Bill Morneau says business hasn’t helped, targets political division in speech

“When you put ‘excite the base’ ahead of developing good policy…you do incalculable harm,” Morneau said, in an apparent reference to Pierre Poilievre’s attacks on BoC independence.

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Former federal finance minister Bill Morneau said the business community had done little to advance policy initiatives crucial to boosting the Canadian economy while he was in office, and was concerned by reducing taxes.

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Morneau, who ran human resources services firm Morneau Shepell before entering politics in 2015 – subsequently stepping down from his seat and finance portfolio in August 2020 – made the remarks in a lengthy speech prepared for a speaking engagement. at the annual CD Howe Institute Directors’ Dinner on Wednesday. evening in Toronto.

“On the collaboration front, it was difficult to get useful feedback from companies,” he said in his first major speech since leaving politics. “Most of the advice I’ve received from business leaders has come down to asking for tax cuts, but the reality is that Canada’s marginal effective tax rates are competitive.

He acknowledged that more could be done, but added that Canada’s productivity and economic issues “are not just about taxes.”

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Indeed, when Morneau resigned amid the WE Charity scandal in the summer of 2020, Ian Russell, then chief executive of the Investment Industry Association of Canada, said Morneau’s tenure had been “disappointing” on issues such as corporate taxation. He also cited competitiveness and foreign investment.

Morneau has notably tried to get the business community to invest in public-private initiatives such as major infrastructure projects. In his Wednesday speech, the former finance minister said the Canada Infrastructure Bank had “not had the impact hoped for” due to “a lack of commitment to the idea and politicians’ worst instincts”.

We must abandon the idea that the government itself can solve all the problems we face

Although no longer in the Liberal government, Morneau’s speech also appears to be aimed at the hopeful Conservative leadership Pierre Poilievre and his attacks on the independence of the Bank of Canada. Poilievre has pledged to get rid of Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem if he forms the next government.

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“When people of good conscience see politicians playing fast and loose with our institutions, they must speak out against this behavior,” Morneau said.

“It might help you sell a few extra subscriptions. It might even help you win an election. But when you put ‘grassroots excitement’ ahead of good policymaking…when you conspiracy theorists… you are causing untold harm to the country you claim to love and the people you seek to lead.

Morneau defended the independence of the Bank of Canada in his speech and said its structure should serve as a model in other areas.

“One of the most important and effective decisions of a previous generation was to make the central bank independent,” he said. “We need to look for other opportunities to decouple politics from politics.”

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Other targets of his speech included “politicizing” and dividing debate, which he said is not inevitable despite a partisan and adversarial system by design to ensure the government is held to account.

“Political competition is essential in the same way competition is essential in the marketplace,” he said. “But political competition doesn’t have to be ‘winner takes all’. It doesn’t have to be stupid.

The former finance minister also took aim at the media, whose scrutiny he said might feel personal even as journalists were doing their job of holding the powerful to account.

At the time of his resignation from politics, Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were being questioned by the federal Ethics Commissioner about family and personal ties to WE, which had secured a lucrative scholarship deal early in the year. COVID-19 pandemic. Trudeau was later cleared, but it was found that Morneau should have backed out of cabinet discussions about awarding the multimillion-dollar contract to WE Charity, which he admitted after the Privacy Commissioner’s conclusion. ethics.

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In his speech Wednesday, Morneau sounded a note of hope for Canada’s prosperity – if different levels of government and the business community can find ways to work together to address Canada’s declining productivity, to “anaemic” capital investment and lagging comparative GDP growth projections.

“We need a national body that focuses attention and forces discussion on our need for economic growth – and we need to overcome the idea that one party has a monopoly on good ideas,” he said. .

“In fact, we have to abandon the idea that the government itself can solve all the problems we face. Climate investments, meeting our productivity challenge, an aging society… these are all shocks to the supply side of the economy, and real solutions are more likely to be found around the boardroom table or in universities and think tanks than at the cabinet table.

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