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FACTBOX-Uneasy in spotlight, departing Canada finance minister implemented COVID relief

OTTAWA, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau resigned on Monday after reports of clashes with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over a ballooning deficit.

Morneau, 57, said he would also step down from his parliamentary seat and put his name in the running for next secretary general of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

PROMINENT FAMILY

Prior to entering politics, Morneau headed Morneau Shepell , a human resources firm founded by his father. His wife, Nancy McCain, is part of the family that owns the McCain Foods empire. Both are well-known philanthropists.

PUBLIC OFFICE

Morneau ran for political office in 2015 in Toronto Centre, a dense riding of both inner city social housing and million dollar condos. He won his seat by a large margin and was named finance minister on November 4, 2015. It is rare for rookie parliamentarians to be named to the high-profile posting.

ON THE JOB

Morneau had struggled with the politics of his job, often appearing uncomfortable in the media spotlight and when confronted by opposition lawmakers in Question Period. Even before COVID-19, he presided over billions in new debt being added to Canada’s deficit.

Among his successes, Morneau reached a deal with the provinces and territories in 2016 to expand Canada’s old-age safety net, the Canada Pension Plan.

Morneau has also been seen as a steady hand in Canada’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, implementing various emergency response benefits credited with helping buffer the impact of broad-based shutdowns.

CONTROVERSIES

Morneau is facing pressure over his failure to promptly repay travel expenses covered for him by a charity at the heart of an ethics investigation. Canada’s ethics watchdog is investigating Morneau’s role in a decision to award that same charity a contract to run a large grant program. Trudeau is also under an ethics probe in the matter.

Morneau was previously fined by the ethics commissioner in 2017 for failing disclose his ownership stake in a private real estate holding company in France that owns a vacation villa used by his family.

He also faced criticism in 2017 for failing to put his Morneau Shepell shares into a blind trust upon being appointed finance minister. An ethics investigation determined that this did not put him in a conflict of interest position. Morneau sold his shares and placed his other assets into a blind trust.

Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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