Justin Trudeau dares opposition to force an election

Less than a day after the resignation of finance minister Bill Morneau, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to be trying to goad the opposition into forcing an election.

The PM announced at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that Chrystia Freeland, his deputy prime minister, will be replacing Morneau as finance minister.

But most of the presser at Rideau Hall was used to announce that the minority Liberal government will be proroguing Parliament until late September and forcing a confidence vote after the House reconvenes for a Throne Speech in the fall.

Trudeau offered as rationale for the move the fact that the pre-COVID reality no longer exists.

Trudeau said during the question and answer that followed with reporters that he does not want an election. But it sure sounded like he was inviting the opposition to take their chances. 

“It’s an important time of choices for Canadians,” Trudeau said.

For a Liberal government on its heels – and a PM facing another ethics probe – Trudeau’s gambit is a calculated risk.

First off, it ends committee hearings into the WE Charity embarrassment.

More to the point, the opposition is (mostly) in disarray, despite the Liberals’ minority status.

The NDP is broke. The Conservatives, who will pick a new leader this week, are more divided than ever. The Bloc, meanwhile, can no longer be counted on to keep the Liberals afloat.

Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet threatened a confidence vote over the government’s pandemic spending last week. Better for the Libs to pull the trigger now while they’re still ahead in the polls.

Besides, which of the opposition parties wants to be the one to push an election during a pandemic?

Morneau announced his resignation as finance minister late Monday. He also announced he will not be seeking re-election.

The news didn’t come as a complete surprise. The recent controversy surrounding some $41,000 in travel expenses paid by WE Charity for Morneau’s services has been humiliating – but Morneau has said he wasn’t pushed out of the job.

As other political observers have pointed out, his exit was a natural conclusion to a tenure that had lasted five years more out of circumstance than necessity. During that time Morneau authored some of the Liberals’ signature economic policies.

But static swirling around a finance minister is never a good thing for the markets. And there has been much of that amid revelations that the PM has reportedly been leaning lately on former Bank of Canada head Mark Carney for economic advice.

The Globe reported last week about “clashes” between Morneau and the PM over COVID-recovery plans. Morneau didn’t want to be known as the finance minister responsible for the largest deficit in Canada’s history, the story goes. Trudeau wants to set an ambitious social agenda in the post-COVID era.

We can now surmise from Trudeau’s press conference that his fracture with Morneau had as much to do with ideology.

Canada, Trudeau said, “is at a crossroads.” It’s time for what he termed an “ambitious” agenda. He characterized the COVID crisis as a “once in a lifetime challenge” to remake Canada. At times during the press conference, the PM sounded like he was channelling his old man’s Just Society manifesto.

The PM also hinted broadly at a schism with Morneau over pandemic spending on Tuesday. “We believe in fiscal responsibility but fiscal responsibility goes hand in hand with investment,” he said. “We made a pledge that we will be there for Canadians.”

Freeland commended Morneau’s efforts as a finance minister. But she also suggested there was a difference of opinion between the PM and Morneau over the future economic direction of the country when she took the podium to answer questions.

She talked about Canada’s economic recovery needing to be “green and equitable.”

But in acknowledging her own disagreements with the PM, she emphasized the importance of presenting a united front in public. “That’s important in government,” she said. On that, the time had run out for Morneau.


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