Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former finance minister said the governing Liberals aren’t exhibiting any “real sense of urgency” on growth, and warned Canada could pay a big economic price if things don’t change.

Bill Morneau, in his first major speech since leaving office in 2020, argued political incentives in Ottawa on all sides run counter to finding long-term solutions to the nation’s lagging competitiveness. He also acknowledged he was unable to galvanize his own government to address what he called Canada’s fundamental economic problem.  

“I struggled to get our government to focus on the need for sustained economic growth, because it was constantly crowded out by other things that seemed more politically urgent, even if they weren’t truly as important,” Morneau said Wednesday evening in a speech to the C.D. Howe Institute, a Toronto-based think tank, according to prepared remarks.

Morneau resigned nearly two years ago after a rift with Trudeau erupted into public view, partly amid policy differences over what the pandemic recovery plan should look like, and how ambitious it should be. The prime minister named Chrystia Freeland in his place.

Before entering politics, Morneau was the executive chair of Morneau Shepell, a human-resources consulting firm that’s now called LifeWorks.

In the speech, he said the government did produce a number of successes. The reduction of child poverty under the Liberals, progress on the climate-change file, sustaining high immigration levels and renegotiating the North American free trade agreement topped Morneau’s list of wins.

Trudeau’s team fell short, however, on steps to boost Canada’s long-term growth prospects. Morneau cited numbers that show the nation is a laggard on productivity and business investment. The administration put little priority on “increasing our collective prosperity,” he said, being instead more focused on wealth redistribution issues.

“When I look at politics in Canada today -- from the perspective of a former insider -- I have to confess that I’m much more worried about our economic prospects today, in 2022, than I was seven years ago,” said Morneau, who had a stint as a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson School for Global Affairs since leaving office and is writing a book.

In order to solve the big problems, Morneau said government officials will need to have more disciplined “follow-through” on policy, better collaboration with business, and smarter approaches to working with provinces to move initiatives forward. He also said politicians will need to “depoliticize important public policy decisions.” 

Morneau recommended the creation of a permanent growth advisory commission that would report to a federal and provincial body on the issues. “We need a national body that focuses attention and forces discussion on our need for economic growth -- and we need to get over the idea that anyone on party has a monopoly on good ideas,” he said.