John Ivison: Chrystia Freeland’s homespun take as Trudeau’s Minister for Everywhere

This story originally published here.

It was a short newscast indeed that did not feature Canada’s new global affairs minister this week.

On Thursday alone, Chrystia Freeland issued a statement saying the government was reviewing the purchase of Boeing Super Hornet fighter jets in light of the company’s trade dispute with Bombardier; another supporting a bill imposing sanctions on human rights violators; a third recognizing that the U.S. intends to re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement; and a fourth, decrying the deportation of Crimean Tatars 73 years ago.

Freeland was the Minister for Everywhere, a diminutive political whirlwind, standing up for Canada in disputes with geo-political giants like the U.S. and Russia.

It is a marked departure from the style of her predecessor, Stéphane Dion, whose more cautious approach meant that the lights on foreign policy were generally at amber.

Fen Hampson, Chancellor’s Professor at Carleton University, said Dion took a more academic approach and tried to write a geo-strategic doctrine that he called “responsible conviction”, which the minister defined as being principled but less dogmatic than the Conservatives, while focusing on delivering results. Nobody seemed to have the slightest clue what it meant, with the result it ended up being hollow, meaningless and quickly discarded.

Freeland has, in Hampson words, put her stamp on a “more muscular” foreign policy by keeping it “sweet and simple.”

“She has convictions but is also prepared to act on them,” he said.

Dion attempted to ingratiate Canadian foreign policy with Russia and Iran, in order to wield some imagined clout. “If Canada sends the message that we won’t sit at the table when Russia is there, then Russia will be at the table but Canada won’t. It’s an irrational policy,” he said, as an explanation to his decision not to back the Magnitsky law on human rights violators that Freeland now says the government will support.

The law, already in place in the U.S. and U.K., is named after Russian fraud investigator, Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered massive corruption by government officials but was arrested, beaten and left to die in jail.

As Freeland pointed out in the House of Commons late Wednesday, no Canadian legislation exists to authorize sanctions specifically for violators of human rights. A private members’ bill that initiated in the Senate would fix that problem, she said, ignoring Russian warnings that backing it would be deemed an “unfriendly act” that would harm bilateral relations.

Marcus Kolga, a senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute, said Dion is a good man but was naïve when it came to Russia.

“Stéphane wanted to re-engage with Russia but didn’t understand that when you talk to Putin you need to carry a big stick. Stéphane talked about common interests in the Arctic but Russia is militarizing the Arctic,” he said.

Justin Trudeau shuffled Dion out of Global Affairs in the wake of Donald Trump’s election (he was subsequently appointed ambassador to Germany and special envoy to the European Union).

It was a bold move to demote a former Liberal party leader but it was broadly accepted that the stiff Dion would not get a hearing in Trump’s Washington.

Freeland, on the other hand, spent much of her adult life in the United States, dining at the right tables. As a senior journalist for Reuters, she knew many of the key players personally and had a fundamental understanding of how Washington works, according to those who have seen her at close quarters.

She is proving herself to be a feisty, activist minister, prepared to disagree with the Americans without being disagreeable.

On Boeing’s dispute with Bombardier, where the former has petitioned the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate subsidies of the Canadian plane-maker’s C-series jet, Freeland was bold enough to link the spat to her government’s purchase of 18 Super Hornet fighters.

Canada is “reviewing current military procurement that relates to Boeing,” she said – a deal worth as much as $2-billion.

On softwood lumber, she said the U.S. has made “no offer that any Canadian would consider acceptable”.

More broadly, on the U.S. announcement that NAFTA re-negotiations will start in the next 90 days, she pointed out that nine million American jobs depend on trade with Canada. She said the news presents “an opportunity to determine how we can best align NAFTA to the new reality”.

It’s not a strong negotiating position when lined up against the Americans’ massive leverage. But it suggests the Canadian position will be characterized by straight-talk, steadfastness and common sense.

Where Dion’s background as an academic was reflected in his foreign policy, so Freeland life experience as the daughter of an Alberta crop farmer (albeit one who went to Harvard and Oxford) is coming out in her homegrown version.

“It’s canola. It is a native plant, native to Canadian soil,” she said, by way of explanation in an interview with The Canadian Press.

She is set to deliver a major speech early next month, setting out the broad foreign policy context of on-going defence and development reviews.

It will doubtless be heavy on references to progressive ideas on trade and human rights. But it is not, apparently, the product of a lengthy and cumbersome review process.

If it is in keeping with what we have seen from Freehand so far, it will sound more like the Old Farmer’s Almanac – no rain, no rainbows; don’t corner something that’s meaner than you; and, never judge folks by their relatives. Or presidents.

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This story originally published here.

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