Former finance minister Bill Morneau says he’s worried about the country’s future, blaming the government for not focusing on economic growth and letting politics get in the way of progress on issues like pharmacare .
In a candid keynote address at the annual CD Howe Institute Directors’ Dinner, Morneau – who served as finance minister in the Trudeau government from 2015 to 2020 – said a lack of focus on long-term economic growth means that the country will go through difficult times, and face difficult choices, in the years to come.
And Morneau did not hesitate to criticize the government of which he was once a part.
“So much time and energy has been spent finding ways to redistribute Canada’s wealth that little attention has been paid to the importance of increasing our collective prosperity – let alone developing a disciplined way of thinking and act on the problem,” Morneau said in prepared remarks. .
“There’s not really a sense of urgency in Ottawa about our lack of competitiveness. It’s like we’re the proverbial frog in the pot, not realizing what’s happening to us as the heat gradually rises. “
Morneau said slow productivity growth is the main reason Canada’s economic growth is lagging, which in turn has been caused by low levels of capital and investment in research and Development.
Politics versus economic progress
But when it came to the government, he said the focus on short-term political goals was getting in the way of tackling longer-term challenges.
He cited the government’s failure to implement the recommendations of the Federal Advisory Council on Economic Growth, a group he convened in 2016for exemple.
“The recommendations – even the excellent ones that could and should have been followed – became politicized,” he said.
“And the net result is quite predictable. I had a hard time getting our government to focus on the need for sustained economic growth, as it was constantly crowded out by other things that seemed more politically urgent, even though they weren’t really that important.”
Morneau also criticized the government’s approach to pharmacare, saying the government rejected a more hands-on approach he had proposed.
“With respect to pharmacare, when I suggested that we find a way to work within the current system and focus on closing the gaps in coverage and care, I been drowned out by the impractical voices of advocates who wanted to see global change,” he said. said.
“I find it baffling that the government has made new commitments on dental care while the challenge of pharmacare remains unresolved.”
Ottawa must mend relations with Alberta: Morneau
Morneau offered a number of solutions for what he said were ailing the country, including improving relations between the federal government and the provinces and territories.
He cited intergovernmental relations as one of his failings.
“I have failed to get our government to work collaboratively with the provinces and territories on some of the most important issues facing our country: health care, business investment, the energy transition,” said Morneau.
He singled out the political divide between the federal government and Alberta as an issue and urged the premier to meet immediately with outgoing premier Jason Kenney’s successor.
“The ideological differences are real, but they are not insurmountable. The Prime Minister and the new Prime Minister should sit down together, ideally without a room full of political staff, and try to develop a real working relationship, based on the personal confidence,” he said. “And then do it again. As often as needed. It’s in our national interest to do it, and it’s also in Alberta’s interest.”
Morneau added that he would like to see a permanent commission focused on improving economic growth and a fiscal anchor to government spending, among other things.
“The bad news is that the coming years will not be easy,” he concluded.
“The good news is that we are up to the challenge.”
Trudeau defends his record
During a land claims settlement announcement in the Siksika First Nation east of Calgary, Trudeau defended his government’s record when asked about criticism from his former finance minister.
“When we were elected in 2015, we made a commitment to grow the middle class and help those working hard to join it, and that’s exactly what we did,” he said.
Trudeau highlighted his government’s approach to taxes – raising them for those in the top 1% and lowering them for those in the lower tax brackets.
He mentioned the Canada child benefit, which he said “has lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty”, as well as the child care agreements his government has negotiated with the provinces and territories.
But Trudeau didn’t seem to want to hit back at Morneau.
“We continued to move forward in a way that ensured Canadians were at the center of the growth we create,” he said.
“Bill was an important part of that and an important member of the team.”
Trudeau also highlighted the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic support programs the government introduced in response, and the economic recovery from the COVID-19 shutdowns.
“We know that by supporting Canadians — by ensuring that everyone has a real and fair chance to succeed — that’s how you create the best growth,” he said.