Corbella: Trudeau’s spin about Morneau’s departure is insulting

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau removes his mask as he prepares to announce his resignation during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

It’s the WE scandal, stupid.

With my apologies to James Carville — Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist in 1992 — if it wasn’t for the

WE Charity controversy


Bill Morneau

would still be Canada’s finance minister. Too bad he didn’t just say that in his

absurd resignation announcement


The reasons Morneau gave for resigning the second most powerful post in government are simply not believable.

“I met with the prime minister today,” he said Monday evening, “to inform him that I did not intend to run again in the next federal election … 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. It’s the right time for a new finance minister to deliver on that plan for the long and challenging road ahead. That’s why I’ll be stepping down as finance minister and as a member of Parliament for Toronto Centre.”

The last federal election was on Oct. 21, 2019. Morneau says he never intended to run more than two terms but nobody runs in an election with the intention of staying in office for less than 10 months — nine months and 28 days to be exact.

He says it’s the “right time for a new finance minister.” Having a finance minister resign in the middle of a global pandemic that has clobbered the economy is the wrong time for a new inexperienced finance minister. Were it not for the

WE Charity controversy

Morneau would still be finance minister, not Chrystia Freeland, who was sworn in Tuesday as Canada’s first female finance minister.

“I still intend to continue to serve and have decided to put my name forward to become the next secretary-general of the

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,”

added Morneau. “The prime minister has given me his full support in this quest. I’ll be spending the next few weeks preparing for this bid.”

 Minister of Finance Bill Morneau arrives for a news conference, where he is expected to announce his resignation, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

So, he’s giving up his job as the finance minister of a G7 country during a pandemic to try to win the top job of the OECD? If he manages to get that job — and there’s no certainty of that — it’s not a lateral move — it’s a precipitous plunge.

“Morneau’s reasons for leaving are not credible at all,” says Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University. “The fact that no one is even mentioning the OECD the very next day tells you that there’s no credibility there to this ruse.”

What’s more, challenging times are exactly the kind of scenarios strong finance ministers have to be torn away from. Jim Flaherty’s strongest legacy was deftly steering Canada’s economy through the rough waters caused by the 2008-2009 economic crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic is precisely the kind of thing Morneau likely wanted to help the country weather, adds Bratt.

In the days before Morneau’s resignation, anonymous leaks from the Prime Minister’s Office to Parliament Hill reporters revealed that there was a rift between him and his finance minister. Peter Donolo, the former communications director for Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, told CBC’s Power & Politics Tuesday that the “undermining of a sitting finance minister” was “disgraceful” and “shabby treatment” and that “political game-playing when the country is in such an economic bind, I think, is a mistake and it’s detrimental to the country.”

Trudeau’s office

was working overtime last week to embarrass Morneau

, says Bratt. His days were numbered. The PM wanted him gone and he obliged. But why did he stick to the PM’s unbelievable talking points?

“Morneau’s a good political soldier and he’s being a good Liberal team member even though he was publicly humiliated by the prime minister,” said Bratt during a telephone interview Tuesday.

 Conservative MP’s Pierre Poilievre holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.

Pierre Poilievre

, the finance critic for the official Opposition Conservative party, called the policy differences between the PM and Morneau “malarkey” since both men oversaw tax increases and “monstrous deficits.”

“There’s been no policy difference until this recently invented one. It was designed to distract from the real reason for Bill Morneau’s resignation,” said Poilievre. “The reason that Trudeau has to invent this phoney line about policy differences is because he knows that if he fires Morneau for breaking the ethics act a third time, for accepting free gifts from someone to whom he was giving government grants, then Trudeau himself would have to resign for exactly the same offences.”

“If Trudeau publicly acknowledges that there’s such a thing as three strikes and you’re out, then he would have to apply the same three strikes rule to himself, which would bring an end to his scandalous and law-breaking career,” said Poilievre, referring to Trudeau being found guilty of violating ethics regulations by

accepting $200,000 in free travel to the Aga Khan’s

private island in the Bahamas for him and his family aboard his private helicopter after Trudeau’s government gave the philanthropist more than $100 million in government grants. Then there’s the even more serious ethics violation that found that Trudeau interfered with the judicial independence of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould

in the SNC-Lavalin scandal

and now the WE Charity scandal. Trudeau’s government gave the WE Charity a sole-sourced $543 million contract (initially announced as a $912 million contract) to run the Canada Student Service Grant while his mother, brother and wife received $500,000 in pay and expenses from the charity.

“We all know that it was scandal that brought Minister Morneau down,” continued Poilievre.

 Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to reporters next to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada August 18, 2020.

The spectacle Tuesday at Rideau Hall of a mask-wearing, scandal-plagued prime minister and his hand-chosen appointee of Governor General, Julie Payette, who is


facing controversy — swearing in two new cabinet ministers being shuffled to replace a finance minister facing scandal was subdued and surreal.

Despite the political spin about the OECD, we all know it was the WE scandal that has caused this chaos during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression because we’re not stupid. To say otherwise is insulting.

Licia Corbella is a Postmedia columnist in Calgary. [email protected]

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