Morneau told POLITICO in an interview Friday that the OECD will be gripped by the international pandemic response — and he argued his Canadian experience is directly relevant for the job.
“I don’t think anybody can step into the role of the secretary-general in 2021 without recognizing the pandemic is going to be central,” Morneau said. “I would want to immediately be focused on how we can help to understand the impacts around the world and develop policies that can address the challenges that are to come.”
A look at his CV: Morneau, who has meetings scheduled in Paris starting Saturday with OECD ambassadors, shared his sales pitch.
When it comes to the OECD, he said one immediate focus will be the heated talk around the taxation of digital giants, which include Facebook, Google and Amazon. The talks, which have led to tariff threats by the Trump administration, have so far failed to produce a deal.
Morneau, who was involved in the negotiations, said he can benefit from the relationships he’s nurtured over the years. They include a close friendship with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Morneau insists he sees a landing zone for digital taxes.
“We’ve done a huge amount of work already,” he said. “There are potential solutions on the table. They’re not all the same, of course. I think it is about recognizing that American interests are going to be different because most of these large firms are domiciled in the United States.”
His resume will highlight his work toward installing a national carbon pricing program, getting provinces to agree to expand the Canada Pension Plan as well as introducing measures to boost opportunities for women and the Trudeau government’s vision for “inclusive growth.”
Morneau also plans to tout his experience at global forums, like the G-7, G-20, IMF, World Bank and the OECD.
The controversy that surrounded his resignation: Morneau stepped down suddenly amid a political storm last month.
He was entangled in the scandal after failing to recuse himself from a Cabinet decision to award a no-bid contract to WE Charity to administer a C$900-million student volunteer grant program related to Canada’s pandemic response.
Amid the controversy, Morneau revealed to a parliamentary committee that he failed to pay for more than C$41,000 worth of travel expenses from trips he, his wife and one of their daughters took with WE in 2017. Morneau, who has a daughter who worked for WE, insisted he had only just realized he hadn’t paid for the travel costs.
Asked if he thought WE controversy could affect his OECD bid, Morneau said he thought he had been pretty clear that he’s acknowledged he made a mistake and should have, in hindsight, recused himself.
“As people look at the broader nature of what we’ve achieved, and in my case, my focus on the community, including, you know, significant philanthropy over a very long period of time, they’ll see that was an unfortunate part of a much broader plan that was put in place to make a real difference,” he said.
Morneau’s reason for leaving Canadian politics: He revealed Friday that the OECD was on his mind well before he left Trudeau’s Cabinet.
“I had been thinking about the OECD for a while, for at least months, contemplating whether that was something that was possible,” said Morneau, who also reiterated his earlier explanation that, anyway, he had already informed Trudeau he didn’t want to run for office for a third time.
The support from Canada: Around the time of his resignation, media reports said a rift had opened between him and Trudeau, but a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office maintained Morneau had his full confidence.
Morneau said he’s already had high-profile help from his old boss with references.
“He’s vigorously supporting me,” Morneau said of Trudeau, who promised Canada would promote his former finance minister’s OECD candidacy. “He’s been making phone calls to leaders of other countries. And that’s an important part of my candidacy.”
Morneau is also receiving federal government help in the form of support from Global Affairs Canada and phone calls from Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne to his international counterparts to promote his bid.
The OECD opponents: The OECD’s member states will select a new secretary-general before March 1 to a five-year term that will begin June 1, 2021.
Morneau has some tough competition. The incumbent, Mexico’s Angel Gurría, is vying for a fourth term in the role. Other candidates include Sweden’s Cecilia Malmström, a longtime EU commissioner and U.S. candidate Christopher Liddell, a Trump adviser who has held senior jobs at General Motors and Microsoft.
Morneau’s thoughts on Trudeau’s new recovery plan: On Wednesday, the prime minister presented his Speech from the Throne, a high-level document similar to the State of the Union address in the U.S.
He said it was important for the speech, which made numerous costly pledges to deal with the pandemic and support the recovery, to focus on the urgency of the health crisis.
On Canada’s new finance minister: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland replaced Morneau as the point person in Canada’s response to the economic crisis.
“I was excited to see Chrystia as the first female finance minister,” he said. “I think that’s a great decision by the prime minister. Obviously, she’s had good experience as a minister, both in international trade and as the [foreign] minister that she can bring to bear many of the issues.”
Morneau said he misses being at the table with his colleagues.
“Five years was a long time to be finance minister,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think we made a huge difference. But there’s always going to be a time when you’re ready for next steps. And I’m ready for that now.”