Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Just require all politicians to put their assets into blind trusts

As allegations of conflict of interest continue to swirl around federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and disputed claims are made by the federal Ethics Commissioner that "fewer than five" Liberal cabinet minsters (including Morneau) are in the position of holding "controlled assets" indirectly through a corporation, people are finally starting to wonder whether, hey, maybe Conservative politicians were (and are) doing the same thing?
For example, Joe Oliver, the Conservative Finance Minister under Stephen Harper, also held controlled assets, as did Lisa Raitt and almost certainly several others. I imagine that the problem is probably rife at all levels of government and across all parties.
Mr. Morneau continues to insist that he has complied with the letter of the law, and that he followed the advice of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson at the beginning of his tenure. All of this is true and indisputable, but:
  1. whatever the letter of the law says, Mary Dawson was wrong to advise him that he did not need to put his assets into a blind trust (as Justin Trudeau did with his millions), and a good part of the blame for the situation lies squarely in her lap;
  2. Morneau is a big boy and supposedly intelligent - he should have seen this coming and gone the blind trust route, regardless of the letter of the law;
  3. Morneau has promised to sell $21 million of his shareholdings and to put the rest into a blind trust (God, how much does he have?), but the horse has already bolted, and the optics already spoiled.
It seems clear that the conflict-of-interest laws for politicians amd ministers need to be strengthened and made clearer. By no means all, but many politicians enter politics after having made a bundle of money (in finance, in industry, as lawyers, etc). They are probably good people, but given the nature of the job, and the nature of politics in general, they need to go above and beyond to distance themselves from their personal financial situations, a blind trust being the most obvious, and simplest, solution.
Just make it mandatory for politicians to put tbeir assets in a blind trust for the duration of their term, and have done with it - no grey areas, no negotiations, and the politicians can just get on with what we are paying them to do: running the country. This may have the effect of discouraging rich individuals from going into politics in the first place, but that may not be that bad a thing either.

The Ethics Commissioner has done us all a favour and cleared up some of the confusion around this issue, confusion largely of her own making. It turns out the "less than five" cabinet ministers she referred to were in fact just two, Bill Morneau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Now, two is indeed less than five, but could she not just have said "two" and saved an awful lot of uncertainty and endless pointless questions in the House of Commons.
Of those two, Ms. Wilson-Raybould actually sold her indirectly-owned shares back in April 2016, so really the "two" is "one", as the Commissioner herself now admits, and Mr. Morneau has also since disposed of his indirectly-owned shares.
So, the "two" (or the "one", depending on how you look at it) is actually "zero". Which, coincidentally, is also "less than five".

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