Bill Morneau is resigning as the federal minister of finance and a Liberal MP.
Morneau, who has been in the role since 2015, is putting his name forward as a candidate to lead the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
In a press conference Monday evening, Morneau said he tendered his resignation that morning, adding that he was not asked to do so by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“We need a finance minister who will be there in the long term,” Morneau said. “I see that there’s going to be a need for a long period of time for a recovery. Now is an appropriate time for me to step down from this role and think about how I can help more broadly.”
Morneau said he never intended to run for a third term as an MP.
For several weeks, opposition parties have been calling for Morneau’s resignation over allegations that he had a conflict of interest in the WE Charity affair. Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet had even threatened to try to trigger an election this fall if Morneau and Trudeau didn’t resign.
Morneau and Trudeau are both facing investigations by the federal ethics watchdog for taking part in talks to hand WE a contract to run a student-volunteer program for youth whose summer job opportunities vanished with the pandemic. Both have familial ties to the organization.
One of Morneau’s daughters works for the organization, another has spoken at its events and his wife has donated $100,000. Morneau also revealed last month that he had repaid WE $41,000 in expenses for trips he and his family took in 2017 to view two of its humanitarian projects in Ecuador and Kenya.
Acknowledging the controversy, Morneau said Monday evening, “I wish we had done things differently.”
The recent news that Mark Carney, a former governor of both the Bank of Canada and Bank of England, is helping to advise Trudeau on the post-pandemic economic recovery fuelled speculation that Morneau was about to be replaced.
“There’s a time when you’re the appropriate person in the role, and a time when you’re not,” Morneau said Monday.
“It’s really important for someone to want to be in this political role for the next period of time and that period of time will be very challenging,” he added. “So that is what I’m sure the prime minister is reflecting on as he thinks about the next finance minister.”
Last week, Trudeau tried to shut down speculation that his finance minister was on the way out, taking the unusual step of issuing a statement to say he had full confidence in Morneau and that reports of policy clashes between them were false.
In a statement released Monday, Trudeau thanked Morneau for his “leadership, advice and close friendship over the years.”
Trudeau added that Canada will “vigorously support” Morneau’s bid to lead the OECD, calling the organization an “important global institution that will play a critical role in the global economic recovery.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in a statement that Morneau’s resignation was further proof of a government in chaos and consumed by scandal.
“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,” Scheer said.
Similarly, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Morneau’s resignation comes just when people “need a steady and reliable government” with many worried about paying the bills in coming months resulting from the current economic crisis.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Morneau’s resignation is not a surprise.
“By firing Morneau, Trudeau is hoping to take the attention off himself,” Wiseman said. “Once the government announced that Carney was `advising’ Trudeau, that signalled Morneau would soon be gone.”
Wiseman said Morneau is the sacrificial lamb in the WE Charity affair.
“I don’t think the departure was a product of policy differences, although the prime minister’s office would like to make it so appear,” he said.