'Minister of everything' is tasked with Canada's comeback

“I’m of Slavic descent, so I’m a fatalist and I’m always worried,” Freeland said after a speech in Montreal last month when a host asked her if she was concerned about Canada’s trade relations. “It’s a good approach, especially for a finance minister.”

Freeland will present the first important building block of their plan in an autumn economic statement on Monday.

For years she directed Canada-US relations during tense trade talks and although President Donald Trump made it clear that he was not interested in her negotiating tactics. “We don’t like their representative very much,” Trump said at a press conference at the time.

The 52-year-old former journalist is known for her work ethic Davos-stratum Rolodex and their dinner party diplomacy. After the cross-border turbulence in NAFTA For example, she hosted U.S. sales representative Robert Lighthizer for a roast beef dinner with her family to smooth things over.

Opponents warn that the Covid-19 crisis has given liberals permission to add larger deficits to the outlook without setting a spending cap.

“I expected a lot from her because of all the hype. So far, reality has not reached the hype, ”said conservative financial critic Pierre Poilievre in an interview on Tuesday. “It’s difficult to judge performance with so little information and so few answers.”

Poilievre’s main concern about the new finance minister has to do with what he describes as a lack of transparency about public money already spent.

One open question on Freeland, who is viewed as a potential future Liberal leader and potential Prime Minister, is how much caution she will put into her federal piggy bank management.

POLITICO spoke to people in Freeland’s orbit to get a feel for how they might approach the job and make their mark on the critical portfolio. She was not made available for an interview.

Through her office, she sent a statement to POLITICO on Tuesday saying her top priority was helping Canadians and Canadian businesses through Covid-19. “That goes for our entire government,” she said. “We are fighting an aggressive second wave. We know that many people across Canada continue to face immense uncertainty and we will continue to be there for them while it lasts.”

Indeed, Freeland has signaled that the government is ready to spend whatever it takes to help Canadians and the economy in crisis. It has found that fiscal “guard rails” will not be put in place until the recovery is in full swing.

“Too little to do is more dangerous and potentially more expensive than too much to do,” Freeland said in a grand speech last month in Toronto that gave pointers to her perspective. “Our fiscally expansive approach to combating the coronavirus cannot and will not be infinite. It’s limited and temporary. “

Canadians will soon find out more about their strategy when they release their fall economic update next week. It will be the government’s first economic document since the March 2019 budget – and Freeland’s first since Bill Morneau took over as Chief Financial Officer of Trudeau in August.

Morneau, who stepped down amid the WE Charity controversy, left when media reported an argument with Trudeau. you apparently clashed over the amount of emergency payments For people who lost their jobs during the pandemic – the prime minister, who ultimately had the last word, reportedly wanted to open the coffers wider than Morneau.

A senior government official, well aware of Trudeau and Morneau’s relationship, who spoke anonymously because he was not empowered to comment, argued that talk of a rift was covered up and left the impression that it was like Ali-Frazier between the two liberals.

Freeland has insisted that there is next to nothing daylight between her and Trudeau. She made the remark to the Senate Finance Committee earlier this month when asked about fiscal policy.

“There is no disagreement between me and the Prime Minister on this matter, or on any other matter that can come to my mind,” Freeland said. “We are very like-minded and work very closely together.”

The senior official insisted that Freeland would push back if necessary.

The official has observed that Freeland and Morneau share important traits, including work ethic, but that they approach things in different ways. Freeland, she added, is someone with an “athletic mind” who listens well and asks the right questions.

Their skills match the demands of the times, said the official, who added that Freelands intellectual agility is key when facts and conditions change from day to day.

They also said that Freeland’s arrival brought new eyes to an unprecedented crisis that requires good gut feelings and no opportunities for slow thought.

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For a country where Covid cases are re-emerging, a patchwork of public health responses and competing ideas about what a recovery should look like, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Beyond the public and political spheres, Freeland must maintain the confidence of the financial markets. Much of Bay Street’s trust depends on whether or not she thinks she has the trust of the Prime Minister.

“It was not clear how Trudeau and Morneau’s views were aligned in the end,” said Jean-François Perrault, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at Scotiabank, in an interview. “There is either a very clear correspondence between Trudeau and Freeland, or that Trudeau has a very deep trust in them. That is important. Almost regardless of whether or not they do things Bay Street would like to do or not, it is important that the prime minister as finance minister has someone to listen to. “

Perrault, who does not know Freeland personally, says she is “more on the left side of the economic dogma spectrum” than Morneau. In an environment like this, where the government is looking for ways to stimulate an economy that is in persistent negative shock, “there are probably worse sins”.

“But we’ll see it in the budget, right? … The budget will bring them out,” said Perrault, a former deputy assistant finance minister under Morneau.

