Bill Morneau imbroglio undermines Justin Trudeau mantra about serving middle-class Canadians

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      This morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued one of his typical statements congratulating a foreign leader on winning an election.

      This time, it was for Shinzo Abe, who will remain prime minister of Japan.

      "I look forward to continue working closely with Prime Minister Abe on a progressive trade agenda that will create good, middle class jobs on both sides of the Pacific and make it easier for Canadian and Japanese businesses to trade goods and services with one another," Trudeau said.

      Middle class are the watch words of Trudeau's Liberal government and this phrase invariably pops up in the prime minister's speeches, almost like a mantra.

      And why not? Most voting Canadians feel like they belong to the middle class. This includes those whose make more than $90,000 per year, which puts them in the top 10 percent of income earners.

      Prior to the 2015 election, it was particularly clever for Trudeau to seize on the middle-class message, given that he himself is clearly from the upper class.

      He receives a salary of $345,400 as prime minister, as well as an official residence at 24 Sussex Drive. But that's chump change compared to his other assets.

      Trudeau's paternal grandfather, Charles-Émile Trudeau, was an extremely wealthy Montreal entrepreneur and mining investor who owned a string of gas stations. The paternal grandfather was also part owner of the Montreal Royals baseball team.

      Trudeau's maternal grandfather, James Sinclair, is best known as the MP for North Vancouver for nearly two decades. But he was also a prosperous businessman as the president and chairman of Lafarge Cement.

      Trudeau's wife Sophie also comes from an upscale family, growing up in the Mount Royal neighbourhood of Montreal as the only child of a stockbroker and a nurse. These are not folks who need to worry about their next mortgage or rent payment.

      But this month, the relentless middle-class branding of the Trudeau government hit a rough patch when it was revealed that the multimillionaire finance minister, Bill Morneau, owned a villa in France. This villa was not listed in his financial-disclosure form.

      Then Morneau told reporters that he had not put his assets into a blind trust, unlike many other cabinet ministers. He didn't do this even as he was crafting tax and pension policies that could have an impact on those assets.

      Morneau's defence was that he was merely following the advice of the ethics commissioner. However, that didn't prevent him from being roasted in Question Period and in the media. 

      Morneau's father founded the employee-benefits company W.F. Morneau & Associates, which later became Morneau Shepell. Morneau's wife Nancy is part of the billionaire family that owns McCain Foods.

      Like the Trudeaus, the Morneaus are comfortably ensconced in Canada's one percent club.

      Trudeau has tried to inoculate himself and his cabinet as being part of the richy-rich crowd by constantly crowing about the middle class. And so far, judging from the polls, he's been quite successful.

      But the Morneau scandal has undermined that messaging in the worst possible way.

      From this point forward, many Canadians will look upon Morneau as not sharing their financial pain—and not being one of them—every time he unveils a budget, introduces a tax policy, or announces a new program.

      Morneau was born with a silver spoon, as was Trudeau. As the spotlight on Morneau's wealth has risen, it's reminded Canadians that their prime minister is also stunningly rich.

      The only way for Trudeau to fix this political problem before the next election might be to find a new finance minister.

      My bet? Watch for Public Safety Minister and Deputy Liberal Leader Ralph Goodale to ride to the rescue.

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