Nineteen public servants at Global Affairs Canada (GAC) are working on a part-time basis to help former finance minister Bill Morneau’s campaign to become the next secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to figures tabled in the House of Commons Friday.
In a written response to a question from Conservative Saskatchewan MP Corey Tochor about how many government officials have been tasked with campaign duties, GAC said it has not yet assigned anyone to work on Morneau’s bid on a full-time basis but “as the lead department responsible for the relationship with the organization, a number of officials in the department and at the permanent delegation of Canada to the OECD are providing support.”
In addition to helping run Morneau’s campaign, the public servants also will continue with their “regular duties,” GAC said.
The list of 19 staffers who have been assigned responsibilities in the campaign to elevate Morneau to the top job at the OECD includes public servants working in communications and media relations, policy advisers and analysts, diplomatic outreach and protocol officers, an assistant deputy minister responsible for strategic policy and a number of GAC staff who regularly liaise with the OECD, among others.
These officials will provide Morneau with “strategic policy advice, advocacy and support,” “communications advice and support,” and “coordination of diplomatic outreach.”
Despite reports of friction between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Morneau during the summer months over the WE Charity scandal, Trudeau has endorsed his former finance minister for the diplomatic post, saying Canada would “vigorously support” Morneau’s candidacy.
No final price tag yet
OECD member countries — largely western nations — will decide in private who takes the job. The appointment will be announced in March 2021.
Tochor also asked GAC how much Morneau’s bid for the position would cost taxpayers. The department said it doesn’t yet have any projections on a final price tag.
Because the secretary-general selection process is just beginning, “it is not yet possible to estimate the total costs that may be incurred to support Canada’s nominee,” GAC said in its response to the order paper question. The department said the pandemic could drive costs higher.
So far, the department said, the campaign has incurred $6,265.76 in hospitality costs as part of the outreach to OECD member delegates and “other OECD-related representatives based in Paris.”
“These expenses reflect standard diplomatic practices, including for such selection processes,” the department said.
“As is the case in campaigns for leadership positions in multilateral organizations, the government will provide diplomatic support, advocacy and strategic advice to advance Mr. Morneau’s candidacy. This support will be cost-effective and consistent with relevant Treasury Board guidelines and policies.”
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, the minister responsible for GAC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an October interview with CBC News, Morneau said he had already travelled to Paris to meet with the delegates of the 38 member countries.
It is not unusual for the federal government to cover some of the costs Canadians incur when running for a top international position like this one.
The last Conservative government publicly threw its support behind former governor general Michaëlle Jean’s bid to lead La Francophonie in 2014, promoting her candidacy at meetings with other world leaders and hiring a diplomatic adviser to assist her efforts.
At the time, Ottawa also covered the costs associated with trips Jean took to Asia, Europe and Africa as part of the campaign to become that organization’s secretary general.
She was successful after that first campaign, assuming leadership of the 88-member, largely French-speaking group in 2015, but lost re-election after a scandal over expenses — including costs associated with a renovation of her Paris apartment.
Morneau resigned in August amid WE Charity probes
Morneau’s five-year tenure as finance minister abruptly ended in August. He resigned while the Commons finance committee was in the midst of a deep dive into the Liberal government’s decision to hand a multi-million-dollar summer student grants contract to the WE Charity, a Toronto-based organization that has since shuttered its Canadian operations in response to controversy over the contract and its corporate governance and real estate holdings.
WATCH: Morneau says he was eyeing OECD job before WE controversy
Morneau came under fire after it was revealed he did not recuse himself from cabinet talks about the contract, despite his family’s close personal ties to the WE organization. At the time, Morneau’s daughter, Grace, worked at WE in the travel department. His other daughter, Clare, has spoken at WE Day events.
Morneau has apologized and the federal ethics commissioner is now investigating whether his decision to vote on the deal at cabinet breached the Conflict of Interest Act. Trudeau is also under investigation. Since 2016, Trudeau’s mother and brother have been paid some $300,000 for WE speaking engagements.
Last month, Morneau told CBC’s Rosemary Barton that, for some time, he’s had his eye on the secretary-general position with the OECD, an intergovernmental agency that promotes democracy and the market economy. Morneau insisted he would have pitched himself for that job even if the WE Charity affair hadn’t erupted on his watch.
“Let me tell you, I was really thinking about the secretary-general of the OECD job before and I recognized you couldn’t be a sitting finance minister and run for a global position at the same time. That was my conclusion,” Morneau said.