Dispatch from the Front Line: Morneau is out — who the hell is left to rein Trudeau in?

What do we do if we have a six of a prime minister who thinks he’s a nine, and fires all the colleagues who show the temerity to attempt life as a seven? 

Say this for the otherwise big-meh tenure of now former finance minister Bill Morneau — at least he managed to manoeuvre his way to a window that had a soft hedge growing underneath. This would suggest that his political instincts were a mite better than the two major ministers defenestrated before him: Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott. 

Morneau resigned on Monday, citing a desire to put his name forward for the next secretary general of the OECD: "The Prime Minister has given me full support in this quest," Morneau said in a farewell press conference. “As we move to the next phase for our fight against the pandemic and pave the road towards economic recovery, we must recognize that this process will take many years," he further elaborated on his reasoning. “It’s the right time for a new finance minister to deliver on that plan for the long and challenging road ahead.”

If you believe that, perhaps it's time to step away from politics to spend more time with your family. No, what’s clear is that Morneau is just the latest in a long line of senior Liberals to dare stand between reality and what the PM wants, to their misfortune. As a former privy council clerk might have warned Morneau, it seems that Justin’s in that kind of mood again.

Rumours of the departure and a growing rift between Morneau and Trudeau have been circulating for weeks, but it’s not known what specifically led to Morneau's hastily convened press conference. Some have suggested that the WE scandal did him in. Amid all the controversy around the PM’s own family conflicts regarding the charity, it was reported that Morneau had attended one of the charity's voluntourism trips to Kenya, and simply failed to repay $41,000 in expenses. Further, one of his daughters worked for WE. Despite these ties, Morneau had failed to recuse himself from WE-related matters.


This scandal really ought to have ended Morneau's tenure as finance minister, except the idea of anyone in a Trudeau government getting the boot over an ethics violation would probably rank among the more surprising news stories of even this bizarre year of 2020. That’s how this government works, right? Accountability is for idiots. Teachable moments is where it’s at.

So the other major rumoured explanation for Morneau’s exit seems more plausible. Simply, that even Morneau — a man who has never met a GDP-to-debt ratio he couldn't justify — was starting to object to the size of the deficit numbers. Or, to put it simpler still, that he dared to tell Trudeau no.

If that's what's really behind Morneau's exeunt, this is a very bad sign. Especially as, given all of the leaks to the media that preceded Morneau's "resignation," this is exactly what Trudeau wants us to think. The prime minister is making a point of signalling his support for extreme anti-austerity. 

COVID-19 has plunged the global economy into a state of decline and recession unparalleled in generations. With the perils of the pandemic, there is also an opportunity for those in power to seize the moment to remake their governments (and the country) in ways that would have been unimaginable at the start of this year. The world is in chaos. What spending experiment will be rejected, what error will not be justified, and how much accountability can really be expected in such a crisis? Is there any problem that this government won't try to fix by throwing more cash at it? Any social experiment that won’t be risked? 

If all that money does little actual good on the ground, well, at least they tried, right? It's all a chapter in a purposeful autobiography and rueful laugh line in some future speech at Davos. After all, it was an unprecedented emergency

This is a time that any government, any national leader, could be prone to overreach, and we’re talking about Justin “Blindspot” Trudeau here. The best the Canadian taxpayers can hope for is that he at least remembers to thank them for their donation as the spending binge really gets started.

And it will get started. There is effectively no parliamentary oversight at the moment. Despite this being a minority government, the NDP has been co-opted. The Conservatives appear to have lost their car keys. The Bloc has thrown in the towel. There is no external check on Trudeau’s worst impulses.

So that leaves internal checks, and that’s an even grimmer picture. Chrystia Freeland has been effectively neutered by being appointed to literally every important role in government simultaneously, and has been reduced to randomly blurting out that the PM has her full support. As Jen Gerson noted here last week, Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, despite passable survival instincts of her own, has been manifestly unable to knock any sense into the boss. 

JWR and Philpott tried, and were streamrollered by our feminist prime minister. Morneau seems to have been barely able to negotiate the terms of his surrender, but a surrender it is. Marc Garneau is so rarely seen or heard from that he might as well be back in orbit. Andrew Leslie, a man who literally commanded the army during a shooting war, found working for Trudeau too exhausting an experience to endure another term in office, and declined to run last year.

Who’s left? Bill Blair? Catherine McKenna? God help us for even suggesting it, but Mélanie Joly

The Trudeau cabinet is now as shallow as Stephen Harper's when the latter went into the 2015 election, and lost. The Liberal "party" is the PMO, donors, a vacuous Twitter squad and a spineless caucus. 

It's been oft-repeated, now, that Trudeau's former Principal Secretary Gerry Butts used to flatter himself by describing the prime minister's managerial style as: “Fives hire fours, but nines hire tens.”

Yeah, well, what do we do if we have a six of a prime minister who thinks he’s a nine, and fires all the colleagues who show the temerity to attempt life as a seven? 

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