The Commissioner of Canada Elections has found former finance minister Bill Morneau violated federal election laws ahead of the 2019 election by using his government role to promote Liberal candidates.
Commissioner Yves Côté released the findings Thursday in the form of an undertaking signed by Mr. Morneau.
The independent office found Mr. Morneau’s actions breached sections of the Canada Elections Act by circumventing a prohibition against contributions to federal political parties by anyone other than an individual.
Essentially, the decision points to two examples in which Mr. Morneau visited Ontario ridings in his capacity as Minister of Finance, but used each visit to promote the local Liberal candidate.
On July 29, 2019, Mr. Morneau took part in four events in Oakville that were announced on the Finance Department website, including a speech to the Oakville Chamber of Commerce, a roundtable discussion with local business leaders and residents, a tour of a clothing factory and a meeting with the local Muslim community.
Thursday’s report notes that the local Liberal candidate, Anita Anand, attended all four events. Ms. Anand ultimately won the riding and is now the Minister of Public Services and Procurement.
The report points out that during his Chamber of Commerce remarks, Mr. Morneau singled out Ms. Anand and highlighted her “significant accomplishments” as a scholar and legal professor. It also quotes Mr. Morneau as telling the audience that “when such a person steps forward for public life – with significant accomplishments in their private sector life – I think it’s important that we support them and encourage them.”
“These comments provided a partisan benefit to Ms. Anand and to the [Liberal Party of Canada (LPC)]'s prospect in the electoral district of Oakville,” the report says, noting that the minister also posted photos of him and Ms. Anand from the visit on his Facebook account.
The second incident occurred on Aug. 27, 2019, when Mr. Morneau toured a Caledon-area business in his capacity as Finance Minister. Michele Fisher, the local Liberal candidate for Dufferin-Caledon, was on the tour, and they shared photos of the events on their social media accounts. Ms. Fisher finished second to the Conservatives in the riding.
“Ministers are prohibited from using public resources and funds from their departmental budgets for partisan purposes,” Thursday’s report states. “Introducing and promoting prospective LPC candidates at the events promoted the LPC’s electoral prospects in these electoral districts. This caused the expenses related to these events to benefit the LPC. The Government of Canada is not ‘an individual who is a Canadian citizen or is a permanent resident,’ and Mr. Morneau’s failure to exercise due diligence therefore resulted in a circumvention of the rule at section 363 of the Act.”
The report determined that the “known quantifiable costs” associated with these events have a commercial value of $1,661. Mr. Morneau’s Liberal riding association has since paid that amount to the government, through the Receiver General for Canada.
Mr. Morneau has also ensured that training was provided to staff to avoid similar situations in the future and he personally paid $300 to the Receiver General, representing $150 per tour. And Mr. Morneau has agreed to post the signed statement on his social media accounts.
Mr. Morneau resigned as finance minister and as an MP last month, stating he intended to campaign for the leadership of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed that it would be better to have a new finance minister in place who was planning to stay in politics beyond the next federal election.
Both Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau are under investigation by the federal Ethics Commissioner over whether they breached the Conflict of Interest Act in relation to a now-cancelled contribution agreement with the WE organization to run a student volunteer program.
Mr. Morneau made a surprise announcement at a July committee appearance that he had reimbursed $41,366 to WE Charity earlier that day for travel expenses the group covered for personal trips his family took to Kenya and Ecuador in 2017. That year, Mr. Morneau paid a $200 fine following a separate investigation by the Ethics Commissioner that found the minister failed to disclose the ownership of a corporation in France.
Conservative MP Peter Kent wrote to the Commissioner of Canada Elections in August, 2019, raising concerns about Mr. Morneau’s visits to Oakville and Caledon, as well as other examples in which Mr. Kent said ministers appeared to be using their government roles in support of the Liberal Party.
“This is yet another Liberal scandal in a long list of Liberal scandals, and exactly why Canadians should take a look at the Conservative Party led by Erin O’Toole,” said Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann in response to Thursday’s findings.
A spokesperson for the commission said Thursday that the report concludes the office’s review of Mr. Kent’s complaint and that no other examinations are continuing into the other events raised in the MP’s letter.
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