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

The Cowichan Valley Arts Council is offering courses in drawing May through August 2021. (Submitted)
A&E column: Art is everywhere in the Cowichan Valley

What’s going in the Cowichan Valley arts and entertainment community

The CVRD introduces new app to contact residents during emergencies, a tool that chairman Aaron Stone says will improve communications. (File photo)
CVRD launches new app to spread information during emergencies

Cowichan Alert is a free app that can be downloaded onto smartphones, computers

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

The Malahat SkyWalk will open to visitors in July 2021. (Malahat SkyWalk photo)
Malahat SkyWalk will open to visitors this July

Highly anticipated attraction will take guests 250m above sea level

FILE PHOTO
Editorial: Time to roll up our sleeves and pitch in

They’re just not quite sure they want to get a vaccine — yet

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Findings indicate a culture of racism, misogyny and bullying has gripped the game with 64 per cent of people involved saying players bully others outside of the rink. (Pixabay)
Misogyny, racism and bullying prevalent across Canadian youth hockey, survey finds

56% of youth hockey players and coaches say disrespect to women is a problem in Canada’s sport

Most Read