Trudeau clearly has confidence in Freeland, who is Canada’s first female finance minister and is still juggling her pre-existing responsibilities as deputy prime minister.

“This is our moment to change our future for the better,” said Trudeau as he introduced Freeland into her new role as responsible for his government’s post-Covid ambitions. “We can’t afford to miss it.”

As finance minister, Freeland is committed to cross-border connections can will not be front and center as before, but she will continue to assist Trudeau and other Cabinet Ministers in maintaining Canada-US relations.

President-elect Joe Biden will present Freeland with new challenges, even if the future US administration is kinder to Canada than Trump.

Freeland’s relationship-building skills in the U.S., honed during the NAFTA talks, will come in handy when you connect with people close to Biden, whose American campaign vows are worrying for some Canadian companies .

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The trust between Trudeau and Freeland seems to be mutual. Seven years ago she made a leap in confidence when she decided to leave her successful international career as a financial journalist to run for Trudeau’s then third-placed Liberals.

“I don’t think it was a question, I think there were maybe a lot of requests from you to get her on board,” said one of the former Freeland employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was no longer in the government are.

The former employee says Katie Telford and Gerald Butts, two key figures in Trudeau’s inner circle, approached her at a launch in Toronto in 2012 for her book, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. The award-winning bestseller shed light on the impact of the super-rich on wealth inequality.

By November 2013, she won a by-election in Toronto, which is votes in Canada held between general elections to fill in gaps left by outgoing MPs. In her case, she succeeded former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae in the borough.

“My decision to enter politics was influenced by my family, who pointed out that Canada has opened up incredible opportunities for me throughout my life,” Freeland replied in a statement to POLITICO when asked why she made the leap into politics did it. In particular, my father said I was asked to give something back to Canada. He was very convincing. “

In 2015, the Liberals won power and Trudeau elected the Toronto MP to be his international trade minister. She later became Foreign Minister and about a year later Deputy Prime Minister.

The former employee said after entering politics, Freeland used skills that she had honed as a journalist. “She follows history very closely and really gets to the bottom of things and really investigates them,” said the person who worked with her early in her political career.

Freeland, added the former employee, likely has access to some of the brightest business minds in the world to several others, including former Treasury Ministers. She was able to use the networks she built up over the years with academics, managing directors and the Davos elite.

The former noted Freeland’s friendship with billionaire George Soros and how a mentor was former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

The former employee said she would often bring high-level officials into orbit to get to the bottom of the information and knowledge they have, in an “almost disarming” manner. “She just kind of pulls you into her universe.”

Freeland is also known to host many of these characters in her home in the Summerhill neighborhood of Toronto, where she personally cooked for her guests.

After completing the sometimes combative NAFTA negotiations, she hosted Lighthizer at her home for dinner in October 2018. It was described as a “working lunch” by a Canadian official at the time, but American and other Canadian sources had suggested that a social event was in the works to improve the situation among neighbors’ point people in commerce.

Another time, the former employee said, she cooked Ukrainian food for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. A Freeland dinner party brought about an unusual side event – her young son persuaded David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and senior editor at The Atlantic, to drive him down the street on a scooter.

Although she has built a tight network of big names and relationships at Davos level, the former employee says that she keeps things simple and is much more interested in ideas and conversations than, for example, what people wear.

“She doesn’t really care about appearance,” said the person. “I think she finds it frustrating that she has to participate.”

Freeland is also known to cycle around their district to ensure efficiency and exercise.

“In the dead of winter, she pulled on tights, put on her dress, rode her bike to an event somewhere in the riding area, and then literally went to a washroom, sat down a bit and went in and did whatever it took to finish, ”said the former employee. “It’s very low maintenance. It says a lot, ‘Let’s just get in there.”

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After her appointment, critics pointed to Freeland’s lack of business experience. But those who know her reject any suggestion that she is not up to the task.

Brett House, Scotiabank’s vice president and assistant chief economist, said Freeland had written about financial markets and their relationship with public order for several decades. House, who has known Freeland since 1994 when her time at Oxford University overlapped, argued that it made her at least as highly qualified as any predecessor, if not more.

“She’s deeply intelligent and incredibly hardworking and accomplished, and committed to both the big picture and structural issues and details,” said House. “I think these questions would not have been asked to a man with the background and résumé she has. It wouldn’t even have happened. If we look at finance ministers over the past 40 to 50 years, very few have had any substantial background in economics or finance. And it’s not clear who was really successful. “

Freeland told Toronto Life magazine in one July interview that she uses skills and habits from her time as a journalist to her work in politics – and that starts with the importance she attaches to finding primary sources.

“Good reporters report,” she said. “They rely on primary sources and when they try to understand something they go to the brightest person they can find directly.”

