Bill Morneau: Trudeau’s COVID-19 focused on scoring political points


New book details growing tensions between Justin Trudeau and his then Minister of Finance

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Former finance minister Bill Morneau has taken aim at the Liberal government’s financial aid during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Morneau argues that policymakers put scoring “political points” and public perception over sound fiscal policy with its federal aid programs in his upcoming book to be released Jan. 17. He describes growing tensions between him and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling it one of the worst moments in his political life leading up to his departure in the summer of 2020 amid the WE Charity scandal.

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“We lost the agenda,” Morneau wrote in his book Where To from Here: A Path to Canadian Prosperity.

“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.”

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Morneau expanded on these remarks during a broadcast interview for CTV’s Question Period, telling chief political correspondent Vassy Kapelos that the Trudeau government “probably” overspent on stimulus, but the focus at the onset of the pandemic was to support Canadians. He argued the country did a good job at providing that safety net.

Morneau wrote he was initially impressed by the government’s speed in getting these pandemic economic stimulus programs off the ground as it faced growing pressure on how it was responding to the crisis.

“To be fair to both sides, what the Prime Minister and his team were trying to do, appropriately, is ensure that Canadians had confidence that they could deal with an enormous challenge — and we shared that goal,” Morneau told CTV. “But this secondary goal for the Department of Finance was to make sure that as we gave that massive support that we reduced it at a time that made sense. So, the timing and the scale of the support, we had a difference of opinion.”

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It isn’t the first time the former finance minister has been critical of the Trudeau government since leaving office. Recently, Morneau said he was much more concerned about the country’s economic prospects than when Trudeau first took office. During a speech before the policy think-tank C.D. Howe Institute last June, he said the federal government was more focused on finding ways to redistribute wealth than on the country’s overall prosperity.

Since Morneau resigned following the WE scandal, he threw his hat in the ring for the secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development but did not get the job (it went to former Australian finance minister Mathias Cormann in June 2021.) He also joined the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s board in November.

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Morneau describes his enthusiasm for the 2015 Trudeau election win in his book and during an interview with the Globe and Mail newspaper, but he said that faded because of what the former minister called a lack of management and interpersonal communication abilities.

On the economy, Morneau said that the Bank of Canada’s cumulative four percentage-point rate hike over the course of last year was important to stomp out inflation, but he expressed concern about the growing likelihood of a recession this year.

“My hope is that if we have one, it will be a shallow recession and one we’ll be able to come out of,” Morneau said to CTV News. “But I do think it’s important for us to recognize that in managing the economy, that is unlikely …  and it means the message around fiscal prudence is doubly important. We really need to make sure that we’re not adding to the challenge with government actions.”

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