Freeland brings insight on U.S., Putin to new post
Chrystia Freeland the Minsiter of International Trade from Canada looks on as Ministerial Representatives from the 12 countries for the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP) agreement in Auckland on February 4, 2016.(MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Chrystia Freeland's elevation to the most influential job in the federal cabinet, short of Finance and the prime ministership, raises interesting questions about Canada's future relationships with the United States, Russia and China.
Freeland is a Harvard grad and Rhodes scholar who speaks Russian, Ukrainian, French and Italian and has lived and worked in Moscow, New York and London. That and her success as trade minister -- specifically her landing of the European free trade deal last fall, after having abandoned talks at the 11th hour -- made her an obvious candidate for promotion to foreign affairs minister in a shuffle that has the feel of an all-hands-on-deck, ahead of the Trump presidency.
What's more intriguing, however, is how Freeland's background as an author and journalist give her a two-sided perspective on forces now driving Russian and American politics. She has written books on the ascent of the Russian oligarchs, and the explosion of income inequality that presaged the rise of Trumpist nativism in the United States.
Freeland's position vis-à-vis Ukraine, Russia and dictator Vladimir Putin could not be more clear: In a Brookings essay in 2015, she wrote of her Ukrainian roots, excoriated Putin's invasion of Crimea and was unapologetic about having been banned from Russia in 2014, along with other Canadian critics of Putin.
Like Rex Tillerson, the Putin-friendly, globe-trotting oilman whom Trump has picked to be his secretary of state, Freeland knows the current Russian context well and has met Putin personally. She interviewed him in 2000, she recounts in the Brookings piece. But unlike Tillerson, Freeland has a long history of criticizing and prodding the Kremlin, dating back to her coverage of the Russian crackdown in Chechnya in the 1990s.
First question: How does an avowed Canadian critic of Putin and champion of Ukraine handle relations with authoritarian Russia, when the U.S. presidential election itself has been compromised by Russian hacking, according to America's own intelligence agencies, and the president-elect seems determined to view Putin as his friend and ally regardless?
Fend off Russian advances in the Arctic, uphold democracy in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, and foster new trade ties with China, itself a dictatorship -- all while shoring up a Canada-U.S. cross-border relationship that faces uncertainty due to protectionism, and Trump's vow to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The consolation is Trudeau's team understands Trumpism -- and they have Freeland for that to thank, too. Her 2012 book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-rich and the Fall of Everyone Else is a primer on income inequality around the world, but especially in the United States.
Freeland's book explores income stagnation in the U.S. rust belt -- the very states that handed Trump the presidency in the November election -- and posits that, barring reform in how globalized capitalism apportions its booty, disenfranchised working people would eventually reject that system. That is what occurred in 2016, in the UK with the Brexit and the U.S. with the Trumpist revolt.
Freeland's thesis in Plutocrats infused Trudeau's 2015 election campaign. The spine of the Liberals' plan of government, especially the middle-class tax cut, reformed child benefit and tax increase for the wealthy, was designed to prevent U.S.-style inequality from moving north.
So, to the extent Trump, in his chaotic post-partisan-ness, explores shoring up working-class and middle-class living standards, he will find the new Canadian foreign minister has been there ahead of him. No small wonder, all told, Freeland got his job.