Former Liberal Finance Minister Says Trudeau Pandemic Spending Was All About “Popularity”

Written By Wyatt Claypool, Posted on January 9, 2023

Former Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has recently made a new attack on his former boss Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a new book about his time in office.

Morneau has criticized Trudeau in the past, since taking the fall for him in the WE Charity scandal, but the criticism was often not surprising to conservative political observers. Articles reporting Morneau saying Trudeau was overspending and meddling in the Finance Ministers did not get much traction because it was frankly obvious that this was occurring.

Now, Morneau has revealed something that does give additional insight into how the Liberals government, and in particular, how they handled the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Morneau stated that:

We lost the agenda…During the period when the largest government expenditures as a portion of GDP were made in the shortest time since the advent of World War II, calculations and recommendations from the Ministry of Finance were basically disregarded in favour of winning a popularity contest.

Morneau effectively admits to trying to actually keep spending somewhat responsible in the Liberal government but Justin Trudeau and those in his office would prevent the rolling back of unnecessary or even toxic pandemic spending in order to maintain popularity. 

(Photo from CTV News)

Morneau said during an interview on CTV that:

To be fair to both sides, what the Prime Minister and his team were trying to do, appropriately, is ensure that Canadians had confidence that they could deal with an enormous challenge — and we shared that goal. But this secondary goal for the Department of Finance was to make sure that as we gave that massive support that we reduced it at a time that made sense. So, the timing and the scale of the support, we had a difference of opinion.

The former Finance Minister is basically agreeing with the general Conservative approach to pandemic spending. At the very beginning when we didn’t know what was going on increased government assistance through programs like CERB and other business subsidies was justified, but after a few months, it was detrimental to continue encouraging strict lockdowns on the provincial level by paying people to not work and giving large provincial transfers.

Morneau as one of the few economically-literate people in Trudeau’s cabinet wanted to tone down spending after the first few months of the pandemic, but Trudeau seeing the spending as a lifesaver for his popularity ramped up or maintained the spending well past the point it could be justified.

For a good example of this, in his book, Bill Morneau describes his experience with setting how much money should be made available through the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy program (CEWS).

Morneau wrote: 

The amount of money made available to individual businesses via CEWS… a figure significantly higher than we had agreed was the highest we should go the previous evening!

In the interview on CTV, Morneau then stated that the moment Trudeau had made the executive decision to radically raise the payouts of the CEWS program that “we just weren’t going to be able to recover,” in reference to his ability to work with the prime minister. Morneau then went on to say that his job “had deteriorated into serving as something between a figurehead and a rubber stamp.”

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Justin Trudeau probably believed that he could clinch a majority government in the late 2021 snap election, especially against a weak Red Tory Conservative leader like Erin O’Toole, but the backlash against his obvious power grab dulled the momentum he had bought through his massive spending initiatives. 

Although Morneau would be far from an ideal candidate to be a Finance Minister in a Conservative government it is telling how Trudeau in an effort to seek more power for himself, ends up cutting himself off at the knees over and over again by ditching knowledgeable people in favour of political loyalists. 

Bill Morneau’s revelations may not shock many who are already deeply critical of Justin Trudeau’s government, but it demonstrates that while Trudeau may be politically calculating he is rather incompetent and single-minded when it comes to governing the country. Politics always comes before good policy. 

Wyatt Claypool

Wyatt is a student at Mount Royal University, where he is the president of its Campus Conservative club. In his writing, he focuses on covering provincial and federal politics, firearms regulation, and the energy sector. Wyatt has also previously written for The Post Millennial.

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