The Free­land World

Canada’s for­eign-af­fairs minister wants to fix the twenty-first cen­tury

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Si­mon Lewsen

Canada’s for­eign-af­fairs minister wants to fix the twenty-first cen­tury

Chrys­tia Free­land, Canada’s minister of for­eign af­fairs, goes about her work in a man­ner one might de­scribe as hard-nosed. The former re­porter prefers di­rect ques­tions over diplo­matic niceties and face-to-face con­ver­sa­tions over brief­ing notes. “You have to talk to a lot of peo­ple to get the real story,” she says. In Septem­ber of last year, Free­land and her top ne­go­tia­tors and ad­vis­ers met with former prime minister Brian Mul­roney in Toronto, at his of­fice in the law firm Nor­ton Rose Ful­bright. Mul­roney had a story that Free­land needed to hear: how he pushed the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment through ne­go­ti­a­tions. In 1992, when Mul­roney’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment signed NA FTA, the Lib­eral Party of Canada fiercely op­posed him; now, Free­land was seek­ing his ad­vice in her attempt to keep the deal alive.

As re­cently as Oc­to­ber 2015, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als took of­fice, Canada’s sta­tus as a trad­ing na­tion ap­peared se­cure. NA FTA seemed carved into the coun­try’s bedrock — at the time, the agree­ment ac­counted for more than $1 tril­lion (US) in cross-bor­der mer­chan­dise trade — and Canada was clos­ing in on free-trade deals with both the Euro­pean Union and a con­sor­tium of Pa­cific na­tions. How­ever, just over a year later, the in­cip­i­ent Trans-pa­cific Part­ner­ship was a shadow of its former self af­ter the United States aban­doned it, and NA FTA was sud­denly im­per­illed af­ter the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump, who, ever since his cam­paign, has promised to rene­go­ti­ate or scrap the agree­ment.

The NA FTA talks are due to wrap up this March, if they aren’t cut short or ex­tended. If the US kills the trade pact, the fall­out north of the bor­der could be bru­tal. Canada is the world’s thirty-eighth most pop­u­lous na­tion but its tenth-big­gest econ­omy. To main­tain such out­sized pros­per­ity, we buy from, and sell to, for­eign mar­kets, mainly the US, which ab­sorbs 75 per­cent of Cana­dian ex­ports. To­day, in­dus­trial sup­ply chains criss- cross the con­ti­nent; dis­en­tan­gling them would be a costly night­mare. Plus, there’s the risk that if for­eign busi­nesses feel they can­not ac­cess the US via Canada, they will think twice about in­vest­ing in the coun­try.

To pre­vent this sce­nario, Free­land must stick­han­dle ne­go­ti­a­tions with an er­ratic White House. She is, many be­lieve, the best per­son for the job: a quick study, a tire­less worker, and a true be­liever in mar­kets and trade. Free­land’s pre­de­ces­sor in the for­eign-af­fairs min­istry, former Lib­eral leader Stéphane Dion, was a wonk­ish aca­demic fa­mous for tor­tu­ous sen­tences and wear­ing a knap­sack over his suit. Free­land is slicker and bet­ter con­nected — when she was a jour­nal­ist, she in­ter­acted with most ma­jor play­ers in cor­po­rate Amer­ica — and she can talk in ways that res­onate with busi­ness-minded Repub­li­cans, for whom “ef­fi­ciency” is a virtue but “reg­u­la­tion” is not. “There are some Cana­dian Lib­er­als who are only grudg­ingly ac­cept­ing of busi­ness,” says Roger Martin, former dean of the Univer­sity of Toronto’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment. “They see it as a nec­es­sary evil. Chrys­tia be­lieves that, by and large, busi­ness is good for the world.”

If Free­land pulls out a NA FTA win, she may save Canada from years of eco­nomic tur­bu­lence. But for her, the chal­lenge rep­re­sents some­thing big­ger. NA FTA, she ar­gues, is a sig­nif­i­cant piece of a vi­tal po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial sys­tem: a web of treaties, al­liances, and com­mer­cial net­works that the West put in place, be­gin­ning af­ter the Sec­ond World War, to se­cure a last­ing peace. Free­land es­pouses a clas­sic lib­eral vi­sion, whereby democratic coun­tries co­op­er­ate and trade with each other, form­ing a pros­per­ous, ever-ex­pand­ing bloc. This idea, which came of age dur­ing the Tru­man-churchill era, is now so old it is largely un­con­tested, at least among main­stream for­eign-pol­icy thinkers.

But as the alt-right con­quers hearts and minds, and as na­tivist po­lit­i­cal par­ties gain footholds in the West, lib­er­al­ism seems un­der threat. Three years ago, it was pos­si­ble to think of Euro­pean coun­tries such as Poland and Hun­gary as im­per­fect ex­per­i­ments in democ­racy; to­day, these na­tions seem headed to­ward au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. Mean­while, Trump’s stated in­ten­tion is to loosen his coun­try’s ties to the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem it helped build. In his Septem­ber United Na­tions speech, he ar­tic­u­lated his vi­sion of a world dom­i­nated not by sta­ble re­la­tion­ships but by tem­po­rary, self-serv­ing coali­tions.

