Bill Morneau resigns as finance minister and MP, will seek to lead OECD

Bill Morneau has resigned as finance minister, and will also step down as the MP for Toronto Centre after having met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier today to discuss reported disagreements over COVID-19 spending plans and proposed environmental initiatives.

“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.”

Morneau said it was time for a new finance minister to carry Canada forward as it continues to battle the economic realities of the pandemic. He said that he was not pushed out by Trudeau and voluntarily submitted his resignation earlier today. 

Morneau said that he will be stepping down both as an MP for his Ontario riding and as a member of the cabinet. He 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).

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, the organization at the heart of ethics probes into both Trudeau and Morneau.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with then Minister of Finance Bill Morneau after he delivered the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

“I wish that, in hindsight, that we had done things differently around the WE Charity,” Morneau said, noting that he should have recused himself from discussions around the decision to task WE Charity with running a $900-million student grant program. 

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 for over $41,000 to repay travel expenses incurred by the WE organization related to two 2017 trips Morneau and family took with the organization.

Trudeau issued a statement heaping praise on his former 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. 

Pandemic response

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. 

“In the middle of a financial crisis, Justin Trudeau has lost his finance minister. Every time he gets caught breaking ethics laws, he makes someone else take the heat that’s not leadership,” Singh said. 

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