Bill Morneau has stepped down as finance minister because he says the country needs someone new to address financial needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Parliament is prorogued until September.
Trudeau said it was not because of the WE charity investigation, but to give his government a chance to re-start in light of the pandemic recovery.
He also said the pause would give investigation committees, which are on hold, time to go over their vast documents and provide answers in the fall.
“It will also allow parliament to hold a confidence vote on this new plan,” he said.
Morneau is being replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is now the first female finance minister in Canadian history.
Freeland, who has a background in journalism, was formerly minister of international trade and then foreign affairs, where she negotiated the new NAFTA agreement.
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde called Freeland a “calm hand” for the economic re-opening. He told APTN he was looking forward to working with her to advocate for First Nations people.
“At the Assembly of First Nations our job is to influence the throne speech, influence the financial budgeting cycle and make sure that rights title and jurisdiction are recognized and respected,” Bellegarde said in an interview.
As part of his COVID re-start plan, Trudeau will unveil a throne speech next week.
Bellegarde noted the throne speech in December had a heavy Indigenous chapter that included important initiatives like Bills C-91, C-92, the implementation of UNDRIP and the MMIWG action plan.
“We have to work extremely hard now to make sure those priorities aren’t lost in the next throne speech,” the national chief said.
Bellegarde said Morneau did good work and was pleased with the progress done by the “sooneeyow oogeemau” or “the big money chief” as Bellegarde called him.
Morneau’s announcement Monday evening comes on the heels of investigations by the ethics commission concerning the government’s WE scandal.
In June Trudeau announced a $900 million fund to help students during the pandemic and said youth organization WE would administer the fund, which was a $19 million contract.
Both Trudeau and Morneau have family ties to the organization. Morneau’s daughter works for the organization and Trudeau’s mother, brother and wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau have participated in WE events.
In a press conference Tuesday NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said Trudeau is throwing Morneau under the bus and needs to take responsibility for the scandal himself.
When asked if the NDP would call for an early election or a confidence motion Singh said maybe.
“If the Liberal government continues on helping their close friends instead of helping people, if they continue to be caught up in fighting themselves,” Singh said, “Instead of helping families that are worried about the future then, we’ll have to look at all options.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Sheer took to Twitter to lament how Trudeau and Morneau’s economic policies have hurt Canadians.
“Scapegoating Morneau does not solve the problem. As long as Trudeau is Prime Minister, the corruption will continue,” Sheer posted. ”No one is buying the Liberals’ bogus excuses about a ‘policy disagreement.’”
In a press conference, Freeland said she and the prime minister provide a united front and both said they were privileged to work with Morneau for the past five years.
Last week Trudeau said he has full confidence in his finance minister and when asked what happened since last week he said only that he was glad to have worked with Morneau and wished him luck in the future.
“We need a finance minister that’s going to be there for the long term,” Morneau added. “So I think now is an appropriate time for me to step down from this role and think about how I can help more broadly.”
Morneau said he is already lining up a job for himself as secretary general of the international development agency Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
In a statement Trudeau said, “Canada will vigorously support his bid to lead this important global institution that will play a critical role in the global economic recovery.”