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Canada needs more Bill Morneau

Bill Morneau has a clear idea of what it takes for a Canadian government to get things done.

It’s all there, laid out in the former Finance Minister’s book, “Where To From Here – A Path to Canadian Prosperity”.

It’s a very straightforward recipe: form a centrist government; have it led by people who have entered politics to “do” something instead of wanting to “be” someone; staff it with competent managers who can build a team that makes decisions.

Bill Morneau

If this is a novel suggestion, it’s probably because it’s rarely, if ever pulled off in government. It certainly wasn’t Morneau’s experience. He blames the current Prime Minister and staff in the PMO for being more focused on partisan politics than on effective management, to the detriment of the government and the country.

Yet, there’s a bigger and more important message in Morneau’s book. And that message is that a centrist, pragmatic and optimistic approach to government can unleash Canada’s amazing potential. And in so many cases, he’s on the right path.

That’s why Canada needs more of what Bill Morneau is offering up in his book.

Morneau offers ideas and approaches that differ from the angry and populist rage-farming from one side of the political spectrum, which he says “corrode the tolerant and centrist tradition behind Canada’s historical success and international respect”. At the same time, he clearly takes a step away from the free-spending approach many in the progressive camps on the left.

The strength and universal appeal of the centrist path that Morneau is urging Canadians to take shouldn’t in any way be pre-judged or clouded by whatever political stumbles or fails that he endured as Finance Minister.

Anyone who steps in the ring will get covered by dust and mud, and Morneau wears his own share – as he’s the first to admit.

Yet, he needs to be heard, and listened to carefully. Not many people with successful business careers and track records of getting things done in the private sector serve as Finance Minister of Canada and then write about their mistakes and lessons learned afterwards.

The policy ideas that Morneau highlights are interesting and strong. Key parts of his book contain realistic and pragmatic solutions to challenges like infrastructure, health care, climate change, NATO, and productivity.

Yet, it’s Morneau’s centrist, pragmatic path to doing politics differently that stands out for those of us at Centre Ice Canadians.

Here are a few samples:

1. Candidate selection: Morneau says a Party Leader should not be shy about taking a bigger role in candidate selection at the constituency level because “without at least some degree of pre-selection, the makeup of a government...becomes haphazard. That was the state of affairs prior to the 2015 election.”

2. Reaching across the aisle: Morneau initiated conversations with his shadow cabinet critics. “Lisa Raitt of the Conservatives and Guy Caron of the NDP…both proved to be bright, capable and genial personalities.” He also publicly gives credit to the Harper government for steps he felt were the right thing to do, including raising the retirement age from 65 to 67.

3. Staffing: One of Morneau’s biggest concerns is how difficult it can be to get the public service to move behind a policy imperative and execute in a timely manner. As Finance Minister, he didn’t have the authority to hire his preferred Chief of Staff. Other cabinet ministers suffered the same fate. Morneau writes that “rookie mistakes” were made as a result, and were compounded the new Liberal gov’t shelving aside on experienced insiders from previous governments.

4. PMO: Morneau says the “communication” advisors in the PMO increasingly had the final say on policy proposals, ignoring advice and input from elected officials, including cabinet ministers. He writes that “one of the worst moments of my political life” was when the government announced details of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy with spending levels “significantly higher than we had agreed would be the highest we should go the previous evening.”

5. Extremism: Morneau sees social media fostering extremism “when large portions of the population are pushed off centre positions and into dark corners by inexcusable claims”. His solution? “Our political parties need to restore trust in the minds of Canadians with deeds, not words.”

Centre Ice Canadians is hosting a Federal Budget 2023 event in Toronto on Tuesday, February 28th. We’ll be asking our four panellists – Andrew Coyne, Tyler Meredith, Bonnie Crombie and Lisa MacCormack Raitt - for their thoughts not only on the upcoming budget, but also on what they think of Bill Morneau’s centrist approach.

By bringing this event together, it’s our way of helping restore trust in the minds of Canadians that politics can indeed be done differently.

Rick Peterson is a co-founder and director of Centre Ice Canadians.

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