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Then-finance minister Bill Morneau arrives to a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, in June, 2019.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Former finance minister Bill Morneau, once one of the most powerful members of the Trudeau cabinet, will join the board of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce CM-T.

The bank said Mr. Morneau, who previously led his family’s human-resources company, Morneau Shepell, will start his tenure on Nov. 1.

Voters in a central Toronto riding elected Mr. Morneau to the House of Commons in 2015 as part of a decisive victory for the Liberal Party. Justin Trudeau tapped Mr. Morneau as finance minister.

He served until he resigned in August, 2020. Mr. Morneau was widely seen as pushing back against Mr. Trudeau’s spending desires, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robert Asselin, who played a lead role in drafting the Liberal platform and was then named Mr. Morneau’s budget director in the finance minister’s office, was quoted in a French-language book earlier this year saying Mr. Morneau wanted to scrap the Liberals’ promise to keep Old Age Security eligibility at age 65, rather than raising it to 67.

Mr. Morneau was also implicated in the controversy surrounding the Trudeau government’s relationship to the WE Charity. The federal Ethics Commissioner ruled in May, 2021, that international trips, private meals, donations and personal e-mails about parenting amounted to a friendship between the Morneau family and Craig and Marc Kielburger, the WE co-founders.

The commissioner found Mr. Morneau’s relationship with Craig Kielburger amounted to a friendship Mr. Morneau should have recognized as a conflict of interest when his political staffers worked on government matters related to the charity.

Mr. Morneau joined his family company in 1987, becoming president in 1992, chief executive officer in 1998, and chair and CEO in 2008. At the time of his departure in 2015 to become an MP, he owned about 2.25 million shares in Morneau Shepell.

At first, Mr. Morneau told the company he would place the shares in a blind trust – a mechanism used by cabinet members in office to insulate themselves from conflict-of-interest accusations. Ultimately, he changed his mind, and instead indirectly kept his holdings – a decision that only came to light when The Globe and Mail reported in October, 2017, that Mr. Morneau had not used a blind trust, as Justin Trudeau did for his family fortune.

By holding the shares indirectly through a holding company, Mr. Morneau avoided a requirement to divest the stake. They were worth about $46-million at the time of The Globe’s story.

Mr. Morneau then promised to donate more than $5-million to charity, which was the gain on his shares from when he was elected in 2015 to the time of the October, 2017, revelations. In November, 2017, he told the House of Commons, “I’ve sold all my Morneau Shepell shares.”

Morneau Shepell later changed its name to LifeWorks Inc. Telus Corp. acquired the company earlier this year for $33 a share, or $2.3-billion.

In CIBC’s current fiscal year, the bank is paying its directors $100,000 in cash, plus $125,000 in stock. Directors earn additional fees for serving on board committees and can get more payments for travel or unscheduled meetings. Four CIBC directors exceeded $400,000 in compensation for the fiscal year ended Oct. 31, 2021.

“Bill Morneau is an accomplished leader with extensive government, public policy and business experience along with strong international expertise,” Kate Stevenson, CIBC’s board chair, said in a statement announcing the move.

“His strategic insight and breadth of leadership across the public and private sectors will benefit our Board as we oversee the execution of CIBC’s client-focused and purpose-driven growth strategy.”

Follow David Milstead on Twitter: @davidmilsteadOpens in a new window

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