Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS                                Minister of Finance Bill Morneau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Wednesday.p

Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Minister of Finance Bill Morneau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Wednesday.p

Tories call for Morneau to resign, but Trudeau defends his finance minister

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer demanded Bill Morneau hand in his resignation Wednesday as political rivals intensified their attacks on a finance minister mired in controversy for weeks.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched a spirited defence of Morneau, accusing the Tories of engaging in baseless personal attacks that they won’t repeat outside the House of Commons for fear of being sued.

“After careful consideration, in my capacity of leader of the Opposition, I am officially calling on Bill Morneau to resign as finance minister,” Scheer said shortly before question period, where the issue dominated debate.

He advised Trudeau to fire Morneau if he refused to step aside on his own.

But the prime minister said he still has full confidence in Morneau and then went on the offense against the Opposition.

“The fabrications and the personal attacks, the slinging of mud in this place, and hiding behind parliamentary privilege, is not what Canadians expect from this place,” Trudeau said.

The push for Morneau’s departure is yet another challenge to a finance minister who’s been forced to navigate several ethics-related controversies since the summer.

In July, he proposed tax-system changes that enraged small-business owners to the point he eventually had to back off elements of his plan.

Morneau has also faced intense political pressure over how he handled his personal financial arrangements after coming to office. The questions focused on his shares in the human resources firm Morneau Shepell, which was built by his family and for which he was executive chairman until his 2015 election win.

After the controversy erupted, he sold off the remainder of his holdings in the company — worth about $21 million — and vowed to place his other substantial assets in a blind trust. Morneau donated to charity the difference between what the shares were worth at the time of the sale and their value in 2015 when he was first elected — an amount estimated at about $5 million.

The federal ethics commissioner also fined Morneau $200 for failing to disclose a private corporation, in which he is a director, that owns a villa in France. Morneau had disclosed ownership of the villa to Mary Dawson but, due to what his office called an administrative oversight, failed to disclose that ownership was through a corporation.

Then came conflict-of-interest allegations over proposed pension reform, spearheaded by Morneau, that opponents have alleged would bring him personal financial benefit. The federal ethics commissioner has launched a formal examination into the matter.

This week, the Tories and the New Democrats have been grilling the Liberals about his earlier, late-2015 sale of shares in Morneau Shepell — a transaction that took place ahead of a tax change announcement.

During Monday’s question period, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre claimed Morneau’s December 2015 announcement, which unveiled the government’s plan raise income taxes on the highest earners, caused the entire stock market to drop — including the value of Morneau Shepell shares.

Poilievre said 680,000 shares in the company were sold off roughly a week earlier in a move that saved the owner half a million dollars.