SUDBURY, Ont. – You won’t find the name Justin Trudeau in the leaked documents that sparked an international furor over tax avoidance, the prime minister insisted Thursday during a brief stop in northern Ontario.
Trudeau, in Sudbury, Ont., to make an infrastructure announcement, said he has been fully open with Canadians about the investments he holds.
The prime minister was unequivocal when asked directly whether he or any of his family members hold cash or investments in offshore accounts.
“No, we do not,” Trudeau said as some in the audience chuckled. “I have been entirely and completely transparent about my and my family’s finances.”
Trudeau said the Panama Papers have highlighted the concerns that people around the world have about political leaders and other powerful corporate figures using offshore accounts and tax havens to avoid paying taxes.
And he pointed to measures announced in his government’s first fiscal plan as proof that he is determined to find tax cheats.
“In this budget, even before the Panama Papers came out, we had allocated an extra $440 million to the Canada Revenue Agency to ensure they are empowered to go after tax avoidance,” Trudeau said.
Canadians expect their leaders to show they are worthy of their trust, while leaders need to trust Canadians enough to share details about the assets they hold, Trudeau said without directly mentioning anyone implicated in the scandal.
A massive leak of more than 11 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca — one of the world’s largest creators of shell companies — has been dogging political leaders around the world.
The unprecedented leak of details about assets being held in tax-sheltered offshore accounts had one of Canada’s biggest lenders, the Royal Bank, on the defensive this week over its ties to the law firm.
Media reports have linked hundreds of wealthy Canadians to the controversy.
While in Sudbury, Trudeau announced federal funding to match a $26.7 million Ontario government commitment to an $80-million road construction project in the mining town.
Sudbury was among the first stops Trudeau made as last year’s federal election campaign was ramping up, during which he made promises that included $200 million for the mining and forest sectors.
His government’s first budget last month included $87.2 million for a wide range of research projects in forestry, mining and minerals, earth sciences and mapping, and innovation in energy technology.
But the budget has been criticized by some — including some of the Liberal government’s own members, sources say — for a lack of support for the forestry sector.
While mining and other resource companies haven’t garnered the national headlines the oil sector has been capturing of late, the sluggish international economy and a collapse in commodity prices has also left them reeling.
Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger isn’t among those being critical of the federal budget. In fact, it is in sync with the city’s need to grow and diversify, Bigger said.
“One thing that’s very gratifying is how closely the budget aligns with the types of things we’re looking for, like the investment in infrastructure or affordable housing.”
During last year’s election campaign, Trudeau also promised to work with the Ontario government to bring resources to market from a vast stretch of territory known as the Ring of Fire — a region once dubbed by former federal Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement as the oilsands of Ontario.
The Ring of Fire is a huge mineral deposit of chromite, nickel, gold, copper and platinum discovered in 2007, 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.
“Things are sort of grinding forward in the right way,” said Alan Coutts, president and CEO of Noront Resources, which has been pushing for development in the region to start moving forward.
“At some point in time, you just have to say, “Right, now here’s what we’re proposing to do.'”
Coutts said that by mid-year, the company expects to see a “holistic” plan for developing the resource.
Trudeau would only say that he expects to make announcements “in the coming months” about the Ring of Fire.