies to be subject to the same rule, Booth said.

For Stark, blind trusts are the “gold standard” for avoiding conflicts of interest, because politicians hand off control of their assets to a trustee, who then sells them and replaces them with new holdings that the politician isn’t aware of. That way, their decisions in office can’t affect their personal wealth, he said.

But Canada’s law doesn’t require the contents of a politician’s blind trust to be sold, only that they’re removed from the control of the office holder, Booth said.

“Blind trusts are managed by individual trustees in order to maximize the value of the trust assets, without any instruction or advice from the reporting public office holders, who (have) no way of knowing what trust assets have been sold or purchased,” she said.

In light of all the talk about who owns what, here’s each cabinet minister’s public disclosure of assets and investments on the ethics commissioner’s online registry, as they appeared this week:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

He has sole ownership of a numbered company, 7664699 Canada Inc., which “holds a significant interest” in another company, 176078 Canada Inc. Trudeau placed his shares in a blind trust before he became prime minister.

He also is the joint owner of 9190-0563 Quebec Inc.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains

He has no declared investments or assets.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett

Bennett owns a rental property in Ottawa with her spouse. She has other assets placed in blind trusts: one for an unspecified registered account and the other for a non-registered account.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau

Bibeau owns a “company in the tourism sector” called 2753-2399 Quebec Inc.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison

Brison has a “nominal ownership interest” in SeaFort Capital Inc., a private equity company in Halifax.

He also has a blind trust administered at arm’s length, but the disclosure doesn’t specify what’s in there.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr

No declared assets or investments.

Minister of Small Business and Tourism Bardish Chagger

No declared assets or investments.

International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne

He is the beneficiary of Francois-Philippe Champagne Trust and a “potential” beneficiary of the Gilles Champagne Trust, Frag Trust and Fragimi Inc. Trust, “which are all discretionary family trusts that own interests in private corporations,” according to the disclosure. His office says he doesn’t have any control over decisions about the assets in these trusts.

He has two rental properties in the U.K., one in which he’s sole owner and another that he co-owns. He also has “interest” in two private corporations, which his office says is less than 1 per cent, called Tamaggo Inc. and Immervision Inc.

Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos

He sold off his publicly traded securities and has no other declared assets or investments.

Science Minister Kirsty Duncan

No declared assets or investments.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland

She owns two rental properties with her husband in the U.K. and has joint ownership with three other people of a farmhouse and parcel of land in Peace River, Alta.

She sold off her publicly traded securities.

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau

He sold his publicly traded securities.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale

No declared assets or investments.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould

No declared assets or investments.

Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patty Hajdu

No declared assets or investments.

Sport and Persons with Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr

Hehr owns a rental condo in Edmonton and has no other declared assets of investments. He sold his publicly traded securities.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen

No declared assets or investments.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly

No declared assets or investments.

Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Minister Dominic LeBlanc

He owns the Dominic LeBlanc Professional Corporation and has a conflict-of-interest screen for matters relating to his friend, James D. Irving, who is president and CEO of JD Irving Ltd.

National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier

She and her partner own a property in Sainte-Therese-de-Gaspe, Que., where a business is located that rents cottages. She has no other declared assets or investments.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay

He owns a farm rental property with his spouse on Prince Edward Island and has two blind trusts: one for his tax-free savings account and another for an investment account that he shares with his spouse.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna

She sold her publicly traded securities.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau

Morneau has a promissory note from the Morneau McCain Family Trust. He’s also the “potential” beneficiary of the Nancy McCain 2013 Family Trust, which owns “interests” in a company called NCM Holdings Inc, which is owned by his wife. NCM Holdings also has a “nominal interest” in White Marsh Holding Company Inc.

He also owns four real estate holding companies in Toronto with his four siblings — 2254165 Ontario Inc., 2135041 Ontario Inc., 1146977 Ontario Inc., and 2135042 Ontario Inc. Corporate registry documents show these companies own condos in Florida.

Morneau and his wife own a real estate holding company in France called SCI MAS DES Morneau.

Morneau also owns a holding company in Toronto called 2070689 Ontario Ltd., which has been the focus of opposition attacks under suspicion that this is where he held his Morneau Shepell shares.

The company is housed in 1193536 Alberta Ltd., which is described on his disclosure as an investment holding company in Calgary.

Finally, Morneau has a conflict-of-interest screen to keep him out of decisions or discussions involving Morneau Shepell, his former company.

He has promised to sell his remaining shares in Morneau Shepell and place his assets in a blind trust.

Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef

No declared assets or investments.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan

He has two locked-in retirement accounts and an RRSP composed of publicly traded securities.

He also has sole ownership of Amadan Productions Inc., “an inactive corporation” in Toronto.

His office said Tuesday this information was from his ethics disclosure before he became a cabinet minister Aug. 28. According to the Conflict of Interest Act, he had to submit a new disclosure to the commissioner by Oct. 27. His office said he is meeting that timeline, and his online disclosure hasn’t been updated yet.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor

No declared assets or investments.

Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott

No declared assets or investments.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough

She’s “undertaken not to practice my profession as a lawyer” while in office and has no declared assets or investments.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan

Sajjan has a “nominal ownership interest” in Cocos Pure Beverage Corp Company Ltd., while his spouse has a nominal ownership interest in Twistle Inc.

He sold his publicly traded securities.

Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi

He owns two rental properties with his spouse in Edmonton. His spouse has a “significant interest” in 123466 Alberta Ltd., which holds a nominal interest in another company, 1329379 Alberta Ltd.

He has a screen for his wife’s company which he said this week pertains to a parcel of land in Alberta.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould

Wilson-Raybould owns a rental property in North Vancouver, while her husband owns and co-owns other properties in West Kelowna, B.C.

The online disclosure says the minister has a “significant” interest in her husband’s management consulting company, the KaLoNa Group, but her office said this week that her assets that were held by the firm were sold without her knowledge 18 months ago, in April 2016.

She has a conflict-of-interest screen to avoid dealing with matters relating to KaLoNa Group clients that are Indigenous groups conducting self-government negotiations.

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