OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he has full confidence in Finance Minister Bill Morneau and that any reports to the contrary are false.
Trudeau’s office has taken the unusual step of issuing a statement in support of Morneau in a bid to shut down speculation the finance minister is about to be fired.
In the statement, the Prime Minister’s Office praises Morneau’s record, including his “lead role” in creating emergency aid programs to help individuals and businesses survive the economic shutdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement says Morneau and other ministers will “keep doing the work that Canadians rely on to get them through this pandemic.”
Earlier in the day, reports suggested Morneau could be ushered out as finance minister as he and Trudeau clashed over COVID-19 response measures.
According to sources cited by the Globe and Mail earlier in the day, Trudeau is planning to remake his cabinet before the fall sitting of Parliament and wasn’t committed to Morneau remaining as finance minister, a position he has held since the Liberals formed government in 2015.
Discussion of a shuffle comes as the House of Commons ethics committee investigates how a $912-million Student Services Grant program was initially to be administered by the WE Charity, despite the organization’s financial ties to the families of Trudeau and Morneau.
Morneau has previously apologized for not recusing himself from voting on the student-volunteering program since one of his daughters works for the charity. He also revealed he paid back more than $41,000 in travel expenses to WE.
Sources claimed Trudeau was unsure Morneau is the right fit for the finance portfolio and leading the country in its economic recovery. Differences between the pair over COVID-19 emergency plans include Morneau wanting a smaller wage subsidy, while another was whether or not to move CERB into employment insurance, the report suggests.
Trudeau has already announced Mark Carney, the former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor, as an informal advisor on how to address economic issues during and after the pandemic.
A statement from Morneau’s press secretary says he supports the prime minister.
‘Just a distraction’
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer believes talk of a cabinet shuffle is just the prime minister’s office trying to distract from Trudeau’s failures.
“So whether they trade Bill Morneau for somebody else really doesn’t matter as long as Justin Trudeau is prime minister,” Scheer said.
Trudeau is already being investigated by the commissioner for helping approve the contract to the Student Services Grant program, even though his mother, brother and wife were collectively paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking at WE events.
The ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, responded to requests from opposition MPs, saying he believes there was enough information to warrant an investigation of Morneau, as well.
The Canada Student Service Grant is aimed at students who haven’t been able to find work this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, offering up to $5,000 toward education costs in exchange for 500 hours of volunteering.