A new Chrystia Freeland biography signals possible Liberal leadership ambitions

Chrystia Freeland biography: Freeland has a new book; Erin O’Toole gives a ‘fiery’ speech; and some inflation talk

Next Up? The Globe and Mail notes that a new Chrystia Freeland biography in the works “will feed into a growing perception” that the finance minister will gun for the top job whenever Justin Trudeau steps aside. Myriad unnamed sources cite other possible cues in the form of Freeland’s greater responsiveness to backbenchers and a letter she wrote scolding the CEO of Air Canada for crowing that he’d lived in Montreal 14 years without managing to learn French. Other leadership possibilities trotted out include Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and, of course, Mark Carney.

A new Chrystia Freeland biography
A new Chrystia Freeland biography

Kids without enough: A new report from the national coalition Campaign 2000 warns that the battle against child poverty in Canada stalled during the pandemic, and the poverty rate of Canadian kids is likely to be even worse now than the latest available tax data shows. As of 2019, 1.3 million Canadian children, or 17.7 percent, were living below the poverty line. 

“That’s a pretty significant number of kids who are suffering from the harms and the effects of missing meals, not having the right kinds of clothes and parents working really long hours,” Leila Sarangi, the Campaign 2000 national director, told CBC news.

Progress on child poverty was one of the big accomplishments of the Trudeau government’s first term, with Statistics Canada estimating that the Canada Child Benefit lifted 278,000 kids above the poverty line in the first full year of the program.


But Campaign 2000 is calling on the government to significantly increase the CCB, warning that at the current pace, it will take 54 years to raise all Canadian kids above that bar. 

Help wanted: Following through on one of their Throne Speech priorities, the Liberals introduced a bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday that would target specific industries and workers with more precise financial support coming out of the pandemic.

The hard-hit tourism and hospitality sectors will get a boost if this measure goes through, and it is one of four pieces of legislation the government hopes to pass in a hurry, before MPs head out on their winter break in mid-December.

Enough is enough: British Columbians have barely caught their breath from the flooding that devastated their homes, infrastructure and lives, and now more severe weather is predicted over the next several days that could make things even worse. Up to 80 mm of rain was forecast for certain areas,

along with high winds, snow and fluctuating temperatures that have officials worried about river levels and further flooding. Some highways remain closed, clean water supplies have been interrupted and residents have been warned against non-essential travel as the province braces for more punishing conditions.

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Thumbs Down: Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, unsurprisingly, was not a fan of the government’s Throne Speech delivered on Tuesday. In a “fiery speech” to caucus on Wednesday morning, O’Toole vowed to fight what he portrayed as Trudeau’s assault on prosperity, national unity and the oil and gas industry. O’Toole accused the Liberals of being in cahoots with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on a left-wing coalition, and, in keeping with Tory messaging over the last few months, took aim at inflation and the rising cost of living, which he and his MPs have blamed on Trudeau’s pandemic spending.

“What is Justin Trudeau’s response? Instead of standing up for Canadians, we have a prime minister who always puts his own needs ahead of yours,” he said, as CBC reported.

Cost of isolation: A new analysis from the parliamentary budget officer estimates the cost of keeping federal prisoners away from the general population in “structured intervention units” that are supposed to mitigate some of the worst effects of solitary confinement. The PBO says that with the 15 units that already exist, the annual cost of operation will be $42 million in five years, but with up to 32 units needed, the price tag could rise to $91 million a year. 

In other PBO news, former PBO Kevin Page, now CEO of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa, talked to Power & Politics about the factors driving inflation in Canada. In his estimation, high energy costs driven by supply and demand issues, low housing stock and heightened demand as a result of the fiscal supports pumped into the


economy during the pandemic are what’s behind Canada’s inflation rate, which is “on the high side” among G7 nations but dwarfed by that of the U.S. Page is sanguine about the potential for things to smooth out if the government winds down pandemic supports soon in order to avoid over-stimulating the economy. “The market is going to have to adjust from a 100-year shock from the pandemic,” he said. 

Foreign Affairs: Ukraine and Russia

Before Chrystia Freeland joined Cabinet, she had expressed criticism of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who many viewed as a Russian pawn. She also criticized Russian military involvement in Ukraine and the Crimea. In 2014, she wrote in a Globe and Mail article that “Canada should impose personal sanctions against Yanukovych and his political backers and freeze their assets.” After Canada imposed economic sanctions and travel bans on Ukrainian and Russian officials, the Russian government retaliated with sanctions on 13 Canadians, including Freeland.

