If you are looking for fulsome – albeit primarily critical – reviews, you can find them here, here, here, and here, along with an interview with Morneau here.
Like most of the reviewers, it is hard for me not to find the book disingenuous.
Morneau claims to be focused on the need for Canadians, through Ottawa, to make improving productivity their government’s primary objective.
It’s a great idea, and he offers – in places – convincing evidence in support of its legitimacy.
The problem is that he spends too much of the book slagging his former Cabinet colleagues, and particularly his prime minister, as unserious.
It is hard to believe that Morneau could have thought that coverage of his book would focus on anything but the gossipy criticism.
Had he really wanted to make a case for a growth-focused agenda – something that we desperately need to hear – he should have looked forward, not backward, and avoided the temptation to settle scores with a prime minister’s office that, admittedly, railroaded him out of politics in a manner that he did not deserve.
I am also disappointed with Morneau’s policy solution: a council of advisors modeled on Australia’s Productivity Commission.
Canadian Liberal governments have demonstrated repeatedly that they will ignore recommendations from such commissions that don’t please them, while Conservatives typically close such groups down under the guise of shrinking the size of the bureaucracy.
Why Morneau thinks his commission would have greater success is unclear.
I would have much preferred a simpler recommendation, at least for the current government: stop spending unexpected financial windfalls.
The Liberals’ economic rationale for the last eight years has been something along the lines of this: we need to invest in the future, even if we have to go into debt doing so, because the long-term gains from our investments will easily exceed the short-term borrowing costs.
As Morneau himself concedes, it is a reasonable argument, at least when the investments aim to promote economic growth and improve productivity.
But you’re supposed to use the spoils of your success to pay back the loan. And that’s where the Trudeau government, just like the Dalton McGuinty government from which many of its political staff are drawn, has consistently fallen short. When a government is running deficits, found money should be used to restock the shelves.
I am also struggling with two particular criticisms that Morneau levels at Trudeau: first, that by declaring all Cabinet ministers equal in late 2015, he prevented his government from setting clear priorities; second, that the lengthy delay in naming a Cabinet after the 2019 election was a “a huge dereliction of the managerial process.”
It seems to me that both actions were all but inevitable given the prime minister’s commitment to a gender-balanced Cabinet.
When the Liberals announced their first Cabinet in 2015, five of the fifteen women included were named ministers of state.
Although technically full members of the government, ministers of state are paid about $20,000 less than their peers responsible for specific departments.
Once the Liberals were called out for the discrepancy, the prime minister swiftly declared all ministers equal and passed the necessary legislation to equalize the pay.
So if you want to criticize anyone here, focus on the transition team for the initial oversight.
In 2019, the Liberals had hoped to make star candidate Pascale St-Onge a minister, but the results in her riding were so tight that it took nearly a month for the recount to confirm her victory.
In that context, again given the commitment to a gender-balanced Cabinet, it seems to me that the Prime Minister’s Office had no good options:
They could have dropped St-Onge, lest she lose the recount.
They could have announced a Cabinet that was not gender-balanced, and saved her a spot.
They could have appointed a gender-balanced Cabinet, and then added St-Onge and another man to two new portfolios after her win was confirmed (which would have been brutally awkward).
Or they could have simply waited, which they did.
Morneau complains that the PMO’s silence during this period was unforgivable, but if an amateur like me can figure out what was likely going on, surely a senior Cabinet minister with four years of political experience should have been able to do the same.
In sum, Bill Morneau’s ideas about the future of Canada are good ones, but we need someone to deliver them who has fewer grudges to settle and greater political acuity.
Although I don’t agree with some of his analysis, Ian Brodie’s post-politics book/memoir, At the Centre of Government: The Prime Minister and the Limits on Political Power, does a much better job of staying analytical.
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