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Globe editorial: Looking for trouble in the Paradise Papers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn't done himself any favours with his government's muddled reform of small-business tax rules and the failure of his finance minister, Bill Morneau, to immediately sell his shares in his family company, or place them in a blind trust.

But even so, it is hard to see how the personal financial doings of Stephen Bronfman, the Liberal Party's chief fundraiser, are the responsibility of the PM, or how they cast him in a bad light.

Mr. Bronfman is one of 3,000 Canadians named in the Paradise Papers, a boatload of leaked documents from a Bermuda law firm that specializes in helping wealthy people set up offshore accounts in order to lower their tax bill.

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Explainer: Who's named in the Paradise Papers? A list and a primer on why it matters

Offshore accounts are legal as long as the rules are followed. Mr. Bronfman says he doesn't use an offshore account, but says he once briefly lent money to one operated by Leo Kolber, a family business associate, former Liberal senator and long-time fundraiser for Pierre Trudeau.

There is no evidence that Mr. Bronfman broke any rules. The Canada Revenue Agency says it will investigate any suspicious activity exposed in the Paradise Papers, and Justin Trudeau says he's encouraging it to do so.

That might have been the end of this story, had it not surfaced while Mr. Trudeau was already on the defensive about his government's poorly handled business-tax plan and Mr. Morneau's finances.

The Conservative opposition has seized on this cluster of events to portray the Liberals, through guilt by association with unproven allegations, as enablers of the privileged classes. Overkill is setting in.

"Why is the Prime Minister … allowing his friends to avoid paying taxes in Canada?" Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer asked rhetorically in Parliament this week. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre asked Mr. Trudeau to return any money raised for the Liberal Party by Mr. Bronfman, as if it were somehow tainted.

These attacks may be politically effective. But they could also backfire. There is rather a lot to legitimately criticize the Liberal government for these days; if the Conservatives would like to go fishing for new targets, they could start by pushing for meaningful reforms to the rules governing offshore trusts.

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So far, Mr. Trudeau has said the right things about the allegations in the Paradise Papers. He has other problems, of his and his government's own creation, for which he must take responsibility. But based on the evidence thus far, this does not appear to be one of them.

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