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tax changes

Finance Minister Bill Morneau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Sept.28, 2017.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Bill Morneau is offending small business owners with his talk of "dead money" and tax-the-rich rhetoric, Opposition MPs say.

The Finance Minister appeared for an hour on Thursday at the House of Commons finance committee, which has concluded seven hours of study on the topic. The government's official 75-day consultation period ends on Monday.

A day earlier, Mr. Morneau made a new defence of his proposals during a visit with The Globe and Mail's editorial board. In that meeting, Mr. Morneau said the proposals are not just about encouraging tax fairness, but are also aimed at creating incentives for small businesses to re-invest their savings into their businesses rather than leaving the cash as "dead money" that fails to generate economic growth.

Related: Tax changes will target 'dead money' and boost investment, Morneau says

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Conservative MPs challenged that language during Thursday's committee meeting. Finance critic Pierre Poilievre asked why the minister's changes would not affect large publicly traded companies such as the human resources firm Morneau Sheppell, where Mr. Morneau was executive chair.

"When small businesses save money in their company, [you say] it's dead money," Mr. Poilievre said. "But when a big multinational company, like Morneau Shepell or Bombardier for that matter, set aside billions of dollars of so-called passive income, that's just fine and there will be no new taxes on that money. Can you at all understand why the owner of the corner store or the family farmer is offended that you would impose higher taxes on their savings, but companies like your billion-dollar family business will not pay a penny more? Can you understand why some are offended by that?"

While the minister did not repeat the phrase "dead money" on Thursday, he restated the argument that the reforms are about creating an incentive for companies to reinvest in their business.

"We're trying to make sure that we have a system that has the right incentives and creates the opportunity for small businesses to thrive while not creating a large ability for people to defer taxes that others can't have," he said.

Later in the day during Question Period, Conservative MPs said Mr. Morneau should have recused himself from the tax issue in light of the potential for Morneau Shepell to receive additional pension management work if business owners cannot use passive investments in their corporations to save for retirement.

Mr. Morneau told The Globe this week that such concerns are "absolutely absurd."

Kevyn Nightingale, an accountant with the firm MNP, said Morneau Shepell could stand to benefit from additional business as a result of the changes. He also dismissed Mr. Morneau's argument about dead money.

"When you are a private owner of money, you never let it go dead," Mr. Nightingale said in an interview. "That's just self-defeating. Who takes their own money and says, 'I'm going to let it do nothing?'"

Mr. Nightingale compared Mr. Morneau's latest line of defence to a quarterback scrambling to salvage a broken play.

"That's exactly what's going on here. He's making it up on the fly," he said. "It really has nothing to do with this legislation. It is a diversionary tactic."

The government's proposals would limit the ability of incorporated small business owners to "sprinkle" income to family members who are not directly involved in the business. They would also limit the use of small businesses as a vehicle for making passive investments.

The Liberal government's next battle on the tax front will come on Tuesday, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosts a meeting of first ministers in Ottawa. Several premiers have expressed concerns about the tax proposals, including the possibility that they could lead to a shortage of doctors.

A government official said the agenda will include a section on economic growth and job creation, with a specific discussion of the tax proposals with Mr. Morneau.