Controversy over Bill Morneau's personal finances descended into schoolyard theatrics Tuesday, as Canada's Finance Minister threatened to sue his critics and a Conservative MP challenged the minister to meet him face to face in the House of Commons foyer.
Visibly agitated, Mr. Morneau spoke in the foyer of the House of Commons less than an hour before Question Period to dismiss suggestions he improperly benefited by selling company shares of Morneau Shepell days before making a government announcement that could have affected their value.
"All I can say is you literally cannot make this stuff up. It is absolutely absurd," Mr. Morneau said. "The opposition clearly has no idea how the stock market works. … But I can say with absolute certainty, if they want a lesson in how the legal system works, they just need to take those allegations outside the House and I'll give it to them."
Undeterred, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre took the unusual move of storming out of Question Period an hour later, vowing to repeat his comments if Mr. Morneau met him in the House of Commons foyer.
"He did not show up," Mr. Poilievre later informed the House upon his return.
Mr. Morneau had previously said he wouldn't be attending Question Period because he had to give a speech in Toronto. His office later confirmed that he would be delivering a private address to the Institute of Corporate Directors. His staff declined to provide a copy of Mr. Morneau's planned remarks.
For a second day in a row, Conservative and NDP MPs suggested that Mr. Morneau acted improperly in November, 2015, by selling shares in Morneau Shepell just days before he announced new tax brackets effective Jan. 1, 2016. The tax change lowered taxes for middle-income Canadians while introducing a new, higher tax rate on those among the top 1 per cent of income earners. Mr. Morneau had resigned as executive chair of Morneau Shepell on Oct. 26, 2015, a week after he was first elected as an MP.
The allegations are part of the opposition's ongoing criticism of the minister's decision not to place all of his assets, including Morneau Shepell shares, in a blind trust. Earlier this month, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson announced a formal examination of whether Mr. Morneau was in a conflict when he introduced a pension reform bill.
This week's questions from the opposition are based on the fact that Mr. Morneau's office had told the National Post that the minister previously sold 680,000 Morneau Shepell shares. Mr. Poilievre noted Monday that records show someone sold 680,000 company shares on Nov. 30, 2015, about a week before the minister tabled a motion introducing the tax changes, which had been promised by the Liberals during the 2015 election campaign.
The Conservatives asked on Monday and Tuesday whether Mr. Morneau was in fact the individual who sold those shares, but neither Mr. Morneau nor other Liberal MPs would answer the question.
On Monday, NDP MP Nathan Cullen wrote to the ethics commissioner, asking her to investigate "a potentially massive conflict of interest" involving Mr. Morneau's share transactions in 2015.
On Tuesday, Mr. Cullen repeated his concerns in the House of Commons, where MPs enjoy parliamentary immunity from legal action.
"The definition of insider trading is 'the use of undisclosed material information for profit,'" Mr. Cullen said. "How can the Prime Minister still have confidence in his Finance Minister?"
The Liberal platform stated that the promised tax increase on the top 1 per cent of income earners would be fully in place during the first year of a Liberal government.
Mr. Morneau said the accusations against him are absurd because the tax hike was public knowledge.
"What we're hearing now is the – in my mind – absolutely crazy idea that something that we campaigned on, that we talked to 36 million Canadians about, which was a rise in taxes in the top 1 per cent, was somehow knowledge that was only my knowledge," he said. " It makes absolutely no sense."