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Bill Morneau Drops Out Of OECD Secretary-General Race

He resigned as Canada’s finance minister in August amid the WE Charity controversy.
Bill Morneau announces his resignation during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Aug. 17, 2020.
Bill Morneau announces his resignation during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Aug. 17, 2020.

Former federal finance minister Bill Morneau is ending his bid for the top job in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Morneau announced in a statement Tuesday he is dropping out of the race to become the next secretary-general of the OECD because he doesn’t have “support from enough members to move on to the third round of the campaign.

“I am proud to have used this opportunity to talk about issues that matter to Canadians and to the world — the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the fight against climate change, inclusive growth and seizing the opportunities of the digital world,” he said.

The 37-member intergovernmental organization, currently led by Angel Gurria, promotes economic growth and democracy as means to tackle social issues and the challenges of globalization. A new secretary-general will be chosen in March for a five-year term that begins in June.

Morneau resigned as both finance minister and the MP for Toronto Centre in August amid the WE Charity controversy and reports of a policy rift with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that both men publicly denied.

Morneau had been facing opposition pressure to step down for not recusing himself from the government’s since-scrapped decision to tap WE Charity to manage a student-grant program. One of Morneau’s daughters had done contract work for the organization and another was an unpaid speaker at WE events.

While appearing before the House of Commons finance committee in July, Morneau revealed he personally repaid the WE organization more than $41,000 to cover travel expenses for family trips to Kenya and Ecuador in 2017.

The federal conflict of interest and ethics commissioner cleared Morneau in October for failing to disclose a gift from WE Charity, saying Morneau “genuinely believed” he paid the full amount for those two trips. The ethics watchdog is continuing to investigate if Morneau violated conflict rules by not recusing himself from cabinet’s decision to have WE Charity manage the ill-fated grant program.

Trudeau is also facing an ethics investigation over his involvement in the decision and failure to recuse, given his family’s close ties to the WE organization.

Morneau, who was first elected in 2015, said in August he was leaving federal politics because it had never been his plan to “run for more than two federal election cycles.” Trudeau, he said at the time, needed a finance minister by his side for the “long and challenging recovery” from the COVID-19 crisis.

Morneau said the OECD role was something “new and different” that would let him put his skills to use. “The prime minister has given me full support in this quest,” he said.

Trudeau named Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland as Morneau’s replacement the next day. Liberal Marci Ien won a fall byelection to fill Morneau’s vacant seat in the House.

In late September, then-foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne announced Canada had nominated Morneau as its candidate for OECD secretary-general.

“The next OECD Secretary-General must have a clear vision and experience in shaping policy with a view to implementing new standards,” Champagne said in a release.

“It is critical, particularly on issues such as economic recovery, digital regulation and taxation and climate issues, that the next OECD Secretary-General is a bridge-builder, like Bill Morneau. He is the leader the OECD needs now to meet the challenges of tomorrow.”

In November, CBC News reported 19 public servants at Global Affairs Canada were working on Morneau’s campaign on a part-time basis.

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