The federal ethics watchdog has closed the last in a series of probes facing Bill Morneau, deciding that the finance minister didn’t violate any conflict of interest laws last year as the sponsor of a pension-reform bill.

Morneau found himself in political hot water when he introduced the pension-reform legislation, which critics insisted would benefit Morneau Shepell Ltd., prompting calls for an ethics investigation into Morneau’s involvement in the bill.

Ethics commissioner Mario Dion said in his report that the legislation was so broad in its impact — it applied to all federally regulated private-sector employers, certain Crown corporations and all pension plan administrators — that it exempted Morneau’s actions from any punishment.

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Dion’s ruling likened the decision to MPs who were grain farmers voting on legislation in 2011 about the Canadian Wheat Board. Then-ethics commissioner Mary Dawson said the votes were OK because the legislation affected a broad group of people — some 70,000 farmers.

In the same way, the general application provision meant Morneau’s stake in the company and those of his relatives don’t fall under the scope of the law, Dion found.

Speaking before the daily question period, Morneau thanked Dion for what he called a “clear report.”

“What the ethics commissioner said quite clearly is that in the case of my situation, I followed all the rules and I’ve held myself to the highest ethical standards. That’s what I’ll continue to do.”

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Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre argued Morneau’s decision to introduce the bill was bad judgment, even if it didn’t violate conflict of interest rules.

“For a minister to introduce a pension bill while he owns a significant stake in a pension company is very problematic even if, as it turns out, it’s not illegal,” Poilievre said outside the House of Commons.

NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen said the ruling exposes an issue in the conflict of interest law that effectively allows any parliamentarian to vote on things that could be of benefit. He called for an update of the rules to better address the questions Morneau faced.

“If this is not a conflict of interest, many Canadians are saying, ‘Well, what would qualify as a conflict of interest?'”

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MPs are likely to take a deeper look at the conflict of interest law later this year as part of a regular review of the statute and will likely face pressure to tighten the rules, including the one dealing with a general exemption.

“It’s a huge loophole in the law. It makes what most people would view as unethical participation in decisions legal,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of the watchdog group Democracy Watch.

“The Conflict of Interest Act does not apply to 99 per cent of the decisions and actions of cabinet ministers and top government officials because of this loophole.”

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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