Morneau agrees to trust

Embattled Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he plans to put his substantial personal assets in a blind trust, hoping to tamp down an escalating controversy over conflict of interest allegations that have threatened to undermine the federal Liberal government.

Morneau also says the plan is to eventually sell off all of his and his family's shares in Morneau Shepell, the human resources and pension management firm that bears his name.

The former businessman — who said Thursday he currently owns about a million shares in the company — had insisted he made sure to disclose all his assets to the federal ethics watchdog when he came into office, and he that he followed her recommendations very carefully to avoid any conflicts of interest.

"I perhaps naively thought that following the rules and respecting the recommendations of the ethics commissioner ... would be what Canadians would expect," Morneau told a news conference.

"In fact, what I have seen over the last week is I need to do more."

When asked what made him change his mind, Morneau acknowledged that the issue has become a major distraction and was taking away from what he characterized as his important work as Liberal finance minister — work he wants to continue doing.

"We have a process in place in our country that previous finance ministers have used, that all other MPs have used. It's a process of going to the ethics commissioner and working with her to come up with the best approach in your individual situation," he said.

"But at a certain stage, we can't have tin ears. We work for Canadians. I am trying to make sure that we are successfully improving the lives of Canadians across the country, so if we're getting distracted because some people are worried about my personal situation, it's time to move on. And that's what I've decided to do."

Today's move — aimed at silencing Morneau's increasingly vocal critics — could also be considered a tacit acknowledgment that the rules themselves are in need of an update, something the ethics commissioner herself has suggested in the past.

Commissioner Mary Dawson said this week she told Morneau a blind trust wouldn't be necessary, since his shares were indirectly held through private companies and were therefore not considered a "controlled asset" under the Conflict of Interest Act.

However, Dawson urged the previous Conservative government in 2013 to amend the law to require blind trusts for personal assets owned by public office holders, regardless of whether they were directly or indirectly owned — a change that was never made.

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