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NEWS RELEASE · 11th January 2013
GLEN MCGREGOR, Ottawa Citizen
An ethics disclosure filed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper shows that his wife Laureen liquidated her entire portfolio of stock market investments late last year.

The prime minister last month amended a disclosure of assets and liabilities he had filed with Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and removed its reference to his wife’s investments.

Previous versions of Harper’s MP disclosure said his wife held an “investment account with Raymond James Ltd. partly composed of publicly traded securities.”

That line item was not found in an updated December 8 version of the document, which lists no other declarable assets.

“Mrs. Harper’s updated disclosure reflects the fact this account was liquidated,” explained Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s director of communications.

MacDougall did not respond to a follow-up email asking why she had suddenly sold off her portfolio at a time when the economy is still recovering from a deep recession.

Unlike his apparently bearish wife, the prime minister has been an enthusiastic booster of Canadian equity markets, and once advised investors to increase their stake in public securities during the darkest days of the global economic downturn.

“I think there are some great buying opportunities out there,” Harper said during a 2008 interview with the CBC.

Since then, the TSX index has climbed by about 32 per cent.

Harper’s disclosure did not itemize the individual stocks his wife owned.

The prime minister declared no stock investments of his own, suggesting that those made in his wife’s name may effectively be joint assets. The disclosure notes that the Harpers share a joint line of credit from the Bank of Nova Scotia.

In October, the Prime Minister’s Office declined a Citizen request to provide a list of equities in Laureen Harper’s portfolio. The PMO also refused to say whether any of her stocks were among the resource sector companies that would be affected by her husband’s decision on foreign investments by China’s CNOOC and Malayasia’s Petronas.

Under federal ethics rules, cabinet ministers are required to either sell their shares in publicly-traded companies or place them in blind trusts while in office.

But, as the Citizen reported, there is no such requirement for equities held in their spouses’ names. The specific contents of their stock portfolios are not revealed in the disclosures they sign as cabinet ministers or as MPs, and it is unclear if even the ethics commissioner knows which equities the spouses hold.

The spouses of seven other ministers in Harper’s cabinet currently have publicly-traded securities not governed by any blind trust agreements — among them, the wife of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and the husband of Labour Minister Lisa Raitt.

Flaherty’s wife, Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliott, is required to make her own disclosure under the separate provincial ethics regime, which requires her to list in more detail her stock holdings.

Elliott’s 2012 provincial disclosure showed that she owns shares in the Bank of Nova Scotia, BCE Inc., and Leon’s Furniture Ltd., among others. Flaherty’s office says he and wife do not discuss cabinet confidences so there is no conflict of interest with her holdings.

It is unclear whether Laureen Harper simply saw last year’s rise in stock prices as a good time to cash in her portfolio or if the move was made in response to the Citizen story pointing out the apparent loophole in the ethics rules.

Under an agreement with ethics commissioner, Harper is required to step aside from any decision involving Talisman Energy, where his brother Grant works as an accountant.

Original source article: Prime minister’s wife sells off entire stock portfolio