Chrystia Freeland Becomes Canada’s First Female Finance Minister as Trudeau Seeks to Prorogue Parliament

Chrystia Freeland

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is set to become Canada's first female finance minister amidst reports suggesting that Prime Minister Trudeau aims to prorogue government. Photo: Melissa Tait /The Globe and Mail/The Canadian Press

UPDATE: Chrystia Freeland was sworn in as Canada’s new finance minister this afternoon, becoming the first woman to hold the position. She also remains Canada’s deputy prime minister, while Dominic LeBlanc, who served as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in 2018 and 2019, returns to the role, taking it over from Freeland.

“It’s about time we broke that glass ceiling,” Freeland said in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Trudeau this afternoon, when asked about her historic appointment. “One of the hallmarks of our government has been an explicitly and proudly feminist agenda … and I’m very glad that that work is continuing.”

Trudeau also notes at the press conference that he had asked Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to prorogue parliament, adding that the government would reconvene on Wednesday, Sept. 23, the same week the House of Commons was already scheduled to return.

The Prime Minister said that, upon return, he will “lay out, in detail, our approach for the future.” He added that, at that time, a vote of confidence would take place based on the new plan his government puts forward. When questioned about the possibility of that vote triggering an election, Trudeau said he doesn’t want an election and is hopeful the various parties can work together.

When challenged on his decision to prorogue parliament after decrying then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper for doing the same thing in 2015, Trudeau said that, “Stephen Harper and the Conservatives prorogued government and shut it down to avoid a confidence vote.” By contrast, he said his government is shutting down the government and then returning the week the House of Commons was set to reconvene anyway and will face a confidence vote on their vision for moving Canada forward.

Others suggested that the prorogation of government allows Trudeau to put a halt to investigations he faces over the WE Charity scandal. The Prime Minister, however, countered that he and his government have handed over all of the relevant documents required for the investigation.


EARLIER: Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister, will also become Canada’s first female finance minister, according to reports. The news comes in the wake of Bill Morneau’s resignation from the finance minister post on Monday following backlash for his role in the WE Charity scandal, and the news on Tuesday morning that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reportedly seeking to prorogue parliament to offer his government a chance to restart with a throne speech in October.

According to CTV, Trudeau is expected to name 52-year-old Freeland the finance minister — she’ll retain her post as deputy prime minister — and task her with “tak[ing] on steering Canada through what’s ballooned to be a $343-billion deficit, expanded in large part to pay for a suite of emergency benefits, and to stave off further staggering job losses.” The report also notes that it’s likely that someone else will take on Freeland’s role as minister of intergovernmental affairs.

Freeland, of course, has a background related to finance, working in editorial roles at publications including the Financial Times before becoming an elected official, in which capacity she’s previously served as Minister of International Trade. She’s also penned two books — Sale of the Century: Russia’s Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism (2000) and Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, a 2012 bestseller that also won the 2013 National Business Book Award and 2013 Lionel Gelber Prize.

The CBC, meanwhile, is reporting that this move will come as Trudeau plans to request permission from Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to prorogue government until October to allow the Liberal government to take a breather and compose themselves amidst the WE Charity backlash. The outlet noted that a timeline for proroguing the government isn’t known at this time.

The beleaguered Governor General has herself come under scrutiny recently for her own behaviour. On Monday, news reports quoted sources at Rideau Hall and within the RCMP alleging that Payette routinely changes plans on her RCMP security detail while on trips, and has even tried to elude them, resulting in what a CBC story described as, “added security risks and unnecessary taxpayer costs.”  That CBC report also alleges Payette has treated foreign security “poorly,” prompting officials to have to apologize on her behalf, which echoes an ongoing Privy Council Office review of allegations of workplace harassment claims against the Governor General which began in July. And earlier this month, Payette came under fire after it was revealed that, despite spending more than a quarter-of-a-million taxpayer dollars to accommodate her specific requests for increased privacy at the Governor General’s official residence at Rideau Hall, three years into her tenure she still hasn’t moved in.


Morneau’s Resignation


Morneau announced his resignation as finance minister, as well as his resignation as Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre, in a press conference on Monday.

“I met with the prime minister today to inform him that I did not plan to run again in the next federal election. It has never been my plan to run for more than two federal election cycles,” Morneau, 57, said. “Since I’m not running again, and since I expect that we will have a long and challenging recovery, I think it’s important that the prime minister has by his side a finance minister who has that longer term vision. That’s what led me to conclude during this time period that it’s appropriate for me to step down.”

Chrystia Freeland
Minister of Finance Bill Morneau announces his resignation during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. Photo: The Canadian Press/Justin Tang


Morneau’s resignation comes in the wake of the WE Charity scandal, in which the Liberal government awarded a massive contract to the charity that has ties to both the Trudeau family and Morneau, who has one daughter who works for the charity and another who has served as both a volunteer and speaker. The charity also paid multiple members of the Trudeau family to speak at events and Morneau himself recently repaid $41,000 the charity doled out in 2017 for his personal travel to Kenya and Ecuador. And last week, Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet threatened to force a non-confidence vote against the minority Liberal government — which could lead to another election — should no one from the party resign over the scandal.

In a statement following the resignation, Trudeau said that Morneau had, “worked relentlessly to support all Canadians and create a resilient, fair economy that benefits everyone,” crediting him with helping Canada develop, “a strong economy with one of the best balance sheets in the G7,” as well as creating jobs and a historic low unemployment rate.

Trudeau also noted that “Canada will vigorously support” Morneau in his stated intention to vie for the role of Secretary-General for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).


Opposition Responds


In response to Morneau’s resignation on Monday, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted his displeasure with the Liberal government while also releasing a statement saying, “This is the third time the Prime Minister has been investigated for breaking ethics laws – and he was found guilty the first two times. After losing his senior advisor, and Ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, Mr. Morneau is the latest in a string of people that have taken the heat for the Prime Minister when he’s gotten caught breaking ethics laws. When the Prime Minister breaks the law to help himself and wealthy insiders, all Canadians pay the price.”

Meanwhile, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer tweeted that, “Bill Morneau’s ‘resignation’ is further proof of a government in chaos. At a time when Canadians are worried about their health and their finances, Justin Trudeau’s government is so consumed by scandal that Trudeau has amputated his right hand to try and save himself.”