Bill Morneau has announced his resignation as finance minister, and will also step down as the MP for Toronto Centre, after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier Monday.
“I met with the prime minister today to inform him that I did not plan to run again in the next federal election,” Morneau told reporters Monday evening. “It has never been my plan to run for more than two federal election cycles.”
Both Morneau and Trudeau are being investigated by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion after the Liberal government gave WE Charity a $43.53-million contract to administer a $900-million student grant program despite both their families having close ties to the charity.
Morneau said he was not pushed out of government. He said it was time for a new finance minister to carry Canada forward as it continues to battle the economic realities of the pandemic.
“Since I’m not running again, and since I expect that we will have a long and challenging recovery, I think it’s important that the prime minister has by his side a finance minister who has that longer term vision,” Morneau said. “That’s what led me to conclude during this time period that it’s appropriate for me to step down.”
And in another surprise, Morneau said he wants to continue to serve and is putting in a bid to be the next secretary general for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
He remains finance minister until a successor is appointed to replace him.
Morneau has been under pressure to quit ever since it was revealed that he had to repay $41,366 in travel expenses covered for him by WE Charity.
Morneau’s daughter, Grace, works for the charity in its travel department. Another of Morneau’s daughters, Clare, has volunteered for the organization and been a speaker at past WE Day events.
While appearing before a parliamentary committee, Morneau revealed that he cut a cheque to repay the travel expenses incurred by the WE organization related to two 2017 trips he and his family took with the organization.
Trudeau issued a statement heaping praise on his finance minister for his work since taking office in 2015.
“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,” the statement said.
“Canada will vigorously support his bid to lead this important global institution that will play a critical role in the global economic recovery,” Trudeau added of Morneau’s OECD plans.
Morneau used his final press conference as finance minister to tout his work leading up to and during the pandemic, admitting some mistakes were made in the rush to respond to the crisis.
“While we didn’t get everything right, I know that the cost of inaction would’ve been far greater,” he said. “Canadians are better off today because their federal government stepped in and decided to protect them.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer took to Twitter to say that Morneau’s departure from cabinet was an effort to scapegoat the finance minister in order to save the prime minister
“Bill Morneau’s ‘resignation’ is further proof of a government in chaos,” Scheer said. “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.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took a similar position, telling his Twitter followers tonight that Morneau’s move is about trying to put a new face on the Liberal government and not about the finance minister seeking new challenges.
“This isn’t about Minister Morneau’s ethical lapses — it’s about the prime minister’s failure to work for people instead of for himself,” Singh said late Monday evening in a statement.
“Let’s not forget that this prime minister is under his third investigation for breaking ethics rules — and he was found guilty for the first two. Ministers can come and go, but if the prime minister keeps breaking the rules for his wealthy friends, this governments priorities won’t change,” Singh added.