PM says Morneau has his support to stay on as finance minister
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he still has “full confidence” in Finance Minister Bill Morneau, despite calls for his resignation and speculation his days in cabinet may be numbered.
This assertion of support for Morneau came in a new statement issued by the PMO, amid speculation of a coming cabinet shuffle and questions around the finance minister’s political fate as the WE Charity controversy continues to unfold on Parliament Hill.
“Of course the Prime Minister has full confidence in Minister Morneau and any statement to the contrary is false,” said PMO spokesperson Alex Wellstead in a statement on Tuesday.
“The Prime Minister knows that Minister Morneau and the entire team of cabinet ministers will keep doing the work that Canadians rely on to get them through this pandemic,” the statement continued.
On Monday, CTV News confirmed that Trudeau has turned to former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney for advice on steering the Canadian economy through the COVID-19 downturn.
Carney has been tapped to act as an informal adviser at a time when many businesses are still rebounding and the federal deficit for the current fiscal year is set to hit $343.2 billion.
This fuelled curiosity around Carney’s political aspirations—which have been widely rumoured in Ottawa to include a federal run— and whether they could have implications for a finance minister currently under fire.
Though, Trudeau’s statement emphasized Morneau’s work to “build a strong and resilient economy.”
“That work has continued throughout the global pandemic, during which Minister Morneau played the lead role in the creation of the CERB, the wage subsidy, and many other measures to support Canadians and businesses during these difficult times, and he is continuing this important work,” the PMO statement said.
Morneau has been keeping a low profile since his July 22 committee appearance in which he faced calls to resign after revealing he had just paid WE Charity back $41,366 in outstanding expenses that the organization covered for two trips his family took in 2017, and that his wife has made $100,000 in donations to the organization in recent years.
In the days following, several cabinet ministers asserted their continued confidence in the finance minister despite his close ties WE Charity.
Though, some of his colleagues’ names had also been floated as potential successors before Trudeau’s statement chilled the cabinet shuffle speculation, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, and Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos.
“Unless Mr. Morneau decides he wants to leave the role or leave politics and take that responsibility for explaining it himself, it becomes very difficult to make that change right now,” said John Manley, who once held the dual role of deputy prime minister and finance minister under former prime minister Jean Chretien.
Federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has launched two separate investigations into Trudeau and Morneau over their potential conflicts of interest over the Liberal cabinet’s decision to award WE Charity the deal to administer a now-halted $912-million student volunteer grant program.
Manley noted that removing Morneau would “be perceived to be a response to the WE controversy, and that touches the prime minister as well.”
Opposition parties continue to push for more answers and have launched three separate committee probes, including asking for Trudeau family financial records related to past speaking engagements as well as what’s turned out to be more than 5,000 pages of yet-to-be-released emails and other correspondence from cabinet ministers about the WE deal.
The federal Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois have also suggested that if actions beyond apologizing for their roles in the WE controversy aren’t taken, the Liberal minority could be facing a snap election.
Pollster Nik Nanos, the chair of Nanos Research said that removing Morneau would validate the opposition party attacks and would give license for them to pursue Trudeau’s ouster as well.
“It sets a deadly precedent from a political perspective,” Nanos said.
Earlier on Tuesday when asked to speak to the rumblings about Morneau’s time in his finance post running out, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that so long as Trudeau is the prime minister, it doesn’t matter who the finance minister is.
"It really doesn't matter, making a trade for Bill Morneau, when you've got a prime minister that has such a lack of ethics embroiled in so many scandals," said Scheer.
With files from CTV News’ Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier