OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning on a major summer reset of his government, starting with a small shuffle to move Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland into the finance minister job on Tuesday. He is then expected to move to prorogue Parliament and reassess federal priorities with his front bench, culminating in a new throne speech later this fall, CTV News has confirmed.
The series of moves come as the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the government’s agenda and calls from the opposition for Trudeau to resign or face a snap election continue in the wake of the ongoing WE Charity student grant controversy.
On Tuesday Freeland will be sworn in as the new finance minister, after Bill Morneau announced late Monday that he was resigning from his key cabinet role and as an MP.
Freeland will become the first female finance minister, and will keep her role as deputy prime minister, though her intergovernmental affairs position could be re-assigned in what’s shaping up to be a small shuffle of some current cabinet titles.
The expected prorogation—which The Canadian Press reports will happen in September followed by an October throne speech and economic update—would be the first time Trudeau has taken that massive procedural step, after vowing when first elected to not use “prorogation to avoid difficult political circumstances,” as the Liberals accused former prime minister Stephen Harper of doing.
News of Trudeau’s plans for prorogation comes almost seven years to the day of Harper’s 2013 prorogation amid the Senate expense scandal.
A prorogation would end the current Parliamentary session, killing all legislative business that has not passed. In this case it would mean halting all ongoing WE Charity committee probes, and wiping away the remaining pre-pandemic pieces of legislation. It’s possible for bills and committee work to be reinstated with a motion during a new session.
The House of Commons has one final special sitting scheduled for Aug. 26, before remaining adjourned until Sept. 21 when parliamentary businesses was set to resume in earnest, with questions outstanding about the degree of COVID-19 precautions that will be in place and whether a continuation of the hybrid virtual and in-person sittings would resume.
RIDEAU HALL SHUFFLE
Trudeau is set to hold some form of a shuffle at Rideau Hall on Tuesday.
Quickly filling the vacancy comes as Morneau’s sudden resignation led to concerns about how the economy would react given the ongoing crisis caused by COVID-19.
Largely seen as a steady hand that Trudeau has more than once put into a tough role, Freeland will take on steering Canada through what’s ballooned to be a $343-billion deficit, expanded in large part to pay for a suite of emergency benefits, and to stave off further staggering job losses.
There has also been considerable discussion about the particular impact the pandemic is having on women’s economic standing—a “she-cession” as some have called it—and having a female at the helm of the finance department could be the Liberals’ way of signalling that they’re aware of the challenges facing Canadians in rebuilding.
Freeland has represented the Toronto riding of University-Rosedale since 2013. She’s a former journalist who since the Liberals came to power in 2015, has also been the minister of international trade and foreign affairs minister. She was integral in Canada’s renegotiation of NAFTA and recently fronted Canada’s latest retaliatory plans to U.S. President Donald Trump’s aluminum tariffs.
While Morneau has said his departure is not due to the ongoing WE Charity student grant controversy, opposition MPs were quick to say otherwise, suggesting that Trudeau should also go given his own family ties to WE.
In the last month Morneau had revealed he did not recuse himself from the cabinet table, where the organization was awarded a deal to run a now-halted $912-million summer program, despite having close family ties to WE. As well, he later revealed he had recently cut a cheque for $41,000 to cover expenses WE Charity paid for his family during 2017 trips to Kenya and Ecuador.
His resignation means there is also another Ontario riding that will soon be up for grabs, the second Liberal seat to soon be vacated at a time when Trudeau’s minority needs to hold on to as many votes as possible due to the persistent push for a snap election from some opposition parties.
While he insisted leaving was his decision, and not the result of Trudeau pushing him on account for the rumoured policy tensions between the two, Morneau said his relationship with Trudeau was built on “vigorous discussion and debate,” but that always led to better policy.
Morneau said he had come to the conclusion he was no longer the “most appropriate person” for the job of finance minister because he wasn’t going to be there for the long haul, and is now eyeing the international role of secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, with the prime minister’s backing.
While Trudeau will have Freeland at the cabinet table to take on financial matters, he is also receiving external informal advice from former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, who some had thought was lining up to take Morneau’s job.
With files from CTV News’ Meredith MacLeod, Solarina Ho, and Michel Boyer
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