The finance minister introduced Bill C-27 a year ago to allow creation of the plans, which he advocated for as head of Morneau Shepell Inc., a human resources company his family founded. The proposed law hasn’t advanced at all in parliament since then.
On Thursday, Morneau announced he’d move his assets into a blind trust and divest all his shares in Morneau Shepell, while opposition lawmakers alleged the legislation’s introduction personally enriched him. Labor groups say Bill C-27 was proposed without notice or consultation.
“This one just popped up on the radar, out of the blue,” Matt Wayland, an electrician and spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Canada, said in an interview Friday. “We’ve asked them to remove it completely and consult with all stakeholders.”
The firestorm over Morneau’s personal situation, including his ownership of a villa in France, is threatening to undercut Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s core political message as a champion of the middle class, though Trudeau has a comfortable majority and an election is still two years away. Morneau has been retreating on a series of tax proposals targeting high earners as questions swirl about his own finances.
Trudeau was elected in part on a pledge of increased consultation and transparency, and labor has generally backed many of his government’s core measures. Those include an expansion of the Canada Pension Plan and the repeal of two laws passed under the previous government that were seen as anti-union.
The finance minister rejected any suggestion that his ownership of Morneau Shepell shares put him in a conflict of interest. “I don’t agree with that position at all,” Morneau said during a press conference Thursday, adding that he followed recommendations from the country’s ethics watchdog to leave the room in certain meetings.
Morneau didn’t respond to a question on whether Trudeau’s Liberals would withdraw the legislation. However, bills favored by the government typically don’t sit idle in parliament for as long as this proposal has. “Bill C-27 hasn’t been brought to the House, it hasn’t been debated,” the finance minister told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. later Thursday.
The Canadian Labour Congress, another major union group, called the bill “a dangerous and immediate attack on future and current retirees” in a letter to Morneau. The CLC’s president nonetheless rejected opposition suggestions the minister was in conflict. ”I don’t necessarily have any reason to believe he was going to personally benefit,” Hassan Yussuff said in an interview Friday.