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 City of Duncan will implement a new pilot project targeting vandalism this spring. (File photo)
Duncan initiates pilot project to deal with graffiti

Project based on a successful one in Port Alberni

The victim of the homicide on Cowichan Lake Road early Monday morning was 17 years old, and was stabbed in the incident. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Duncan homicide victim was 17 years old

RCMP report that teenager was stabbed

Activists from the Fairy Creek Blockades hold the injunction application notice which was submitted by logging company Teal Jones to the B.C. Supreme Court. The application, which asks to have blockaders removed from the sites that stop access to cut blocks, is set to be heard on March 4. (Photo contributed/Joshua Wright)
Activists hunker down to protect Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew from logging

Forest company Teal Cedar applies for injunction to remove seven-month-old blockades

It’s been almost a year since the last public performance inside the Chemainus Theatre. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Lead donors pledge $60,000 in matching campaign at the Chemainus Theatre

Perrys, Hiltons and Duncan Iron Works help to Bridge the Gap during COVID shutdown

Doug Routley is the chair of a special committee on reforming the Police Act. (File photo)
Routley selected chair of a special committee on reforming the Police Act

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA acknowledges there will be a lot of material to process

COVID-19 vaccines were available at a site on East Pender in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Feb. 25. (Twitter/Sarahblyth17)
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside residents offered $5 after getting COVID-19 vaccine

It’s an effort to ‘incentivize people to engage,’ says B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix

</p>
A survey by Statistics Canada finds Black Canadians earn less than non-visible minority Canadians despite having higher levels of education. (The Canadian Press file photo)
COVID-19 worsened unemployment picture for Black Canadians

Black Canadians also more likely to suffer other hardships

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. teacher transferred then suspended after students report feeling ‘scared, nervous’

Authorities found that teacher did not create inviting, respectful environment for students

Victoria’s Swartz Bay terminal. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries offers cheaper, prepaid fare options

Ferry service preparing for busy terminals when travel restrictions are lifted

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

The area on Cordova Bay Road where ancestral human remains were discovered Feb. 22. (Submitted photo)
Human remains discovery a reminder of B.C. Indigenous culture dug up and displaced

‘These are the people who inspired and birthed the generations that we now have here’

Most Read