Opinion

POINT OF VIEW

Editorial: We’re still awaiting Morneau’s apology

 Postmedia Network

Canada's Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaks to the economic community during a luncheon in Toronto, December 14, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Canada's Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaks to the economic community during a luncheon in Toronto, December 14, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

When Finance Minister Bill Morneau failed to disclose his French villa or to put his assets in a blind trust, and when he continued owning shares in his family firm through a numbered company, what did he think was going to happen?

Indiscretions commonly come to light in politics. So why did Morneau — arguably the second-most important man in the federal government — act as he did? And does he even understand the problem?

He said he followed the advice of federal ethics commissioner, who didn’t require he put his assets in a blind trust. True, strictly speaking. But what about basic common sense to avoid potential conflicts of interest?

(The ethics commissioner is mulling an investigation into Morneau’s sponsorship of a pension reform bill from which some say his company, Morneau Shepell, could benefit. It says it won’t benefit.)

Morneau is obstinate that he has nothing to be contrite about. He’s snippily said he doesn’t “report to journalists” when they question him, and has neither apologized nor hinted that he knows why he’s in trouble. Instead, he has treated the affair as a peccadillo, something to wearily let the mob bray about until it eventually tires and goes home.

Belatedly, the minister has said he’ll sell his shares in Morneau Shepell and donate profits since his election to charity. Also, he’s putting the rest of his assets into a blind trust. He should have done these things two years ago. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in his mandate letters to all ministers, clearly said they must adhere to the highest ethical standards, beyond the letter of the law.

What is it that made an obviously intelligent man fail to recognize this logic? The consequences aren’t just personal: this scandal harms Trudeau and imperils the Liberal economic agenda.

More importantly, it doesn’t given politics a good look. It adds to the sinking cynicism people feel about their governments. That, in turn, feeds the kind of marginalization that has dominated discourse in other countries.

Morneau is, perhaps, right about one thing: This scandal is a distraction from some other important problems. We’re in the midst of fragile negotiations with the United States over NAFTA; tax reform is in chaos; Indigenous issues and the opioid crisis scream for proper attention. Instead, we have a finance minister and a prime minister focused on damage control — and it’s Morneau’s fault.

Is there a way out of this? Maybe not, but it would improve our politics and refocus Canadians if Morneau could summon up a proper and sincere apology. If he can’t, he may not be the right man for this job.