Morneau told reporters at an impromptu news conference in Ottawa that he had met with Trudeau earlier in the day and told him he did not intend to run in the next election. He said it was time for a new finance minister to chart an economic recovery that “will take many years.”
“We know that now the next step is going to be a long, and yes, uncertain recovery,” Morneau said. “We need a finance minister that’s going to be there for the long term, and that’s why I think now is the appropriate time for me to think about next steps, which I’m doing tonight.”
Morneau, 57, said he intends to put his name forward to become the next secretary general of the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In a statement, Trudeau thanked him for his “unwavering leadership” and said he would “vigorously support” his OECD bid.
“I want to thank Bill for everything he has done to improve the quality of life of Canadians and make our country a better and fairer place to live,” Trudeau said. “I have counted on his leadership, advice and close friendship over the years and I look forward to that continuing.”
Trudeau did not immediately announce a replacement.
Morneau’s resignation follows weeks of speculation about his future and a flurry of news reports about disagreements between him and Trudeau over environmental programs and the government’s roughly $180 billion in pandemic relief spending.
After Bloomberg News reported last week that Trudeau was looking to Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada and Bank of England, to advise the government on an economic recovery plan, Trudeau’s office released a statement saying it had “full confidence” in Morneau.
But even before the reported tensions bubbled to the surface, Morneau had been under intense pressure to quit after he became embroiled in an ethics controversy surrounding a decision to award a $30 million contract to run a $690 million grant program for student volunteers to WE Charity.
Canada’s independent ethics watchdog is investigating Trudeau and Morneau, whose families have close ties to the charity, for alleged violations of the country’s conflict-of-interest laws. Both men have apologized for failing to recuse themselves from the cabinet decision on the agreement, which has since been canceled.
In testimony before one of the parliamentary committees investigating the deal, Morneau told lawmakers that he had that morning cut a check to the charity for more than $30,000 in travel expenses incurred in 2017 when he and his family traveled with the organization to Kenya and Ecuador.
He said he had realized only that week that he had not paid those expenses and that it was always his intention “to pay the full costs of the trips.” But in a news release, WE Charity said the trips had been “complimentary” and that it occasionally invited potential donors on trips to see its work up close.
Andrew Scheer, outgoing leader of the Conservative Party, was among those calling for Morneau’s resignation. He said in a tweet that he didn’t buy that the resignation was voluntarily, that it was “proof of a government in chaos” and that “Trudeau has amputated his right hand to try and save himself.”
Before entering politics in 2015, Morneau, a Toronto millionaire, led the human resources firm Morneau Shepell and founded a school for Somali and Sudanese girls at a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees camp in Kenya.
Asked what it was like to read the stories, citing anonymous sources in Trudeau’s office, about his alleged worsening relationship with the prime minister, Morneau said it was “part of what it takes to be a minister of the Crown.”
“I’ll look forward to watching politics from the outside and hopefully contributing in another way,” he said.