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Noah Zivitz

Managing Editor, BNN

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The head of Bill Morneau’s high-profile Advisory Council on Economic Growth is speaking out in support of the finance minister amid an uproar over his tax plan and controversy surrounding his personal assets.

“I feel badly,” Dominic Barton told BNN in an interview. “I think he’s a guy trying to do all the right stuff.”

Morneau faced an onslaught of criticism this summer after announcing proposals aimed at clamping down on preferential tax treatment within private corporations.

As BNN reported last month, the criticism turned personal when billionaire philanthropist and entrepreneur Seymour Schulich warned Morneau he was committing “political suicide.”

This week, Morneau has tweaked some of his plans, including setting a threshold on passive investment income.

Despite that firestorm, and a relentless attack by opposition parties about the finance minister not putting assets in a blind trust, Barton said his group’s work hasn’t been derailed.

“We’ve got a lot of support to keep going, to keep driving. I think we’re even more excited than we were because of the actual implementation.”

Morneau appointed 14 prominent Canadian business leaders in March 2016 to his council, with a mandate to deliver recommendations to support the country’s long term growth. In addition to Barton, other members include Cenovus CEO Brian Ferguson, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec CEO Michael Sabia and GE Canada CEO Elyse Allan.

The group has delivered two sets of recommendations so far, focused on items including infrastructure, foreign investment, innovation and trade.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of things going on on the tax side,” Barton said. “But that’s not our focus, and Minister Morneau has been very good, like, ‘Keep focused on what you guys are doing.”

Barton indicated the council’s next batch of work will focus on making sure red tape doesn’t unduly restrict business growth.

“When we think about some of the big growth opportunities — like health care — we’re not going to get the innovation happening here if we don’t release some of the [regulatory] constraints.”

Barton also noted it’s become an exceptionally difficult environment for businesses as they try to navigate uncertainty about U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies, but he believes that only underscores the need for his group’s work.

“The trade challenge, the Trump challenge — they make life more challenging. But, to me, it provides even more impetus about why we have to do this. We have to take control of our own destiny.”