Ottawa, May 13, 2021
Allegations of conflict of interest by the Honourable Bill Morneau, former Minister of Finance, were the focus of the Morneau II Report released today by Commissioner Mario Dion. Several members of Parliament alleged that given Mr. Morneau's family's close ties to the WE organization, he should have recused himself from a Government of Canada decision to select WE as the administrator of the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020.
The examination found the relationship between Mr. Morneau and WE included an unusually high degree of involvement between their representatives and afforded WE unfettered access to the Office of the Minister of Finance, which amounted to preferential treatment. Commissioner Dion also found that the preferential treatment was based on Mr. Morneau's relationship with Mr. Craig Kielburger, the co-founder of WE. Not only was Mr. Kielburger a constituent, but Commissioner Dion also determined that he and Mr. Morneau were friends within the meaning of the Conflict of Interest Act (Act).
Commissioner Dion received three separate letters from members of Parliament on July 10, 2020, requesting he initiate an examination into the participation of Mr. Morneau in the decision making related to the CSSG and the selection of WE as the program's administrator. The first was from Mr. Michael Barrett, Member of Parliament for Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes; the second from Mr. Charlie Angus, Member of Parliament for Timmins–James Bay; and the third was a joint letter from the Honourable Pierre Poilievre, Member of Parliament for Carleton, and Mr. Michael Cooper, Member of Parliament for St. Albert–Edmonton.
While many of the details that pertained to the factual portion of the examination were widely discussed in the media and by a variety of parliamentary committees since the summer of 2020, Commissioner Dion's examination into the conduct of Mr. Morneau focused on the review of all relevant evidence to determine whether there were possible contraventions of the Act. Commissioner Dion was satisfied with the degree of cooperation received from Mr. Morneau and key witnesses.
Commissioner Dion found that Mr. Morneau should have recused himself from discussions on these matters due to his friendship with Mr. Kielburger. As further explained in the Morneau II Report, Commissioner Dion found Mr. Morneau contravened subsection 6(1), section 7 and section 21 of the Act.
Quotes from Commissioner Dion
“The focus of the examination evolved and included documentary evidence that suggested the existence of a relationship between Mr. Morneau and Mr. Kielburger, which predated the program developed as a result of the pandemic. I found Mr. Morneau to be in contravention of the Act."
“As soon as Mr. Morneau was advised that WE would likely play an important role in the student relief initiative, he should have recused himself from that point onwards from Cabinet discussions and decision making."
Section 4 of the Act states that a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when they exercise an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further their private interests or those of their relatives or friends or to improperly further another person's private interests.
Subsection 6(1) prohibits public office holders from making any decision or participating in the making of a decision when they know or reasonably should know that such a decision would further their private interests, those of their relatives or friends, or improperly further the private interests of another person.
Section 7 prohibits public office holders from giving preferential treatment to a person or organization based on the identity of a representative.
Subsection 11(1) prohibits the acceptance of gifts and other advantages by the public office holder or member of their family that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence the public office holder in the exercise of an official power, duty or function.
Section 12 prohibits ministers of the Crown and member of their family from accepting travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft for any purpose unless required as a result of their position as public office holders, in exceptional circumstances, or with the prior approval of the Commissioner.
Section 21 requires public office holders to recuse themselves from any discussion, decision, debate or vote on any matter in respect of which they would be in a conflict of interest.
Subsection 44(1) requires the Commissioner to examine a matter brought in writing by a parliamentarian that presents reasonable grounds to believe a public office holder, or former public office holder, has contravened the Act. When an examination is commenced as a result of subsection 44(1), a report must be completed as described in subsection 44(7) and then provided to the Prime Minister, the parliamentarians who made the request, the subject of the report, and the public as described in subsection 44(8).
General information about examinations under the Act, including how the Commissioner deals with investigation requests.
The Conflict of Interest Act applies to all public office holders. Public officer holders are in a conflict of interest when they exercise an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further their private interests or those of their relatives or friends, or to improperly further another person's private interests.
The Prime Minister's guidelines on open and accountable government state that public office holders must perform their official duties and functions “in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny. This obligation is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law."
The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner was created under the Federal Accountability Act. The Commissioner applies the Conflict of Interest Act for public office holders and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.
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