“I feel very strongly,” says Free­land, “that one of the most press­ing chal­lenges to­day is the threats that the lib­eral order faces. That order is some­thing we have taken for granted, es­pe­cially my gen­er­a­tion — the post­war peace and pros­per­ity gen­er­a­tion. It’s like that Joni Mitchell song, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’”

Last Au­gust, just be­fore the NA FTA talks be­gan, Free­land spoke at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa. She opened by dis­cussing a US plan to in­vade the St. Lawrence River valley dur­ing the War of 1812. “Such an in­va­sion,” she said, “might have dra­mat­i­cally changed the out­come of the war, but it never hap­pened,” be­cause mer­chants on both sides of the bor­der sold to one another and there­fore had a stake in each other’s se­cu­rity. The story has an ob­vi­ous moral — the co-op­er­a­tive im­per­a­tives of com­merce can triumph over na­tivism and dis­or­der. It also sends a clear mes­sage: Free­land sees herself as an ide­al­ist.

“It’s im­por­tant for us to re­mem­ber that the arc of his­tory is pretty pos­i­tive,” says Free­land, who lives with her hus­band, Bri­tish­born New York Times re­porter Gra­ham Bow­ley, and their three chil­dren in Toronto’s af­flu­ent Sum­mer­hill neigh­bour­hood. When asked why she be­lieves so deeply in cap­i­tal­ism, Free­land cites An­gus Deaton, the No­bel Prize–win­ning econ­o­mist who ar­gued that the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion brought for many peo­ple a “great es­cape” from a con­di­tion in which op­pres­sion and drudgery were the norm.

“I’m a woman. I’m a wife. I’m a mother. One hun­dred years ago, I would’ve been beaten by my hus­band. That’s what hap­pened to pretty much all women. Even when I was in school... teach­ers hit chil­dren with rulers.” Those ac­tions are no longer so­cially ac­cept­able. She cau­tions, how­ever, against con­flat­ing her op­ti­mism about the world with com­pla­cency. “I do think we’re see­ing that there’s no in­evitabil­ity. There can be back­slid­ing in­side coun­tries and in re­la­tions be­tween coun­tries too.”

As a young adult, Free­land saw first­hand what democratic back­slid­ing looks like. Al­though she grew up in Al­berta, she had close ties to Ukraine thanks to her mother, Ha­lyna Cho­miak, a lawyer, ac­tivist, and prom­i­nent mem­ber of the Ukrainian Cana­dian com­mu­nity. At Har­vard in the late ’80s, Free­land stud­ied Rus­sian his­tory and lit­er­a­ture and com­pleted an ex­change in Kiev, just be­fore the Ber­lin wall fell. In 1991, she re­turned to the former East­ern Bloc, working as a stringer for in­ter­na­tional news­pa­pers. Within a few years, she com­pleted an Ox­ford mas­ter’s in

“I would be in­ter­view­ing some­one who was hard to find. Mid­con­ver­sa­tion, their phone would go off. They’d pick up and say, ‘Ah, Chrys­tia. Zdarova!’”

Slavonic stud­ies and was hired on as Moscow bureau chief for the Fi­nan­cial Times.

Ed­ward Lu­cas, a former re­porter for The Econ­o­mist, re­mem­bers Free­land as faster and defter than any of his col­leagues. “I al­ways felt that she was laps ahead of me,” he says. “On at least two oc­ca­sions, I would be in­ter­view­ing some­one, hav­ing worked hard to find them. Mid-con­ver­sa­tion, their phone would go off. They’d pick up and say, ‘Ah, Chrys­tia. Zdarova!’” Free­land’s early suc­cess ran­kled es­tab­lished male col­leagues, says Lu­cas. “Some jour­nal­ists in Moscow didn’t like her very much. These were grand peo­ple from the Amer­i­can broad­sheets, for whom a Moscow post­ing came at the sum­mit of a sto­ried ca­reer. They didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate hav­ing Chrys­tia, who’s young and fe­male, reg­u­larly trounc­ing them.”

Her re­port­ing gave her a mea­sure of clarity about the grim dy­nam­ics in postSoviet so­ci­ety. She ob­served that the au­thor­i­tar­ian struc­ture of the old regime had not dis­ap­peared; in­stead it had trans­muted into a kind of busi­ness polit­buro. She met well-con­nected elites whose li­cence plates gave them im­mu­nity from the law, and she spoke with pri­vate mer­ce­nar­ies in the farm­ing heart­land who ex­tracted pay­ments from their fel­low towns­peo­ple. “She saw that what seemed like democ­racy was ac­tu­ally a democratic skin over a more bru­tal re­al­ity,” says Lu­cas.

