Bill Morneau has re-entered the spotlight, this time to unravel the rifts he had with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his tenure as Canada’s finance minister.
In his new book titled, Where To from Here: A Path to Canadian Prosperity, Morneau alleged that Trudeau prioritized “scoring political points” over sound fiscal policies during the the COVID-19 pandemic, making the former finance minister feel like a “rubber stamp” before ultimately resigning. Morneau writes that his role as finance minister had deteriorated into being a figurehead, and that behind-the-scenes tensions were a major factor in his decision to resign in August 2020.
He also stated that the government lost sight of the agenda and that policy rationales were ignored in favor of winning brownie points among Canadian voters. He felt that the government became preoccupied with how things were perceived at the expense of good policy.
“We lost the agenda. During the period when the largest government expenditures as a portion of GDP were made in the shortest time since the advent of World War II, calculations and recommendations from the Ministry of Finance were basically disregarded in favour of winning a popularity contest.”
In one example detailed by Morneau, his department handed over a research package regarding the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), which the prime minister was in favour of up until the night before the program’s unveiling. The next morning, however, Morneau was shocked to hear Trudeau proudly announce a much larger budget for the CEWS than the figure initially agreed upon.
“In a moment where I saw us taking decisions that were more significant than I thought we needed, it was frankly, extremely frustrating,” Morneau said in an interview with CTV News regarding the revelations made in his book. “I think in that moment, you know, it started to sow the seeds of a challenge. That we just weren’t going to be able to recover.”
Morneau said that the decision to resign was inevitable due to the growing rift between himself and the Prime Minister, particularly over how the government was handling COVID-19 economic stimulus programs. He believes that the government probably overspent on these programs. Indeed, the Liberals’ CEWS program ended up costing Canadian taxpayers the most out of all the government’s pandemic-related relief programs; a recent Auditor General report affixed a price tag of $100.7 billion to the initiative.
A chapter in Morneau’s book titled, Conversation in an Empty Room, details the conversation he had at Rideau Cottage with the prime minister during the summer just before his resignation. He explains it was a rare one-on-one moment with Trudeau, because he is typically accompanied with advisors all the time. “Virtually any topic you wanted to discuss with the prime minister—official or informal, strategy or gossip—had to be shared in the presence of members of his staff,” he wrote.
He also expressed that it became “unsustainable” and that the differences of opinions led them to the conclusion that they could not work together, that’s why he felt it was time to move on after five years of serving as the finance minister.
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