In 2017, Freeland spearheaded the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, which authorizes the government to impose asset freezes and travel bans on those who abuse human rights and are involved in corruption. This legislation was viewed as a direct response to suspected Russian activity, including the 2006 and 2015 murders of Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, respectively.

When stories appeared in 2017 revealing that Freeland’s Ukrainian grandfather had edited an anti-Semitic newspaper during the Second World War, Freeland suggested that this was an effort to discredit her by the Russian government. She also pointed out that she had known about this for over two decades and had acknowledged it in a scholarly paper.

Foreign Affairs: Other Countries

In September 2017, Chrystia Freeland became the first Western leader to declare the oppression of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar to be genocide, referring to the situation as an “ethnic cleansing.” In July 2018, Freeland worked with the United Kingdom and Germany to extract and resettle some of Syria’s White Helmets, whom she referred to as “courageous volunteers.” In contrast, Freeland and the Liberal government were criticized for not showing more support for the Uighur minority in Xinjiang in northwestern China. The Chinese government has been accused of oppression against activists like Huseyincan Celil, who remains in prison.

Canadian relations with China began to deteriorate in late 2018. On 1 December 2018, Canadian officials arrested a Chinese citizen, Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, at the request of the U.S. government. Freeland defended the decision, stating that it was “in keeping with our international obligations.” The case led to a protracted diplomatic conflict between China and Canada.

Relations with Saudi Arabia also became strained. On 2 August 2018, Freeland called for the release of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and his family on Twitter. This led the Saudi government to suspend diplomatic ties and halt trade agreements. After the October 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Freeland condemned the probable involvement of members of the Saudi government in the murder. In November, she announced sanctions against 17 Saudi citizens who were suspected of being linked to the killing. In January 2019, Freeland made an appearance in Toronto to welcome Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, to whom Canada had granted refugee status after she fled an allegedly abusive situation in her home country.

In 2018 and 2019, Freeland also took a strong stance against the socialist Nicolás Maduro government in Venezuela by endorsing opponent Juan Guaidó and imposing sanctions. This stance was criticized by some observers as geopolitical meddling.

Federal Election 2019

Chrystia Freeland was re-elected as Liberal MP for the University-Rosedale riding on 21 October 2019. It was a convincing victory, as she received more than half the votes in the Toronto riding. However, the Liberal Party itself lost support in most provinces and won 157 seats in total, resulting in a minority government. In November 2019, Freeland was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Minister of Finance

On 18 August 2020, after the resignation of Bill Morneau following the WE Charity scandal, Freeland was appointed Minister of Finance, making her the first woman to hold the position in Canada.

Biography

The Honourable Chrystia Freeland is Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.

Ms. Freeland was first elected as the Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre in 2013. She was elected as Member of Parliament for University—Rosedale in 2015 and re-elected in 2019.

From 2015 to 2017, Ms. Freeland served as Minister of International Trade, overseeing the successful negotiation of free trade with the European Union. From January, 2017, to November, 2019, she served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, leading the successful renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In November, 2019, Ms. Freeland was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, where she helped lead Canada’s united response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was appointed Minister of Finance in August, 2020.

An esteemed journalist and author, Ms. Freeland was born in Peace River, Alberta. She was educated at Harvard University before continuing her studies on a Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford.

In 2018, the Deputy Prime Minister was recognized as Foreign Policy’s Diplomat of the Year. She was also awarded the Eric M. Warburg Award by Atlantik-Brücke, for her achievements in strengthening transatlantic ties.
In 2020, she was awarded Freedom House’s Mark Palmer Prize, in recognition of her years of work in championing democracy and human rights.

Ms. Freeland lives in Toronto with her husband and three children.

Personal Life

Chrystia Freeland met her partner, New York Times investigative reporter Graham Bowley, while working at the Financial Times. They have three children, Natalka, Halyna and Ivan, and live in her riding in Toronto.

