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In a speech on June 1, Bill Morneau described a political world where the partisan politicking about economic matters got in the way of pragmatic concerns or practical follow-through, writes Campbell Clark.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

A wedge is a simple machine, inserted into a small crevice to open up a wider divide. When Justin Trudeau used one on Canadian politics in 2020, Bill Morneau fell into the gap.

At the time, Mr. Trudeau decided he wanted the big pandemic spending of that year to go into 2021 and beyond, and he also decided that Mr. Morneau – supposedly the Bay Street Liberal in the cabinet – couldn’t be the quarterback for that new direction. Mr. Trudeau wanted to turn left, to emphasize political differences with the Conservatives, and there was no room for Mr. Morneau.

Shed no tears for Mr. Morneau, who had his own flaws as finance minister and whose political defenestration is one of those cold, calculated things that are part and parcel of professional politics.

But in a sense, he represents a constituency that has, like him, fallen into a wide gap that has been opened up in Canada’s wedge politics.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Morneau delivered a speech that lamented that Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government has spent its effort on redistributing wealth without doing much to create it – that it has done little, or little that was effective, to grow the economy.

Former finance minister Bill Morneau criticizes Liberals’ economic policies in first public speech since leaving political life

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That’s a remarkable thing to hear from the person who served as finance minister for the first five years of that government. But it came with another underlying message: that there is so much partisan point-scoring and wedge politics that there is little interest in or room for practical work on economic matters. That will strike a chord with many.

It’s not just the Bay Street Liberals that Mr. Morneau supposedly represented in Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet who will feel that way. Folks who care about serious pragmatic economics, who worry what stagnant GDP per capita means for Canadians’ quality of life – these people can see that working through the details of those things are not Mr. Trudeau’s first concern. Frustrated business leaders, but others, too.

It also isn’t just blue-Liberal blues. There are Conservatives, and not just Red Tories, who worry their party chooses culture war over competitiveness. The party’s leadership debates have been more about truckers’ convoys and vaccine mandates than taking care of business, and the front-runner, Pierre Poilievre, harks back to the gold standard, suggests crypto is safer than dollars and wants federal bureaucrats to review cities’ zoning decisions.

In his speech, Mr. Morneau described a political world where the partisan politicking about economic matters got in the way of pragmatic concerns or practical follow-through.

He counted Liberal successes from his time in government on social policy, such as the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit and reform of the Canada Pension Plan, as well as the renegotiation of the NAFTA under threat from former U.S. president Donald Trump.

But not the key question of making the economy grow.

“So much time and energy was spent on finding ways to redistribute Canada’s wealth that there was little attention given to the importance of increasing our collective prosperity – let alone developing a disciplined way of thinking and acting on the problem,” Mr. Morneau said.

This should be doubly surprising, because if you think all the way back to 2015, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals were first elected with a campaign that promised a focus on economic growth. But it’s that last part of Mr. Morneau’s comment, a disciplined way of thinking an acting, that explains what happened.

The government announced plans, such as a Canada Infrastructure Bank, but the practical implementation got lost in the politics of the day, he said.

In the end, that just isn’t what the Trudeau Liberals care about. It is not their political selling point, especially not now. Their brand is about social supports, and they work to emphasize those differences with the Conservatives. The wedge opened up the gap in the middle. The economic-growth policy they like to tout is subsidized child care, because it is social policy, too.

Mr. Morneau didn’t say he is leaving the Liberal Party, of course. But his speech sure makes it sound like the Liberal Party is leaving people like him. In fact, that Canadian politics is leaving people like him behind.

You can stop to note that Mr. Morneau, as finance minister for half a decade, should put up a hand to take responsibility for that. But the thing is, he’s not wrong.

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