Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will tap Chrystia Freeland to be Canada’s first female finance minister on Tuesday as an ethics scandal that clipped her predecessor’s wings reverberates through his government.
Broadcasters CBC and CTV said Freeland’s appointment will be announced in a cabinet shuffle that a government source told AFP is scheduled this afternoon.
Trudeau will also suspend parliament until October, with a new federal budget to follow its return to work, said the source.
Freeland, 52, has held key posts in the Liberal government including her current role as deputy prime minister and previously as foreign minister, as well as leading free trade talks with the US and Mexico.
The former journalist, first elected in 2015 and well-respected by her peers, is to take on the job as Canada goes through its worst economic crisis since the Second World War.
After five years in the post, Bill Morneau — under pressure from opposition parties — announced his surprise resignation from politics late Monday.
He told a news conference he was leaving to pursue the job of secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In recent weeks, local media had reported a growing rift between Trudeau and Morneau on how to reboot the Canadian economy weakened by the new coronavirus pandemic, as the government budget deficit soared to more than Can$340 billion (US$257 billion).
Morneau was also being investigated by Canada’s ethics commissioner over his ties to a charity tasked with distributing pandemic relief to young Canadians.
Trudeau himself is also being probed over his family ties to the WE Charity, which paid his wife, brother and mother for speaking engagements.
– Charity questions –
Both Trudeau and Morneau apologized last month for the affair, saying they erred in not recusing themselves from discussions about awarding the roughly Can$500 million contract to WE Charity to distribute student scholarship funds.
Morneau faced calls to step down after he revealed he had only recently paid back more than Can$41,000 in travel expenses to the charity, where one of his daughters works.
The reimbursement check — which was a bit less than the average Canadian annual salary — was meant to cover expenses incurred by the charity over two humanitarian trips he and his family took in 2017.
The scholarship program has been cancelled but the controversy remains.
In his final public remarks as an MP, Morneau denied that his departure was linked to the scandal. But opposition parties remain skeptical, saying he was made a scapegoat.
“We all know it was the scandal that brought Mr. Morneau down,” Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said Tuesday.
“In fact, we now have a government of corruption, coverup and chaos at a time of a deadly pandemic and the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression,” he told a news conference.
The Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet accused Trudeau of “throwing his finance minister (Morneau) under a bus.”
Blanchette said the Bloc would seek to topple Trudeau’s minority government in the coming months and trigger snap elections, but it would need the support of at least two other parties to do so.
The Conservatives are set to elect a new leader this week, while the New Democrats and Greens have rejected going to the polls in the midst of a global health crisis.
Opinion polls show the Liberals have been damaged by the scandal, but are still positioned well for an early election.
© 2020 AFP