Former finance minister Bill Morneau says he was thinking of leaving federal politics and running for a top diplomatic post well before the WE Charity affair prompted his sudden departure from cabinet.
On Thursday, Morneau told CBC’s Rosemary Barton that, for some time, he’s had his eye on the secretary-general position with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental agency that promotes democracy and the market economy.
And Morneau insisted he would have pitched himself for that job even if the WE Charity affair hadn’t erupted on his watch.
“Let me tell you, I was really thinking about the secretary-general of the OECD job before and I recognized you couldn’t be a sitting finance minister and run for a global position at the same time. That was my conclusion,” Morneau said.
“It’s always a little bit messy when you leave politics. That’s kind of the nature of the sport. There are no rules and you’ve got to find your way out, but I’m happy to have done it. That leads me to be able to think about how I can bring that experience to another role.”
The full interview with Morneau will air on Barton’s new show, Rosemary Barton Live, which debuts Sunday at 10 a.m. ET on CBC News Network and 11 a.m. ET (12 p.m. AT) on CBC TV.
Despite reports of friction between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Morneau over the summer months, Trudeau has endorsed his former finance minister for the diplomatic post, saying Canada would “vigorously support” Morneau’s candidacy.
OECD member countries — largely western nations — will decide in private who takes the job. The appointment will be announced in March 2021.
Some observers have said Morneau’s involvement in the WE scandal may make his bid for the OECD post a longshot. Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s former trade commissioner and Sweden’s nominee for job, is also in the running.
Morneau’s five-year tenure as finance minister abruptly ended in August. He resigned while the Commons finance committee was in the midst of a deep dive into the Liberal government’s decision to hand a multi-million-dollar summer student grants contract to the WE Charity, a Toronto-based organization that has since shuttered its Canadian operations amid controversy over the contract and its corporate governance and real estate holdings.
Morneau came under fire after it was revealed he did not recuse himself from cabinet talks about the contract despite his family’s close personal ties to the WE organization. At the time, Morneau’s daughter, Grace, worked at WE in the travel department. His other daughter, Clare, has spoken at WE Day events.
Morneau has apologized and the federal ethics commissioner is now investigating whether his decision to vote on the deal at cabinet breached the Conflict of Interest Act. Trudeau is also under investigation. Since 2016, Trudeau’s mother and brother have been paid some $300,000 for WE speaking engagements.