Politics

Bill Morneau bows out of race to lead OECD

Former finance minister Bill Morneau says he is withdrawing from the race to lead the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Former finance minister says he didn't have enough support to win secretary-general post

Bill Morneau has withdrawn his bid to lead the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Former finance minister Bill Morneau says he is withdrawing from the race to lead the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In a statement posted to Twitter, Morneau said he failed to receive enough support to move on to the third round of the selection process to become the next secretary-general of the intergovernmental agency.

"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," Morneau's statement said.

"I am looking forward to the next secretary-general being a strong voice on the important issues that affect us all."

Morneau joined the OECD race after resigning suddenly as both finance minister and MP for Toronto Centre in August 2020, while the Liberal government was embroiled in the WE Charity scandal. He said at the time that he had been thinking of leaving federal politics and running for the top diplomatic post well before the WE Charity affair prompted his sudden departure from cabinet.

The Paris-based OECD, established in 1961, collects statistical, economic and social data and helps develop evidence-based policies to address a wide range of global issues. Its 37 members account for approximately 60 per cent of the world's economy.

Angel Gurría, a Mexican economist and former diplomat, has served as secretary-general since 2006. He will step down later this year. 

Two other candidates have announced they were chosen to move on to the next round — former EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström of Sweden and Philipp Hildebrand of Switzerland, who is currently vice-chair of BlackRock, the world's largest investment management company.

We Charity scandal

Prior to his resignation, both Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came under fire for participating in cabinet discussions that led to the awarding of a contract to WE Charity for the administration of the federal government's COVID-19 summer student grants program — despite both men having close personal ties to the organization. 

Morneau's daughter Grace worked at WE in the travel department at the time. His other daughter, Clare, has spoken at WE Day events. Morneau also admitted to belatedly paying back over $41,000 in travel expenses to WE Charity for trips he took with the organization to Ecuador and Kenya.

Trudeau has participated in WE events and several of his family members have been paid to do so as well.

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion ended his investigation into Morneau's trips in October, saying he accepted the former minister's contention that he thought he had reimbursed the travel costs. But Dion continues to investigate whether both Trudeau and Morneau breached the Conflict of Interest Act by failing to recuse themselves from cabinet deliberations about WE Charity.

Dion's office would not speculate Tuesday on when the ethics commissioner might deliver his verdict.

"Both examinations are ongoing and Commissioner Dion will report on them once they have been completed," it said.

"There is no timeline for when his reports will be released. Our office conducts investigations thoroughly and with a high degree of diligence, and we make the reports public as quickly as possible."

Public servants supported campaign

Despite reports of friction between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Morneau during the summer months over the WE Charity scandal, Trudeau had endorsed his former finance minister for the diplomatic post, saying Canada would "vigorously support" Morneau's candidacy.

According to figures tabled in the House of Commons in November, 19 public servants at Global Affairs Canada (GAC) were working on a part-time basis to support Morneau's campaign.

In a written response to a question from Conservative Saskatchewan MP Corey Tochor about the cost of that support, the department said it didn't have a final price tag for all diplomatic and advocacy efforts. The campaign had incurred $6,265.76 in hospitality costs by that time as part of the outreach to OECD member delegates and "other OECD-related representatives based in Paris."

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said the government is disappointed that Morneau did not have enough support to continue in the race to head the OECD.

"We felt that Bill Morneau was the ideal candidate for the job in these difficult times," Garneau said in French in the House of Commons. He thanked the former minister for his "dedication" and his work on improving Canadians' quality of life.

"Although this isn't the outcome we'd hoped for, we will be working with the next secretary-general for the OECD, who will be chosen by its members."

With files from The Canadian Press

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