Ethics Commissioner reports on examination involving Finance Minister

Ottawa, June 18, 2018

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion today reported on his examination under the Conflict of Interest Act of the conduct of Finance Minister Bill Morneau in relation to the introduction, in October 2016, of Bill C-27 seeking to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985.

"This examination was launched by my predecessor last November on her own initiative, and when I took office in January, I decided to proceed with it," Commissioner Dion said. "It had been alleged that Mr. Morneau was in a conflict of interest because Bill C-27 could further his interests as a shareholder of Morneau Shepell Inc., which is a major administrator of pension plans."

The Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 applies to some 18,000 federally regulated private-sector employers and certain Crown corporations and their 853,000 employees and covers some 1,230 pension plans. It currently provides for two types of pension plans: defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans. Bill C-27 would create a third type of plan, known as a target benefit plan. It would also create new management obligations for administrators of such plans, which would constitute new billable activities for them.

"Our examination focussed on whether Mr. Morneau contravened two provisions of the Act: subsection 6(1) on decision-making and section 21 on recusals," Mr. Dion said. "In considering this matter, I first had to determine if the interests involved were private interests within the meaning of the Act."

Subsection 2(1) of the Act states that private interests do not include an interest in a decision or matter that is of general application or that affects a public office holder as one of a broad class of persons. Since Bill C-27 affects all stakeholders within an area of activity—all federally-regulated private-sector employers and certain Crown corporations, their current and retired employees, and all pension plan administrators—it is of general application.

"Because Bill C-27 is of general application, Mr. Morneau's interests, those of his relatives, and those of Morneau Shepell Inc. in this matter are excluded from the application of the Act," Commissioner Dion said. "I found that he did not place himself in a conflict of interest in making decisions leading to the introduction of Bill C-27, therefore he did not contravene subsection 6(1) or section 21 of the Conflict of Interest Act."

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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