OTTAWA — Former finance minister Bill Morneau has been fined $300 for violating federal election laws, according to the commissioner of Canada Elections.
The commissioner wrote in a statement Thursday that Morneau ran afoul of the rules while attending a series of events last summer in his capacity as finance minister, including two in the Ontario ridings of Oakville and Dufferin–Caledon in the pre-election period.
Morneau joined two prospective Liberal candidates at the events, including Anita Anand, who would later be named minister of public services and procurement in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet after winning in Oakville in October.
Federal ministers are prohibited under the Canada Elections Act from using public resources and department funding for partisan purposes.
Watch: Bill Morneau resigns as finance minister and MP. Story continues below video.
“Mr. Morneau singled out Ms. Anand, highlighting her ‘significant accomplishments […] as a scholar, as a legal professor, as well as someone who’s been in the private sector, working at [a] law firm’ and opined 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,’” reads a copy of the watchdog’s findings posted online Thursday.
Morneau later posted about the July 29, 2019 visit on his Facebook account. The post included a picture of Anand and himself, which, according to the commissioner, provided a “partisan benefit” to the Liberal Party of Canada.
Less than a month later, Morneau repeated the transgression with a visit to the riding of Dufferin–Caledon to meet with local families and business leaders. Prospective Liberal candidate Michele Fisher also attended the event.
He later posted about the visit, sharing a picture of his meeting with Fisher on his public social media accounts. The riding was later won by Conservatives.
“Mr. Morneau’s failure to exercise due diligence therefore resulted in a circumvention of the rule at section 363 of the Act,” read the statement of undertaking signed by Morneau and Yves Côté, the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
“The known quantifiable costs associated with these events were calculated to have a commercial value of $1,661.”
The registered riding association in Morneau’s Toronto Centre district repaid the $1,661, the commissioner said, adding the former finance minister was co-operative during the investigation.
“There is no indication that Mr. Morneau intended to use public resources for directly partisan purposes. Nor is there any indication that Mr. Morneau personally participated in planning any of the tours in question.”
Morneau resigned as finance minister and MP last month, citing a desire to run for secretary general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). His decision followed weeks of anonymous leaks about his reportedly fraying relationship with the prime minister.
The root of their tension was over differing opinions on proposed environmental spending, according to Reuters.
Morneau’s resignation also came amid controversy over the Liberal government’s decision to reward a since-scrapped deal with WE Charity to administer a $912-million student volunteer and grant program.
Both Trudeau and Morneau did not recuse themselves from discussions related to the program, despite both their families having long-standing personal ties with the Toronto-based international charity.
The prime minister and Morneau face federal ethics commissioner investigations over their role in the cancelled Canada Student Service Grant program.
WE Charity also did not escape unscathed from the controversy. Co-founders and brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger announced Wednesday that they plan to close the organization’s Canadian operations. The Kielburgers said they will also step down from their senior roles.
“COVID-19 disrupted every aspect of our work,” the brothers wrote in an open letter Wednesday. The financial reality for the charity’s future is clear, it said.
“The fallout from the Canada Student Service Grant has placed us as a charity in the middle of political battles and misinformation that we are ill-equipped to fight.”