Not breaking the rules is not the highest standard of behaviour

It took me less than 30 seconds to Google the federal conflict of interest act and confirm that cabinet ministers must divest any controlled assets that they hold when they’re appointed, either through an arms-length sale to a third party or by placing them in a blind trust.

So why didn’t Bill Morneau know that when he became finance minister? Even if the ethics commissioner told him he didn’t have to do it, Morneau is still the one responsible for the decision. Too often when there are rules in place, people behave as though merely following them is the highest standard of behaviour rather than only the absolute lowest threshold for not breaking the law.

Justin Trudeau was once aware of this important distinction. In his mandate letter to Morneau, he wrote, “You must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality. The arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.” What the letter doesn’t say, unfortunately, is what Trudeau will do if his minister doesn’t live up to that obligation. That may soon be the most important question.

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