If Justin Trudeau believes that Bill Morneau’s resignation is an opportunity as well as a problem, he should think again. The political crisis of this resignation threatens to negate the Liberal government’s achievements in guiding the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.
And it shows the Liberal Party at its very worst: a cabal of political and financial elites squabbling among themselves when they should be serving the people. There will be a new Conservative leader in a week. Whoever it is has just been handed a political gift.
Mr. Morneau said he was stepping down, both as finance minister and as an MP, because he had never intended to serve more than two terms, and because he was putting his name forward to be secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
No finance minister would abandon their post during the greatest financial crisis of our lifetime, unless they were pushed or felt they had no choice.
And even if Mr. Morneau did want the OECD job so eagerly, there was no reason to immediately resign his seat, forcing a by-election.
There can only be two reasons to flee Ottawa so suddenly: Either he no longer enjoyed the Prime Minister’s full confidence, or the Prime Minister no longer enjoyed his.
Mr. Morneau’s forgetting to reimburse WE Charity for $41,000 in travel costs made him the subject of yet another ethics investigation. (The first involved neglecting to mention that his assets included a villa in France.)
That indiscretion magnified the WE Charity imbroglio, and could have been grounds for his dismissal. But since Mr. Trudeau is also being investigated by the Ethics Commissioner over WE, that would have been awkward.
Instead, back channels told the press that Mr. Trudeau was impatient with Mr. Morneau’s reluctance to Think Big in responding to the pandemic, and to Think Even Bigger in the months ahead.
Mark Carney, former governor of the banks of Canada and of England, is reportedly advising the PM, another reason for Mr. Morneau’s discomfiture. The Globe’s Kristy Kirkup and Bill Curry report that Mr. Carney won’t be the next finance minister. Will it be Already Minister of Practically Everything Chrystia Freeland, or someone else?
The overwhelming impression is that public support for the federal government’s handling of the pandemic left the Liberals so confident of being re-elected that they fell to fighting amongst themselves over the post-pandemic agenda and who should implement it.
The political fallout will be massive. This Liberal government faces a motion of confidence when Parliament returns, brought by the Bloc Québécois over the WE controversy, which has been given considerably more oxygen by this resignation. It is now virtually unthinkable for the Tories to support the Grits. If the WE affair and the resignation of the finance minister during a financial crisis don’t shake the confidence of the Official Opposition in the government, what would?
Which leaves it up to the NDP. The party isn’t ready for an election. But how could Leader Jagmeet Singh prop up a government in such turmoil? A fall election becomes, if not likely, at least possible.
In some ways, this is like a return to old times, when Pierre Trudeau’s finance minister, John Turner, resigned because he disagreed with the prime minister’s economic priorities in 1975. Forty years of Liberal civil war followed. Trudeau versus Turner. Turner versus Chrétien. Chrétien versus Martin. Dion versus Ignatieff. Ignatieff versus Rae.
“Liberals are more lethal to Liberals than are any competing partisans,” tweeted former principal secretary Gerald Butts, who himself resigned last year. “Canadians have little patience for this stuff in the best of times, and these are not those. Friendly advice to former colleagues: knock it off, unless you miss losing.”
But Mr. Trudeau does not appear to brook opposition, or even contrary voices. His determination to intervene in the prosecution of the engineering firm SNC-Lavalin cost him two cabinet ministers, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott. And now he has lost his finance minister, prompting the most important question of all.
Why have so many of this government’s most powerful and independent voices been silenced? Could Mr. Trudeau not work with them? Or could they not work with him?
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