OTTAWA — Chrystia Freeland has been sworn in as the federal finance minister who will oversee Canada’s economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic, a task her predecessor warned would be “extremely challenging.”
The appointment was made official Tuesday with a ceremony at Rideau Hall. Bill Morneau stepped down as finance minister Monday evening.
Freeland’s succession of the coveted portfolio makes her Canada’s first female finance minister. Her appointment was first reported by CTV News Tuesday morning.
She retains her position as deputy prime minister, but her previous role as minister of intergovernmental affairs now belongs to veteran Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc, who held the portfolio from July 2018 to November 2019.
LeBlanc will continue to serve as the president of the Privy Council.
Prior to entering politics as a star candidate for the Liberals in a 2013 byelection race in Toronto Centre, Freeland rose the ranks in journalism as a business reporter and editor. She wrote for the Financial Times, the Washington Post, the Economist, and worked as a senior editor with the Globe and Mail, the Financial Times and Thomson-Reuters in New York City before deciding to run for public office.
She has written two books, including “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.” Before the Liberals were elected in 2015, she co-chaired Trudeau’s economic advisory council with former MP Scott Brison.
The Alberta-born mother of three has represented the Toronto riding of University—Rosedale since 2015. She was appointed Trudeau’s first minister of international trade, overseeing the final negotiations of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
After Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States in November 2016, Freeland became the lead on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations. She kept that portfolio as she moved to become Canada’s foreign affairs minister in 2017.
Following the 2019 election, Freeland was named deputy prime minister and given the task of intergovernmental affairs. She has earned praise from former opponents for her work on the new NAFTA negotiations. Provincial premiers of different political stripes have also spoken highly of working with her during the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford had glowing words to say about Freeland’s promotion Tuesday, calling her a “good friend.” Ford said the pair have a solid relationship and that he’s excited to continue working with Freeland in her new portfolio.
“I sent her a message this morning. She was swamped as deputy prime minister and if there was one person I have confidence in, it’s Chrystia Freeland.”
Freeland steps into the role after Morneau announced his decision to leave politics.
Morneau resigned Monday following a morning meeting with the prime minister. He said his decision was based on timing, explaining it was never his intention to run for more than two elections.
“As we move to the next phase of our fight against the pandemic and pave the road towards economic recovery, we must recognize that this process will take many years,” he told reporters hastily called to a news conference.
“It’s the right time for a new Finance Minister to deliver on that plan for the long and challenging road ahead.”
A senior adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office told HuffPost that Morneau was concerned with the possibility he would table a budget, upon which an election would be called, that he would not be there to defend or promote.
The former Morneau Shepell executive chairman said he is leaving politics — including his Toronto Centre seat — to prepare his candidacy to become the next secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).
He said the prime minister did not ask for his resignation and “has given me full support in this quest.”
Morneau also leaves amid a cloud of controversy over his failing to recuse himself in the handing out of a multi-million-dollar contract to WE Charity, an organization that employs one of his daughters.
Tuesday, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre accused the prime minister of “inventing a conflict” to force Morneau out.
If Trudeau fired Morneau for his role in the WE Charity controversy, then the prime minister would resign as well, Poilievre said.
Both Trudeau and Morneau have apologized for failing to recuse themselves from cabinet discussions related to the Liberal government’s decision to award the WE Charity the administration of a since-cancelled $912-million student grant program. Both men have connections with the Toronto-based international charities.
Last month, Morneau admitted to making a $41,000 mistake when he and his family accepted free travel from the WE Charity to visit the organization’s school projects in Kenya and Ecuador in 2017. He said he was unaware he had not paid for the trips and repaid the organization for the travel.
Morneau also told the House of Commons finance committee that his wife donated $100,000 to the charity in the last two years.
Poilievre also cast aspersions on the news Freeland will become the next finance minister. He pointed out that Freeland was chair of the cabinet committee that initially approved the WE Charity deal.
“For Freeland, higher taxes is a religion,” he said, suggesting her to be no different than Morneau. “Regardless though of how you play musical chairs, we still have the same corrupt and incompetent prime minister ahead of the same corrupt and chaotic government.”
Morneau’s resignation came after weeks of speculation about his political future, fed by anonymous leaks suggesting a fraying relationship between Trudeau and his finance minister.
Differing opinions about handling the growing deficit and emergency COVID-19 spending fuelled tensions between the two men, according to the Globe and Mail. Reuters reported disagreements over proposed funding for green initiatives further added to problems.
The prime minister’s office attempted to quell the leaks of bad relations with a statement last week saying Trudeau has “full confidence” in Morneau. But Trudeau, who was on vacation, made no additional measures to publicly support his finance minister.
After his announcement that he is leaving politics, Morneau described the disagreements he’s had with the prime minister as “necessary vigorous debate.”
With files from Ryan Maloney and Sherina Harris