Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau resigned his cabinet position and his seat in Parliament Monday evening as rumours swirled about tension between him and the prime minister amid the WE scandal.
Morneau, who had been the only finance minister in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet since the prime minister was elected in 2015, made the announcement at a hastily called press conference Monday evening. His resignation comes as Canada faces ongoing threats from COVID-19, which has caused an economic downturn worse than the Great Depression.
“I had been thinking about this for a period of time,” Morneau said.
Morneau said he handed in his resignation Monday morning. He said Trudeau had not asked for him to leave, but that “we both recognized the necessary vigorous debate that comes between a finance minister and a prime minister.”
Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that Trudeau wasn’t committed to keeping Morneau as finance minister as the two were clashing over the government’s response to the economic fallout of COVID-19.
At the time, Trudeau said he had “full confidence” in Morneau, and Morneau said he had no intention of leaving politics. Meanwhile, Trudeau had begun tapping former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney as an “informal adviser” on economic matters, Bloomberg reported.
Trudeau and Morneau had also clashed in recent days over the size and scope of environmental measures in the government’s economic recovery plans, and the country’s soaring deficit, Reuters reported Sunday.
Opposition Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer said the move is “proof of a government in chaos.”
“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 via Twitter.
Morneau said Monday that he intends to put his name forward as a candidate for secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international economic organization. In a statement, Trudeau thanked Morneau for his “leadership, advice and close friendship.”
Rumours have swirled about tension between Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the WE scandal. His resignation comes as Canada faces ongoing threats from COVID-19, which has caused an economic downturn worse than the Great Depression.
The Prime Minister's Office did not hint at who might be Morneau's successor, though there has been plenty of speculation, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, as well as Mark Carney.
"I'm confident (Trudeau will) have a positive choice in that regard," Morneau said, referring to his successor.
Morneau also said he did not intend to run for office again during the next election.
"We need a finance minister that's going to be there for the long term," he added, referring to the long economic recovery Canada now faces.
The resignation also comes as the Liberal government is still reeling from the WE scandal; the Conservatives had been calling for Morneau to resign because of his perceived conflict of interest.
Morneau has been under significant pressure since he revealed last month that he had repaid WE Charity for $41,000 in travel-related expenses. The federal ethics commissioner is investigating whether Morneau and Trudeau — who both have close ties to the charity — broke ethics rules when awarding WE a federal contract.
One of Morneau’s daughters works for the organization, and several of Trudeau’s family members had taken money from WE for speaking fees or travel. Both have apologized for not recusing themselves.
“I wish that, in hindsight, that we had done things differently around the WE Charity,” Morneau said Monday.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused Trudeau of forcing “someone else to take the heat.”
“That’s not leadership,” he said via Twitter.
On Monday, Morneau also called his time in Parliament the "work of a lifetime."
Trudeau said he would “vigorously” support Morneau’s OECD bid.