Awards and Honours

  • Lionel Gelber Prize (2013)
  • National Business Book Award (2013)
  • Erik M. Warburg Award (2018)

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland will be the subject of a new biography that the author calls a portrait of the “most powerful woman in Canadian politics” and possible heir apparent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Catherine Tsalikis’s book will feed into a growing perception within the Liberal Party that Canada’s first female Finance Minister is preparing for the Prime Minister’s departure from office – even though Mr. Trudeau maintains he will run in the next election after failing twice to win majority governments.

Ms. Tsalikis, who writes on foreign affairs and gender equality, said the biography is set to be published in the fall of 2023 but could be released earlier if there is a Liberal leadership race and Ms. Freeland throws her hat into the ring.

“It would be interesting if she does decide to run for the leadership of the Liberals, and I think people want to know more about her story – where she came from, what she stands for and what kind of leader she might be,” Ms. Tsalikis said in an interview.

Some in the government are seeing early signs that Ms. Freeland wants the top job. One senior government source pointed to the letter Ms. Freeland wrote earlier this month, as Deputy Prime Minister, to Air Canada’s board of directors after chief executive officer Michael Rousseau admitted he does not speak French despite living in Montreal for 14 years. Ms. Freeland urged the board to direct Mr. Rousseau to improve his knowledge of one of Canada’s two official languages and to include it in his annual performance review.

The government source said the Air Canada letter – which could help shore up Ms. Freeland’s reputation in Quebec – appeared to some people in the Prime Minister’s Office to be the clearest evidence yet that she intends to seek the party leadership should Mr. Trudeau step down.

The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to speak about relations between Ms. Freeland and Mr. Trudeau’s office.

Ms. Tsalikis said Ms. Freeland is aware the book is being published by House of Anansi Press but has not yet agreed to sit down for interviews.

“She has always been the most fascinating figure to me. We don’t have that many women who rise to such positions of power here in Canada,” she said. “I’d like to delve a little bit deeper into her story and why she is so successful in politics.”

One senior Liberal MP told The Globe that Ms. Freeland has become more responsive to backbenchers since the Sept. 20 election. Another Liberal source said Ms. Freeland returns calls from MPs more quickly now.

The Globe is not identifying the sources because they would only speak on background about the potential leadership race.

Ms. Freeland is not the only leadership hopeful. Newly named Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, who co-chaired the Liberal Party’s national election campaign, has a network of loyalists in Quebec for a potential leadership run, according to three Quebec Liberal insiders.

During the campaign, the insiders said, Ms. Joly used her influence to place key people as field organizers throughout Quebec, including supporters of her unsuccessful run for mayor of Montreal in 2013. One is Philippe Lafrance, who was involved in the Quebec students’ strike in 2012 and once worked for the Parti Québécois. One Quebec Liberal source said Mr. Lafrance has the ability to mobilize hundreds of volunteers to help Ms. Joly in any leadership bid.

MPs also point to a campaign event this August in Montreal to launch Ms. Joly’s local platform. She enlisted a number of local Liberal candidates to show up as well – a sign to some that she was laying groundwork for the future.

A source close to Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he wants to run for the leadership as well but has not set up an informal team or done any organizing yet. The Globe is not identifying the source, who was not authorized to speak about Mr. Champagne’s leadership ambitions.

Mark Carney, a former governor of the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada, is also frequently mentioned as a possible leadership aspirant with the intellectual and economic experience to mount a serious challenge to Ms. Freeland.

Some Liberals were disappointed that he did not run in the last election in an Ottawa riding. But a senior Liberal on Bay Street said Mr. Carney was wise to opt out – better for him to concentrate on building his national and international reputation on climate change and the economy. Should Mr. Trudeau step down in two or three years, Mr. Carney could position himself as a potential leader with the skills to manage the economy without having to carry any political baggage. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to speak about Mr. Carney’s political ambitions.

And two well-placed Liberals say Frank Baylis, a wealthy medical technology businessman, has also been speaking to MPs about a possible run for the leadership. Mr. Baylis won a Montreal-area federal seat in 2015 but did not seek re-election in 2019. The Globe is not identifying the sources, who were not authorized to discuss Mr. Baylis’s potential interest in the Liberal leadership.

Mr. Baylis said people have been asking him what he plans to do next after selling part of his business operations – including whether he would ever return to politics. However, he said he is still occupied with his remaining businesses. “I am up to my eyeballs right now. Would I ever say no to politics? No. Of course I would never say no, but I am not looking at anything right now.”

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