Chrystia Freeland was sworn in as Canada’s new finance minister today, becoming the first woman to take on the powerful role.
Up until today, Freeland, the former foreign affairs minister, was serving as deputy prime minister and intergovernmental affairs minister. She will retain her role as deputy prime minister but hands over her responsibilities for relations with the provinces to Dominic LeBlanc.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the adjustment to his cabinet today after Bill Morneau stepped down late Monday.
The ceremony occurred at Rideau Hall this afternoon.
Trudeau later told reporters that Canada and the world are at a crossroads as his government and others attempt to relaunch their economies amid surges of COVID-19, and that Freeland was the right minister for the challenges the country now faces.
PM grateful for Freeland’s service
“Chrystia Freeland and I have had conversations over the past almost decade now about how we need to create a fairer country for Canadians, how we need to grow the economy in ways that [help] everyone. She wrote a book on the subject and has been a key player in my government since Day 1,” Trudeau said.
“As we look to building a better, more [fair] Canada that is prosperous in creating real opportunity for everyone, I can think of no one who is better suited to work alongside me and the rest of this amazing team as our finance minister to build that better future for Canadians.”
Trudeau said that he was grateful for Freeland’s service and would continue to rely on her in the coming months. He also announced that he had asked Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to prorogue Parliament until Sept. 23 when the Liberal government will return with a new throne speech.
Freeland said she was conscious of the fact that she is now the first woman to hold the office of finance minister at the federal level and said it’s about time that the glass ceiling was broken.
“I’d like to say to all the Canadian women across our amazing country who are out there breaking glass ceilings: keep going. We are 100 per cent with you,” she said.
She said she has taken a particular pride in the Liberal government’s feminist agenda and is glad that work is continuing.
“The economic challenge created by the coronavirus is hitting women particularly hard. It’s hitting mothers particularly hard,” Freeland said. “We are seeing women’s participation in the workforce fall very sharply, and certainly I’m glad that I’ll have an opportunity to bring my experience as a woman, as a mother, to this really important challenge our country is facing.”
‘Open, candid conversations’
Freeland was asked about her efforts so far to challenge Trudeau when she disagrees with a decision he has made. She said that while there have been disagreements in the past, she would not reveal on what issues.
“For me always to be an effective minister, my motto has been to have open, candid conversations with the prime minister in private but also to have a united front when we come out in public. And I’d like to thank the prime minister who has treated me that way, too. That’s a really, really important part of any working relationship,” she said.
Freeland went on to say that when disagreements between her and Trudeau did occur they “actually, collectively, brought our government to a better decision.”
As the Liberal government looks to chart its path forward, Freeland said she will ensure that growth agenda is implemented with the decarbonization of the economy in mind.
“The restart of our economy needs to be green,” she said. “It also needs to be equitable, it needs to be inclusive and we need to focus very much on jobs and growth.”
Morneau a ‘wonderful finance minister’
The newly minted finance minister also she was grateful to work with Morneau who she described as someone who has been a “wonderful finance minister” for Canada on both the new NAFTA agreement and the restarting of the economy.
Morneau resigned as finance minister and also as the MP for Toronto Centre on Monday, after meeting with Trudeau.
Morneau said he did not plan to run in more than two election cycles and that it is the best time to let a fresh minister steer Canada through its post-pandemic economic recovery.
Both Morneau and Trudeau are being investigated by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion after the Liberal government gave WE Charity a $43.53-million contract to administer a $900-million student grant program despite both their families having close ties to the charity.
Trudeau said that Morneau had worked tirelessly over the past five years to improve the economic reality for Canadians.
“I want to thank Bill for his outstanding service as minister of finance and as the member of Parliament for Toronto Centre,” Trudeau said. “No matter his next steps, I know he will continue to make important contributions to our country in the years to come.”
Trudeau was asked if he tried to get Morneau to reconsider his decision to resign as finance minister but the prime minister dodged the question.
“It has been a privilege to work with Bill, and I wish him all the best in the coming years, but I am excited about the work that the team is going to have in front of us in the coming months and years,” Trudeau said.
Asked if Trudeau wanted an election in the fall, he said that he did not but whenever the next election is, he will be running for re-election as prime minister.
Scandal ‘brought Mr. Morneau down,’ Poilievre says
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said playing “musical chairs” with the cabinet will not allow the Liberals to overcome the government’s failures.
There had been media reports that Morneau and Trudeau were at odds over policy options, but Poilievre rejected that claim as “fiction.”
“We all know it was scandal that brought Mr. Morneau down,” he said. “In fact, we now have a government of corruption, coverup and chaos at a time of a deadly pandemic and the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression.”
Asked repeatedly if the Conservatives would try to trigger an election, Poilievre said his party would use its “strength in numbers” to uncover the truth and to hold the government to account.
“At some point in the future, that decision will have to be made,” he said.
Poilievre said Morneau is a “boy scout” compared to Trudeau’s ethics breaches, and said the prime minister should resign.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has said he will try to trigger a fall election if the prime minister, his chief of staff and the finance minister didn’t resign.
Today, he accused Trudeau of throwing Morneau under the bus.
“[Trudeau] wants to be superman going into the phone booth to change his uniform, but there’s no real change in the prime minister’s behaviour,” he said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh agreed that Morneau is a scapegoat and that his resignation does not change the channel on the ongoing controversies
“This is a government that is working, that was fighting itself, that has been working for the betterment of their own, themselves as Liberals and their close friends, and that means Canadians are hurting and Canadians hurting is something that keeps me up at night,” he said.
“Right now, we’ve got Canadians that are worried just in a couple weeks that they’re going to lose their CERB, and now they see the finance minister resigning and they see a Liberal government that’s more interested in themselves and scandals than actually helping the people that need help.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford welcomed Freeland’s appointment, telling reporters that he sent her a message of congratulations and committed to working with a minister he called “amazing.”
“There’s no better person that I want to work with than Chrystia Freeland,” Ford said. “She’s going to do an incredible job. She’s a good friend, and I can’t wait to start working with her to move our projects forward.”