Freeland notes that this is not the only way to do things, but says it is very different from the “standard instruction manual” for political leaders. You get briefings that seeped through many layers of people, she says. Freeland said that she receives these briefings and is grateful for them, but that she also enjoys having her own face-to-face conversations. Reporting, she added, was difficult and sometimes only offered 75 percent of what was said.

“I just always find the time for that,” she said.

In her statement to POLITICO, she added that her main sources during the pandemic are “economists, prime ministers, mayors, business leaders, union leaders, doctors and epidemiologists – and of course Canadians whose lives are influenced by our policies”.

Freeland also told her Toronto Life interviewer about her role models, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s chief health officer.

Merkel, for example, is someone Freeland said she had long admired.

She called Merkel, who has a PhD in quantum chemistry, an example of why good, strong training can be useful for a leader. “Her comfort with technical details, her extreme preparation – she’s the ultimate homeworker,” said Freeland.

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Following the 2019 elections, Trudeau appointed Freeland as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs. Her work across provinces and parties has prepared her for the future.

Freeland’s friendship is with the Prime Minister of Ontario, Doug Ford the stuff of the headlines. “I absolutely love Chrystia Freeland,” said the progressive conservative leader in response to the news of her appointment.

Freeland, who grew up in Alberta and later graduated from Harvard University before becoming a Rhodes Scholar, has also made profits and support in Canada’s oil-rich provinces that were already financially troubled before the pandemic and falling oil prices.

Any major spending on a “green” economy is sure to create further excitement from the West. When asked about the role of on the hill in August “Decarbonization” In future plans, Freeland replied, “Of course it has to be part of it. All Canadians understand that restarting our economy must be green. “

During last year’s election, when the Liberals were reduced to a minority mandate, the party was expelled from Alberta and Saskatchewan, the heart of Canada’s oil and gas industry.

With the Prairie Provinces growing alienated and frustrated with the Liberals, largely viewed as climate policies contrary to their economic interests, tensions have been at an all-time high. Lots of provincial and local politicians as well Marginal secessionists, sentiment against Ottawa and the alienation of the West further increased.

Freeland and the Trudeau government’s troubled relationships with the country’s power generating regions could get tougher after the recent election of Biden, whose climate policy may challenge Canada to do more.

Once again, Trudeau is likely to use Freeland’s skills and experience in dealing with Americans and Western Canadians.

In light of this, Freeland likes to celebrate her deep Albertanian roots. Freeland was born and raised in the northwest town of Peace River. After her parents divorced, she spent summers and childhood vacations on her father’s farm. She lived the rest of the year in the provincial capital Edmonton with her mother in the Ukrainian feminist socialist cooperative, which she helped found.

Within weeks of the 2019 election, the Toronto MP was dispatched to her home province to connect with Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney, a former Federal Conservative Party heavyweight and major opponent of Trudeau and the Liberals’ climate agenda.

She also met with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, a more personable figure who is serious about fighting climate change.

Iveson added in an interview that because Freeland has built a foundation with provincial and local leaders on climate issues and the desires of the oil and gas industry, Freeland will know how to balance them the goal of the federal government to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

He said Freeland’s eagerness to listen to people she has effectively and respected even among the toughest naysayers in the western provinces.

“We have Chrystia Freeland who is either a really accomplished fire juggler or a very calm and cool firefighter,” he said. “But one way or another, she’s been able not to get involved in any of it and never let it provoke her. This resilience to provocation is a type of leadership the world needs more of.”

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Freeland wasted little time putting her stamp on the Treasury Secretary’s work.

One of the first calls she made on day one of her new portfolio was to the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.

For years the nonprofit group had bumped heads with Morneau, who turned down his invitations – the first finance minister in the organization’s 50-year history to refuse to meet. That changed the day Freeland took over, to the delight of CFIB chief Dan Kelly.

“We have already noticed a world of differences,” Kelly told POLITICO. He said Freeland called to hear him and they stayed in touch as the Liberals worked on their throne speech and restoration plan.

“We had a thousand times more ties with the Minister than we did in the five years that Minister Morneau was at the helm. … I am sure we will have some spectacular fights in the months to come, but to have someone who at least listens to those who which she may not always agree with is at least half the battle. “

Freeland will be tested in the coming months. The finance minister has now indicated on several occasions that large government spending will be required to keep the economy going through a challenging recovery. It remains to be seen how far Canadians are willing to let them go.

“Canadians are wary of the nation’s finances,” Freeland said in his speech in Toronto last month. “I know that very personally. I’m from the rural north of Alberta, which is culturally not a place where helicopter money is at stake. And the question I hear from there, and also here in downtown Toronto, is: can we afford it? … The simple answer is: yes we can. “

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