Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Monday night he’s resigning his Cabinet post and his seat in the House of Commons amid an ethics controversy surrounding a charity with ties to his family and that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Morneau insisted that it’s "never been" his plan to run in more than two federal election cycles and told reporters he’s instead putting his name forward as a candidate to lead the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He said he informed Trudeau Monday of his intention, adding that Canada needs a new finance minister "for the long, challenging road ahead."
Trudeau did not ask him to resign, he said.
In a statement, Trudeau thanked Morneau for his work and voiced support for his OECD bid.
“;Today, I spoke with Bill Morneau and accepted his resignation," the prime minister said. "Canada will vigorously support his bid to lead this important global institution that will play a critical role in the global economic recovery."
When asked why he didn’t have the longevity to lead Canada through a pandemic but could head the OECD instead, Morneau said his expertise serving in a G-7 country government could allow him "to help in another way."
“;I think that it”;s really important for someone to want to be in this political role for the next period of time, and I think that period of time will be very challenging," he said.
Morneau’s announcement came hours after a meeting with Trudeau, which was reportedly focused on their disagreements over spending on environmental programs as part of pandemic relief aid.
But Morneau’s recent high-profile troubles are centered on his failure to recuse himself from a Cabinet decision awarding a no-bid contract to WE Charity to administer a C$900 million student grant program as part of the Trudeau government”;s Covid-19 response. He admitted last month to repaying the charity more than C$41,000 for costs incurred during a 2017 trip to Ecuador with his family just before testifying in front of a parliamentary committee.
Morneau’s wife and daughter, who later went on to work for the charity, separately traveled with WE to Kenya. He disclosed to the House of Commons finance committee that his wife made two C$50,000 donations to the charity, including one in June.
It’s unclear who will replace Morneau as finance minister, a crucial position in any government that’s taken on even greater importance as the Canadian economy reels from the monthslong coronavirus pandemic. Trudeau’s office declined to comment on whether the prime minister will appoint a caretaker minister or pursue a larger Cabinet reshuffle.
An order in Ottawa designates Mona Fortier, an associate finance minister with a focus on "middle class prosperity," as acting finance minister.
Trudeau is also entangled in the WE scandal. He didn’t bow out of the Cabinet decision about the contract either, despite members of his family being compensated by the group for speeches given at charity events.
The Liberal leader defended his work on the contract the following week before a parliamentary committee, saying he sought to slow down the award because of possible perceptions of a conflict of interest. But he also said he regretted not recusing himself from the decision-making process.
Opposition rivals have been calling on Morneau to resign since his testimony last month. Morneau, visibly sheepish throughout his appearance before MPs, apologized for not recusing himself from the decision awarding a federal contract to the group while simultaneously maintaining that he didn’t think he had a conflict of interest. He also said he wasn’t aware that he hadn’t been charged for expenses incurred on the trip.
Just last week, Trudeau defended Morneau amid a flurry of reports about a rift between the two men, with a spokesperson saying he had "full confidence" in his finance minister.
But the prime minister had also enlisted Mark Carney, a veteran leader of two central banks, as a periodic adviser during the pandemic, fueling longstanding speculation that he planned to jump into Liberal politics.
Parliamentary expert Philippe Lagassé said on Twitter that the finance minister doesn’t have to be an elected MP.
Read more: politico.com