A Few Words on Bill Morneau

I wrote a few words on former Finance Minister Bill Morneau in Energy Now:

Bill Morneau Failed as Finance Minister But Was One of the Few Oil & Gas Realists in Cabinet

by Greg McLean – Member of Parliament


Greg McLean O P

Monday saw the resignation of this Liberal Government’s Finance Minister of the past five years – Hon. Bill Morneau.  If you heard my comments over the past month on the WE Charity debacle, and Minister Morneau’s shocking revelation of his ethical breaches in regards to this file, you will know that I’m surprised he survived these last three weeks.  Such is the state of Canadians’ seeming acceptance of ethical breaches from this Government.

Let me do my best to give a professional assessment of Morneau’s performance as Minister of Finance.

Financial Failure

When I began the process of seeking election into Parliament, it was largely based on what has been (and continues to be) transpiring with Canada’s finances.  We have quickly unlearned the mistakes of only one generation ago, when we racked up unsustainable debt and found out that the only way to deal with it, in the end, was to cut public services.  Years of painful normalization of Canada’s finances, and the fiscal relationship between provincial governments and the federal government, have been undone by a spendthrift cabal of self-serving and insouciant public officials – many of whom are beyond public recall.

Morneau Simply Racked Up More Spending

Hon. Bill Morneau’s pedigree in business seemed to indicate some predisposition to understanding the role; yet, like so many Ministers in this Government, he quickly resembled a mouthpiece for rationalizing mounting increases in government spending, at the expense of our hard-earned prosperity.

He took deficit spending to a new level.  During a period when the Canadian economy was booming and unemployment was hitting generational lows, he oversaw a fiscal regime that steadily added to Canada’s outstanding debt, and our debt per capita.  Even when he found windfall gains in the economy, he quickly squandered these on new, ad hoc spending programs.

His failing: he was addicted to spending.  The balance of saving during good times – in fact, good Keynesianism – was lost completely on him.

Just Didn’t Understand

I give him a failing grade on his management of Canada’s finances.  He did not understand his job as a civilian elected overseer of Canada’s economy and long-term prosperity.

If you watch his responses to questions in the House of Commons, it is clear that he is a smooth orator, but he rarely knew the detail required to respond to the questions posed to him.

He was the Minister of Finance; the details of this country’s economy should matter to this person.  It was obvious he wasn’t paying enough attention.

Compounded by Ethical Lapses

His continued ethical lapses beg the question if he really took the job seriously.  The most egregious (and incomprehensible) was the then Ethics Commissioner’s ruling that he was NOT in conflict with his public duties – because he sold shares through a private corporation he owned directly, rather than owning the shares personally.  People paying attention understood better – but, somehow, he skated by on that lapse as well.  As I said, what Canadians will accept from their leaders has clearly changed under this regime.

Money Thrown Against the Wall

Finally, his current performance – during the pandemic – has been frustrating to watch.  The government programs thrown at the wall; the lack of guidance; the avoidance of any semblance of using comparable metrics or targets; and the absence of any establishment of objectives or planning indicate that he believed his job was just to talk and write the cheques.

Sound policy development or analysis were not in his toolkit.  But, Mr. Morneau – you were the Minister of Finance.  These are mistakes you get to wear.

Why He Will Be Missed

Like all Cabinets, this Liberal Government is in conflict internally.  On the surface, it resembles its leader – all manufactured virtue with misguided intent, and interest groups benefiting behind the charade performed by elected officials.

Yet, Cabinet has been divided between a handful of realists and a merry band of acolytes.  Likewise with the Liberal caucus – many of whom owe their job to this Prime Minister, so they won’t be going offside.

One of a Few Oil and Gas Realists

As poorly as he performed as a Minister of Finance, I give Hon. Bill Morneau credit for being one of the realists in this Government.  He knows Canada will be an economic laggard without our oil and gas industry.  He understands the balance of payments deficit that grows as a result of the mis-pricing of Canada’s most valuable commodities.  I believe that if his voice had carried weight in Cabinet or in caucus discussions, Teck’s Frontier oilsands mine would be approved.  Recognize what this means: realistic voices are being muted in decision-making in this Liberal Government. 

To provide an even more tangible illustration, imagine where TMX would be without Bill Morneau’s support.  And observe what happens now that he is no longer there.

There is much afoot behind the scenes, without Parliament even allowed to sit.  (Yeah, democracy!)

To see the agenda that gains more traction post-Morneau, look for the positioning of Ministries on key files, and watch the continued downgrading of Canada’s Ministry of Finance to relative irrelevance.  Because, to this Liberal Government, Canada’s finances do not matter.

With the assemblage of special interests this Government is positioning, I strongly believe it will not bode well for Canada’s resource industry.