There are times in this time of COVID that it feels like we’re being swamped by everything that’s going on. So many big things have happened with such intensity in the moment, only to disappear from the news and be forgot as other big things come forward. I guess that’s life when you’ve living through a global pandemic and economic crisis. It can all feel a bit discombobulating somedays.
That’s the thought that came to my mind as a certain piece of news came out this afternoon, that sparked the memory of a past scandal that was as intense as it was engaging; the WE Scandal. Oh yes, that unresolved bit of work that led the Liberal government to eventual prorogue government after losing their Finance Minister Bill Morneau. At the time, Morneau stepped aside he said to go after other pursuits.
Being caught in the middle of the whole WE imbroglio, he decided that August was the time to go after a position that was clearly more attractive to him; secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This all seemed a little too convenient given everything that was happening in Ottawa, yet that was the story that we were all pitched, and that the government of Canada supported his candidacy. So that was all dredged up in my mind when this non-descript Tweet came out, with a short three-paragraph stated attached in both official languages:
And just like that, Bill Morneau is out…. again. The explanation? He didn’t have enough from enough members to get to the third round of the campaign. So he bowed out, he’s done, he’s going home. I don’t want to pile on and do my best Nelson Muntz impression here, but at the same time this bit of news can’t pass without some commentary on a couple key points.
Firstly, the idea that this former Finance Minister, who was a part of a scandal that had made the press worldwide, was a prime candidate for this position was always full of faulty logic at best to be polite. It’s not that Morneau isn’t a smart guy or know his stuff. If he decided to take this leap before all the WE Scandal stuff started, he probably would have been a very good choice and would have had a good shot at winning the position. But the idea that he would try to run for this while having this scandal chase him out of cabinet and elected life was always a losing proposition. Any candidate running against him had an easy time, being able to point to that scandal, along with fines paid to the Ethics Commissioner and an investigation from the same office stemming from the WE Scandal that was eventually dropped. No amount of financial smarts and likeability would be able to undo that stinking albatross hanging around his neck. So that alone made his candidacy a failed venture from the start, which is why most people didn’t buy it as his reason for resigning as Finance Minister.
But secondly and maybe most importantly in these days of COVID is the Liberal governments support of this candidacy. That wasn’t just moral support, a few letters of reference and a well-wishing handshake as Bill went out on the OECD campaign trail. No, no, no, this Liberal government didn’t just stop things there. According to media reporting from November 2020, 19 public servants at Global Affairs Canada (GAC) were working on a part-time basis to help his campaign out. That complement of staff included “public servants working in communications and media relations, policy advisers and analysts, diplomatic outreach and protocol officers, an assistant deputy minister responsible for strategic policy and a number of GAC staff who regularly liaise with the OECD”. Those officials also offered Morneau’s campaign “strategic policy advice, advocacy and support,” “communications advice and support,” and “coordination of diplomatic outreach.”
Folks, all that staff time doesn’t come for free and given everything that all departments in the Government of Canada have had to juggle while dealing with COVID-19, helping a resigned Finance Minister to run for the OECD could have reasonably been seen as not the best use of time. The same can be said for all other expenses paid for during this abandoned campaign, including the $6,265.76 in hospitality costs that CBC had report had been spent on the campaign as of November. Surely that number is higher, and the overall cost of this campaign will likely be far more when you include the cost of the staff assigned to this failed campaign.
In the end, that’s more government money flushed down the toilet that could have gone towards all kinds of needs during COVID times. That money could have bought PPE, could have bought vaccines, could have been used to support unemployed Canadians, or small businesses, or the provinces as they try to handle out of control COVID outbreaks in long term care homes. There is literally no lack for need right now when it comes to our fight against COVID and yet, in these perilous times, this Liberal government just blew that money on an OECD campaign that was doomed to fail from the start.
And for what? To try to give Bill Morneau a quicker out after the Prime Minister threw him under the bus in the WE Scandal? This candidacy was never about having a qualified Canadian lead the OECD, but was always about trying to give Bill Morneau a “plausible” place to exit the political stage, despite the fact that it was clear this candidacy was never plausible in these circumstances. While I hope that opposition parties don’t dwell on this news today, I do hope that they don’t let it pass without comment either. Canadians deserve to know how much money our government wasted on this damaged lifeboat of an OECD campaign, and we need to have a full accounting for what this fiasco has cost us. This all needs to be added to the record of the entire WE Scandal and part of its history. This government needs to be held to account for this because even though we are dealing with a global pandemic and economic crisis, there is no excuse for being any less accountable to we Canadians. As I’ve said from the start of this, we don’t expect perfection right now, but we do expect competence. The competent thing to do here is to fully account for every penny spent on this candidacy, so Canadians can take that information and make their own judgements on what should be done at the ballot box, whenever that next chance comes.