Chrystia Freeland speaks during an election event as part of the Canadian Muslim Townhall series at the University of Toronto on Sunday, September 22, 2019. Whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles her to a new cabinet post on Wednesday, Freeland’s imprint on Canada’s foreign policy will remain visible for some time to come, analysts suggest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Chrystia Freeland speaks during an election event as part of the Canadian Muslim Townhall series at the University of Toronto on Sunday, September 22, 2019. Whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles her to a new cabinet post on Wednesday, Freeland’s imprint on Canada’s foreign policy will remain visible for some time to come, analysts suggest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Freeland’s imprint of foreign affairs remains even if she’s shuffled: analysts

She could be moved to a different position that would also require tough negotiations

Whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles her to a new cabinet post on Wednesday, Chrystia Freeland’s imprint on Canada’s foreign policy will remain visible for some time to come, analysts suggest.

That will be especially true in how Canada pushes forward with its top priority: getting the new North American trade deal ratified and reinforcing the crucial economic bond with its key ally, the United States.

But her decision to position Canada as a leader on a crisis in Canada’s greater neighbourhood, the meltdown of Venezuela, may be Freeland’s most influential move as the country’s top diplomat.

Freeland was appointed foreign-affairs minister in January 2017 with one very important marching order: deal with the newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump and keep the North American Free Trade Agreement, and Canada’s economy, from being trashed.

READ MORE: Liberal winners, losers to gather for first time since disappointing election result

Freeland largely accomplished that, even though NAFTA’s replacement has yet to be ratified. But behind the headline-grabbing fight to save a trade deal that was crucial to Canada’s economic survival, a debate simmered within Canada’s foreign ministry over how to address the very real economic and political implosion that was underway in another nearby country: Venezuela.

According to Ben Rowswell, Canada’s then-ambassador to Venezuela, the internal division at Global Affairs Canada boiled down to this: should the problem be left to its Latin American neighbours, or should Canada step up to help?

Three years later, Canada is a key member of the Lima Group, a bloc of about a dozen countries in the Americas, minus the United States, that has made a concerted, if not successful, effort to promote democracy in Venezuela and stanch its epic flow of refugees.

READ MORE: Venezuela’s decline poses challenges for Liberal minority government

“One of the reasons why Canada is at the centre of regional and international discussions of Venezuela is very much due to the personal initiative of Minister Freeland,” said Rowswell, the president of the Canadian International Council.

“There was a real internal debate inside Global Affairs Canada that was resolved when Minister Freeland made this a signature issue of Canadian foreign policy in the Trudeau years.”

Which raises the question: how indispensable does that make Freeland?

Though she represents a downtown Toronto riding, Freeland is fond of her Alberta roots — she was born in Peace River — and that connection could be of some use to a governing party with no seats there or in Saskatchewan.

Having faced unpredictable negotiating partners abroad, Freeland might appeal to Trudeau as a domestic intergovernmental-affairs minister, or in some other capacity where contending with fractious premiers would be a big part of the job.

As a journalist, she reported on finance and particularly economic inequality, one of the Liberal government’s policy preoccupations.

“If a new minister is appointed, there will be quite a lot of relationships to be built that she’s already established through the very significant support she’s shown to the people of Venezuela over the last few years,” said Rowswell.

“She’s a household name in Venezuela because of her leadership of the Lima Group.”

As effective as she was, especially in dealing with the Trump administration on NAFTA, no minister in any portfolio is indispensable, said Colin Robertson, a retired diplomat with extensive experience in Washington and across the United States.

“I think she’s done a superb job as foreign minister. But I don’t think she has to have that job,” said Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Freeland’s approach to widening Canada’s approach to relations with the U.S. beyond the White House and the Capitol will be her greatest policy legacy, and one that any successor will have to carry forward, he said.

With NAFTA under threat, and Trump so unpredictable, Freeland presided over a charm offensive that targeted key Congressional leaders, as well as state governors and business leaders in key states that had strong economic ties with its partner to the north. Canada’s then-ambassador David MacNaugton quarterbacked the effort on the ground and it also involved the outreach of about a dozen cabinet ministers.

READ MORE: Canada supports genocide case against Myanmar at International Criminal Court

Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna were among them, and both have the bona fides to take over where Freeland left off, Robertson argues.

Garneau chaired the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations and was the Liberal foreign-affairs critic in opposition prior to the party’s 2015 ascent to power. McKenna has travelled widely as the international face of Canada’s climate-change policy — a bruising fight that has made her a lightning rod for online trolls and real-world haters.

Even if she’s shuffled, Freeland would still have an influence on foreign policy during confidential cabinet discussions because she has a proven track record, and Trudeau is known to allow such cross-pollination, Robertson said.

“Freeland is always going to speak out. You don’t lose anything. She will still be in cabinet. She still has all that experience.”

But in an uncertain world, and with a minority government facing an uncertain lifespan, some argue it would be inadvisable to remove Freeland now.

Bessma Momani, a senior fellow the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., said there isn’t a deep pool of options from which Trudeau could draw a replacement.

“It’s not an easy file,” she said.

“These are important bilateral personal relationships that are built. In a minority parliament, this might not last very long. You don’t want to put someone in there for two years, at most, where they don’t really get a chance to grasp the characters and personalities.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stephanie Higginson, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, says people need to focus their attention on the upcoming byelection in Chilliwack. (BCSTA image)
‘Let’s not talk about Barry’ says BCSTA president on Chilliwack trustee

Higginson says impending Chilliwack byelection will require ‘laser focus’ to ensure balance of power

New Chilliwack Chief Ray Fust.
Chilliwack Chief Ray Fust in the mix for Swiss U20 roster spot

Fust is hoping to make the team that will compete in the World Junior Hockey Championships

An employee at a Chilliwack McDonald’s location tested positive for COVID on Nov. 21 (File photo by The Associated Press)
Employee tests positive for COVID-19 at McDonald’s restaurant in Chilliwack

One case was detected at the Vedder Road location, which briefly closed its doors

Asbestos bag from 2011. (Chilliwack Progress file)
New limits coming for asbestos at the Bailey Landfill in Chilliwack

Restricted to 20 bags per day per property because they don’t have capacity for larger loads

Cascade Falls Regional Park is one of several Fraser Valley parks that saw record usage during the summer of 2020. (File photo)
Residents flock to Fraser Valley parks amid pandemic

Some trails saw usage double during summer months of 2020

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Care home staff are diligent about wearing personal protective equipment when they are in contact with residents, but less so when they interact with other staff members, B.C. Seniors Advocate says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
More COVID-19 testing needed for senior home staff, B.C.’s advocate says

Employees mingling spotted as virus conductor in many workplaces

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Most Read