Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau resigned as both minister and MP following a week of growing public tension between himself and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over COVID-19 pandemic economic policies.
Morneau, who has been Trudeau’s sole finance minister since his election as prime minister in 2015, made the announcement during a snap press conference Monday evening.
“As we move to the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and pave the road for our economic recovery, we must recognize that this process will take many years. It’s the right time for a new finance minister to deliver on that plan for the long and challenging road ahead,” Morneau said, adding that he’d promised not to run for more than two terms.
“That’s why I’ll be stepping down as finance minister and as Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre”, he continued. “I will look forward to watching politics from the outside.”
His resignation came only a few hours after a head-to-head meeting with Trudeau Monday morning to address growing tensions between the two men, and less than a week after the prime minister expressed his “full confidence” in Morneau.
One senior government source who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely said Morneau took advantage of the meeting to express his frustration over how he felt he was being overruled by senior PMO advisors in policy decisions during the pandemic.
Over the last week, multiple reports said the prime minister was displeased with Morneau over how his department crafted some policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — such as the federal wage subsidy — as well as Morneau’s testimony at the finance committee studying the WE charity scandal.
Morneau said that Trudeau did not ask him to resign during that meeting.
During his press conference, Morneau also that he would be putting his name forward as the next secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In a statement, the prime minister’s office (PMO) said it supported that bid.
The organization’s current head, Angel Gurría, announced in July that he would be stepping down at the end of his current mandate, and that countries have until the end of October 2020 to put forward their candidates.
“Today, I spoke with Bill Morneau and accepted his resignation,” the prime minister said in a statement. “I want to thank Bill for everything he has done to improve the quality of life of Canadians and make our country a better and fairer place to live. I have counted on his leadership, advice, and close friendship over the years and I look forward to that continuing well into the future.”
Morneau’s departure now forces Trudeau to nominate a new finance minister as the government’ navigates a global pandemic and a record $343-billion deficit. A situation quickly denounced by opposition leaders.
“Bill Morneau’s ‘resignation’ is further proof of a government in chaos. At a time when Canadians are worried about their health and their finances, Justin Trudeau’s government is so consumed by scandal that Trudeau has amputated his right hand to try and save himself,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wrote on social media.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said any “failures” during the pandemic are the prime minister’s fault, not the finance minister’s.
“This government is losing their finance minister at the same time as they’re about to leave millions of Canadians on the (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) without any idea of how to pay the bills in August. Canadians deserve better,” Singh said in a statement.
Tensions between Morneau and Trudeau’s offices began emerging publicly early last week when Bloomberg News revealed that the prime minister had tapped the former governor of both the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, Mark Carney, as an “informal advisor” for the COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery plan.
Later reports by Bloomberg, The Globe & Mail and Reuters said that Morneau was particularly irked by a perceived lack of concern with the cost of multiple COVID-19 aid packages as well as an absence of analysis before announcing new measures by PMO.
On the flip side, PMO wanted to move faster than Finance on key COVID-19 financial aid programs and policies, such as boosting the federal wage subsidy from 10 per cent to 75 per cent or maintaining a freeze on employment insurance premiums, according to reports.
Morneau and Trudeau have recently been embroiled in controversy surrounding their government’s deal to outsource a $912 million student volunteer grant program to WE Charity. Last month, the Ethics commissioner opened an investigation into both their dealings on that file.
Both men and their families have close ties to the Toronto-based organization. Prime Minister Trudeau has spoken at multiple major events for the organization up until 2017.
The WE organization also confirmed having paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, his mother, Margaret Trudeau, and his brother Alexandre Trudeau.