Former Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau broke election rules last year by using government funds on two events where he promoted his party’s candidates, the Commissioner of Canada Elections said Thursday.
The events happened in the summer of 2019, in the run-up to the 2019 federal election. In response to the commissioner’s findings, Morneau signed an undertaking, or agreement, to pay a $300 fine and post a link to the ruling on his website and social media accounts for 30 days.
“Ministers are prohibited from using public resources and funds from their departmental budgets for partisan purposes,” said Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté, an independent officer, in a ruling posted online Thursday.
Morneau resigned his place in cabinet and his seat in Parliament last month. He said he had never intended to stay until the next election, but the former finance minister was also under fire for his role in the WE scandal.
Myriam Croussette, a spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, said the complaint that prompted the commissioner's investigation was filed in August 2019. When asked why the findings weren't made public before Morneau left officer, Croussette said the commissioner can only publish information about investigations once they are done, and if he decides to take action.
“In this case, as soon as the undertaking was finalized and signed by both Mr. Morneau and the commissioner, the information was made public,” Croussette said in an email.
The events examined by the commissioner were a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Oakville, Ont., on July 29, 2019, and a tour of a Caledon, Ont., business on Aug. 27, 2019. In both cases, Morneau appeared in his official capacity as finance minister and promoted Liberal candidates.
The candidate Morneau promoted in Oakville, Anita Anand, won a seat in Parliament. She’s now a member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, serving as minister of public services and procurement.
The “known quantifiable costs” of the events totalled $1,661, the election commissioner found.
Former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau broke election rules last year by using government funds on two events where he promoted his party’s candidates, Canada’s election commissioner said. #cdnpoli
“Introducing and promoting prospective (Liberal Party of Canada) candidates at the events promoted the LPC's electoral prospects in these electoral districts,” wrote Côté.
“This caused the expenses related to these events to benefit the LPC.”
In the ruling, Côté noted that the Liberals had paid the government back for the expenses. Morneau and his staff also co-operated with the investigation and Morneau’s staff had been given training to ensure it doesn’t happen again, Côté said.
“There is no indication that Mr. Morneau intended to use public resources for directly partisan purposes,” Côté wrote.
“Nor is there any indication that Mr. Morneau personally participated in planning any of the tours in question.”
The Prime Minister’s Office directed a request for comment to the office of Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and the President of the Privy Council.
In a statement, Corinne Havard, a spokesperson for LeBlanc's office, said the government accepts Côté's decision. She also noted that the Liberal government strengthened Canada's election rules prior to the 2019 election.
"During the last Parliament, we strengthened the Canada Elections Act to increase transparency and accountability," Havard said in the statement. "We respect the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Election, who operates independently to ensure compliance with the act."
Emma McIntosh / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer