Bill Morneau got quit

Well that was awkward

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Canada’s Finance Minister is shown the door

Justin Trudeau’s team in the PMO had been telegraphing it for weeks: Bill Morneau’s days were numbered.

After a series of strategic leaks that suggested that the Prime Minister had lost confidence in the Finance Minister, and after finally meeting face-to-face on Monday, Bill Morneau shocked nobody and told everyone he was stepping down — both as Minister and as an MP, effective immediately.

Trudeau’s public face on the matter was exactly the opposite — full confidence in his minister who was finding a new dagger in his back daily.

Of course, we now know this wasn’t the case. Morneau beat a hasty path to the exits while coming up with a contrived face-saving story about wanting to run for Secretary General of the OECD — which nobody of course believed. Wells has some good analysis about this PM fobbing off his problems onto international bodies.

Justin Trudeau is getting into the habit of peddling his problems to the world. He campaigned for a second mandate for Michaëlle Jean as head of La francophonie, after her spending habits made her candidacy untenable. And he improvised an unacceptable double diplomatic appointment for Stéphane Dion when he got tired of hearing Dion at the cabinet table, forcing France to threaten to veto an EU ambassadorship for the first time in the history of the union.

Laundering his problems on the world stage is getting to be a thing Justin Trudeau does. Eventually the world will notice. Maybe it already has.

Interestingly, Trudeau has not yet appointed a replacement. We’re not even sure if the Governor General is even available to swear someone in.

To review, the following had no effect on Morneau’s position in cabinet in the past:

  • forgetting to disclose ownership of a French villa in asset disclosures required of public office holders.

  • holding more than 1 million shares of Morneau-Shapell outside of a blind trust while regulating its industry, affecting its value.

  • Having his office and chief of staff accused of placing “extraordinary pressure” on then Attorney General Jody Wilson-Reybould during the SNC Lavalin scandal, allegedly pushing her to “save jobs” in Quebec by granting a remediation agreement for the Montreal firm.

In the end Canada’s Finance Minister was fired during a global health and economic crisis because of an ethical lapse in judgment that aligned too much with the Prime Minister’s own failings. The PM was evidently concerned about the we but me optics of the whole situation.

Yes, the WE scandal was what finally ended Morneau’s political career. It became untenable for the Prime Minister because it highlighted the same conflict of interest pattern of that is now threatens to vititate the viability of a government now showing its age.

As a private citizen, Morneau will be more available to both the Finance and Ethics committees as they investigate the WE scandal.

Canada is a club and you’re not in it

Professional lobbyists in Ottawa were stunned by the retroactive registration of WE Charity last week and gobsmacked by the disclosure of 65 meetings with public office holders going back to January 2019.

WE told the Finance Committee that it had registered with the Office of the Commissioner of lobbying on Thursday, August 13th.

Jamie Carroll described his ‘head exploding’ as he followed the news of WE and the charity’s lobbying disclosure and the Kielburger’s brothers seemingly casual attitude about it. Carroll was the first person tried for violating the lobbying act and he describes how his life was turned upside down as a result.

I was charged with failing to register as a lobbyist, but even the Crown … agreed that I never actually tried to lobby anyone. In fact, there was no evidence I had any intention of doing so.

What I had done was sign a contract with a new client on behalf of the firm I worked with at the time – TACTIX. The agreement laid out an iterative process that, if successful, would eventually lead to lobbying the Department of National Defence and others to convince them to adopt the client’s innovative health information system. And, given it was a Conservative government in office at the time, it would have almost certainly been one of my Conservative colleagues at the firm who would have been engaged had any lobbying needed to be done.

But we never reached that point.

Carroll points out what he believes to be a clear double standard.

[Here’s] what really has me furious: clearly, someone at WE reached out to the Lobbying Commissioner’s office – or worse, maybe the other way around! – and WE was given the chance to correct this error, apparently without consequences.

The Federal Accountability Act was brought in as the first piece of legislation under the Harper government in 2006. It was drafted in reaction to the Liberal Sponsorship Scandal and created a more strict regulatory regime around how lobbyists interact with government.

On one hand, it is argued that the law created onerous red tape and reporting requirements for business owners whose livelihoods are adversely affected by government regulation, and who are just pushing back against harmful policy.

On the other, it is argued that transparency is paramount and in the public interest. It follows that it is important to understand who is pushing for such change — change which more often comes in the form of grants and sometimes in the form of rent-seeking.

Whatever your view on the rules that govern lobbyists, most of us can agree that the law should be applied equally to all, no matter one’s relationship with the Prime Minister and his family.

It remains that the WE group not only hired the Prime Minister’s family for their world-renowned public speaking prowess (they are professionals in their own right, you see), but they had multiple points of contact with government officials that resulted in a sole-sourced contract for the Kielbrother network to handle close to $1 billion worth of public money.

Oh, they should have been more transparent about all of this? Oops.

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