Saying good-bye to Bill Morneau might be what’s best for us all


Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to be Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

What must it be like to realize one day you maybe didn’t pay for that stay in Kenya with the charity now at the centre of a national scandal, and just fire off a $41,000 cheque to solve that.  There are entire years where I haven’t made that much money!  But to just have it lying around.  Man. 

But such is the life for our affable dope at the top of the treasury, Bill. 

He inherits a company from his old man, expands it through mergers and acquisitions, then moves onto a public life of politics where he’s put in charge of the public purse because he’s a rich business guy, and we love our rich business guys, don’t we folks? 

Morneau’s time as finance minister has not been the most august of reigns.  Remember how he tried to roll out changes to small business taxation, but had to roll it back because he kept launching his foot into his own mouth and could never properly explain what he was doing?  Ah, 2017.

Since then he’s slowly faded into a sort of anonymous suit.  By the time he showed up a month ago at the Commons finance committee to talk about the ongoing WE debacle, where he announced he’d sent off a five-figure cheque that morning, I couldn’t help but think, ’Wait, that’s his voice?’

With that performance, you had to start to think his time was running out as a minister. 

Those suspicions were basically confirmed this week when the Prime Minister’s Office took its sweet time putting out a statement that Prime Minister Justing Trudeau has “full confidence” in Morneau at finance. 

This after a bit of the PR version of an awkward pause, a several hour delay between receiving the question (and seeing it tweeted out) before actually offering the reply that Trudeau did, indeed, have the most confidence the tank of confidence could contain. 

“Of course the prime minister has full confidence in minister Morneau, and any statement to the contrary is false,” a PMO spokesperson said in a statement according to the Globe and Mail.  “The prime minister knows that minister Morneau and the entire team of cabinet ministers will keep up doing the work that Canadians rely on to get them through this pandemic.”

It’s the kind of statement that has a whiff of death about it, specifically Morneau’s.  The reason the press gallery was so interested in the prime minister’s confidence in poor ol’ Bill, was that it was also announced this week the former governor of both the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, Mark Carney, was tapped as a special advisor to Trudeau on the coming COVID-19 recovery plan.  Which raises an obvious question: shouldn’t that be something the finance minister is doing?

You’d think a prime minister with so much confidence in a guy, would maybe have the confidence to listen to him on the biggest, probably only, focus of his department at this point.

There’s more, of course.

In a series of stories in the Globe this week, it’s been made clear a rift has formed between Trudeau and Morneau.

The rift seems to have begun because the two men disagree on the shape the post-COVID economy should take.  It seems that throughout the pandemic, Morneau has tried to make relief programs smaller, less generous, and shorter term than Trudeau wanted.  For example, Morneau is said to have wanted the wage subsidy to have been 10 percent, rather than its eventual rollout at 75 percent.  There’s also been disagreement on whether to turn the CERB temporary benefits into some kind of permanent EI program that would allow contract, gig, and other sorts of workers to access some kind of benefits, something Morneau also seems to oppose.

Interestingly, as it was kind of hinted at the time, Morneau’s office was the source of the contentious parts of an early COVID bill that would have given finance the ability to change fiscal policy essentially by fiat.  Something the Globe’s reporting says Trudeau forced his finance minister to back down on.

The farcical way that Morneau announced he’d had to pay back 40 grand to WE has overshadowed in many ways what seems to be a serious disagreement on the direction of the country between the ’eau pair. 

This is an interesting development, because this government has made a point of publicly being united on all things.  Everything they’ve done has had the veneer of party solidarity.  Some of that was no doubt a put-on, but whatever policy disagreements there may have been, were kept mostly locked down.

(The most notable exception to this idea is, of course, SNC-Lavalin.  And, well, we know what happened when that, ahem, disagreement burst into the open.) 

Things on the economic side of the game, though, have always pushed forward a corporatist focus, with a rhetorical flourish for the plebs. 

Now that things playing out in public, through the whispers of backroom sources to the scoop boys at the Globe and Mail can really only mean the breach is in its terminal phase.  This division, seemingly opening from the start of the pandemic, probably means doom Morneau.

We’re probably better off as a country for this development.  Affable, slightly dopey rich guys might seem like the easy choice to take care of federal budgets in good times.  But penny pinching corporate types aren’t what’s best for a country digging itself out of a catastrophe.

It could be we all got lucky when this particular dope forgot about some travel expenses.  By writing a cheque, he might have saved us all.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Robert Hiltz.     @robert_hiltz

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