POLITICS
08/17/2020 19:40 EDT | Updated 08/18/2020 09:02 EDT

Bill Morneau Resigns As Finance Minister Amid WE Charity Controversy

He will step down as MP for Toronto Centre, and plans to leave politics.

Bill Morneau has resigned as Canada’s finance minister.

Morneau made the announcement Monday evening after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier in the day to inform his boss that he would leave his cabinet post and step down as a member of Parliament.

“It’s never been my plan to run for more than two federal election cycles,” he told reporters in Ottawa. 

Morneau said the prime minister did not ask for his resignation.

Morneau said he’s setting his sights on another job and will spend the next few weeks preparing a bid to become the next secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).

“The prime minister has given me full support in this quest,” he said.

The competitive job opening with the OECD is a “new and different” role that could give him an opportunity to “help in another way,” the former Bay Street veteran said.

Morneau said he believes the role of finance minister should be filled by someone who is committed to the job long term.  

“And since I expect that we will have a long and challenging recovery,” he explained. “I think it’s important that the prime minister has by his side a finance minister who has that longer-term vision.”

Morneau has served as Trudeau’s finance minister since Liberals came to power in 2015. His departure opens up a seat in the riding of Toronto Centre, a Liberal stronghold.

The news follows weeks of anonymous leaks by Liberals about a growing rift between Trudeau and his finance minister. The Globe and Mail reported the men held differing views on the ballooning deficit and emergency COVID-19 spending measures. Reuters reported the discord stems from disagreement over proposed funding for green initiatives.

To cool speculation over Morneau’s future in cabinet, the prime minister issued a statement last week expressing “full confidence” in his finance minister.

Morneau sidestepped questions if leaks about clashes with the prime minister fueled his decision to leave politics. 

Asked for an explanation for what changed between the prime minister’s statement last week and his announcement today, Morneau said he and Trudeau have had a “great opportunity” to work together. 

“My decision today was really very much about thinking about the time that’s right for me, the time that’s right for all of us in the pandemic.” 

Trudeau’s office released a statement following the announcement, thanking Morneau for his service.

“I have counted on his leadership, advice, and close friendship over the years and I look forward to that continuing well into the future,” the prime minister said. 

“Bill, you have my deepest gratitude and I know you will continue making great contributions to our country and for Canadians in the years to come.”

A senior government official told HuffPost Monday that the rumours between the prime minister and the finance minister “were overblown.” 

Morneau and Trudeau didn’t always agree but several staff described Morneau as loyal and there was no resentment that simmered between the two when they were at odds. Morneau himself described the differing viewpoints as “necessary and vigorous debate.”

The resignation is the latest twist in events after weeks of pressure dogged Morneau following revelations of his links to the WE Charity, part of a bigger controversy which has rocked the Liberal government.

 

Morneau faced an ethics investigation over his involvement in the Liberal government’s decision to award WE Charity a since-scrapped deal to administer a $912-million student-grant program. The Toronto-based international organization stood to earn $43.5 million if it successfully ran the program.

The Toronto MP apologized for not recusing himself from discussions dealing with WE, given that one of his daughters has done contract work for the organization and the other has been an unpaid speaker at WE events. 

Morneau revealed, while appearing before the House of Commons finance committee last month, that he repaid the WE organization $41,366 to cover travel expenses for family trips to Kenya and Ecuador in 2017. He also told the committee that his wife donated $100,000 to the WE organization in the last two years.

Monday, Morneau said he wishes things had been done “differently.”

Trudeau also faces an ethics probe over the WE affair. Trudeau has also apologized for not recusing himself from discussions about the charity managing the Canada Student Service Grant — which would have paid students and recent graduates up to $5,000 for COVID-19-related volunteer work — because of his family ties to the organization. 

Trudeau has appeared at several WE events over the years and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, is an “ambassador” and podcast host for the organization. He said her volunteer work was cleared by the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner.

Members of the Trudeau family have also received tens of thousands of dollars for speaking at WE Charity events. WE Charity said last month that Margaret Trudeau, the prime minister’s mother and a mental-health advocate, received “a total of approximately $250,000 in speaking honorariums” for speaking at 28 WE Charity events between 2016 and 2020. Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minister’s brother, received $32,000. Those figures do not include a 20 per cent commission to their speaking agency. 

 

WE Charity said Grégoire Trudeau received a “one-time speaking honorarium of $1,400” in 2012. Trudeau family members have also been reimbursed more than $200,000 in expenses for appearances at WE events in recent years.

Trudeau has said that while he knew his mother and brother worked as professional public speakers and wasn’t surprised they were paid for appearing at WE events, he didn’t know the details of the payments. He testified that before the House finance committee late last month that, after the public service recommended WE run the program, he “pushed back” to ensure the charity was the best partner. The prime minister said he had concerns about “perceptions” of a conflict.

Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois called for both Trudeau and Morneau to resign over the controversy.

The finance minister’s exit comes amid reports former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney is informally advising Trudeau about Canada’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Carney, who in March completed his term as Bank of England governor, has long been mentioned as a possible future finance minister.

HuffPost has learned the Prime Minister’s Office will not be appointing Carney to replace Morneau. A new finance minister is expected to be named very shortly. Deputy Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to get the nod, according to several Liberal sources.

With files from Althia Raj