David Hoff­man, a Washington Post jour­nal­ist, re­mem­bers re­port­ing with Free­land in Kras­nouralsk, a town in the re­mote Ural Moun­tains with a poi­sonous smelt­ing op­er­a­tion at its cen­tre. “It was sum­mer, but the toma­toes were wilt­ing,” he says. “Ev­ery­body had el­e­vated lev­els of lead ex­po­sure.” Three-quar­ters of the chil­dren there had men­tal dis­abil­i­ties due to the toxic wa­ter, soil, and air. It was a first-hand en­counter with grotesque hu­man suf­fer­ing, the kind that hap­pens when cit­i­zens have few mech­a­nisms — unions, reg­u­la­tors, a ro­bust court sys­tem — with which to chal­lenge their mis­treat­ment. Both re­porters were hor­ri­fied. “An ex­pe­ri­ence like that changes you for­ever,” says Hoff­man.

In 1996, Free­land worked on one of the big­gest sto­ries of the decade: in a deal to se­cure re-elec­tion, Rus­sian president Boris Yeltsin had liq­ui­dated state as­sets at fire sale prices to a ca­bal of oli­garchs, sig­nalling the coun­try’s de­scent into full-blown crony cap­i­tal­ism. Free­land’s sub­se­quent re­port­ing was both wide-rang­ing and in­ti­mate. In a scene from Free­land’s 2000 book, Sale of the Cen­tury: Rus­sia’s Wild Ride from Com­mu­nism to Cap­i­tal­ism, the oli­garch Vladimir Gusin­sky tells her of his des­per­ate need to be loved “by women, chil­dren, and dogs.”

Sale of the Cen­tury charts the chang­ing mood in Rus­sia from op­ti­mism to de­spair. “In­stead of the pros­per­ous mar­ket and thriv­ing democ­racy Rus­sians had dared to hope for,” Free­land writes, “their ver­sion of cap­i­tal­ism was limp­ing and cor­rupt.... rus­sia had freed it­self from Com­mu­nism but not from the Com­mu­nist legacy; it had con­structed a cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem only to dis­cover that it had built the wrong kind.” In the late ’90s, she watched as Rus­sia’s frus­trated cit­i­zenry pinned its hopes on Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy­mas­ter who promised to re­store order and keep oli­garchs out of pol­i­tics.

For Free­land, Rus­sia’s swift re­turn to au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism proved that, in tran­si­tional na­tions, it is in­suf­fi­cient for lead­ers to merely re­place com­mu­nism with any old cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem; they must get mar­ket democ­racy right. “It was easy, when the Soviet Union first broke down, to think in terms of di­chotomies,” she says. “To think

that you had com­mu­nist cen­tral plan­ning on the one hand and cap­i­tal­ism on the other hand, and not to worry too much about the niceties of the sys­tem you were build­ing. Peo­ple thought that as long as you brought in ba­si­cally pri­vate prop­erty and rel­a­tively open mar­kets, ev­ery­thing would be okay.”

The West, she cau­tions, is now at risk of mak­ing a sim­i­lar mis­take. Her book Plu­to­crats: The Rise of the New Global Su­per-rich and the Fall of Ev­ery­one Else, pub­lished in 2012, de­picts the bizarre, state­less uni­verse in­hab­ited by the planet’s wealth­i­est cit­i­zens — peo­ple in­clud­ing Car­los Slim, Ge­orge Soros, and Michael Bloomberg. The book draws on Free­land’s years-long stint cov­er­ing in­ter­na­tional busi­ness for the Fi­nan­cial Times. At its cen­tre lies a dis­tinc­tion be­tween what she con­sid­ers to be healthy ver­sus ex­trac­tive cap­i­tal­ism. In the lat­ter sys­tem, the elite makes money not by of­fer­ing com­pet­i­tive goods and ser­vices but by bend­ing the rules in its favour. The rel­e­vant chap­ter be­gins, un­sur­pris­ingly, with a dis­cus­sion of In­dia and Rus­sia but then men­tions sim­i­lar dy­nam­ics in the US: tech com­pa­nies with mo­nop­o­lis­tic reach or fi­nan­cial-ser­vice providers that reg­u­late their reg­u­la­tors.

The year the book ap­peared, she pre­dicted in a New York Times op-ed that, if ris­ing in­equal­ity and mid­dle-class stag­na­tion con­tin­ued, Amer­ica could even­tu­ally face a civ­i­liza­tional col­lapse like the one that de­stroyed the Vene­tian repub­lic. A year later, in The At­lantic, she ar­gued that “if cap­i­tal­ism doesn’t de­liver for the mid­dle class, then the mid­dle class will even­tu­ally opt for some­thing else.” She had seen how, in Rus­sia, a rigged sys­tem can erode peo­ple’s faith in lib­eral val­ues — and how, as the West be­came more un­equal, a sim­i­lar sense of dis­en­chant­ment had set in. “That re­al­ity,” she says, “is be­hind the na­tivist, angry, parochial move­ments that are chal­leng­ing the lib­eral order to­day.”

Free­land’s writ­ing not only re­flects her in­tel­lec­tual jour­ney but also pro­vides a blue­print for how Canada might re­spond to the crises of the present. In the last two years, na­tions such as the US and the United King­dom, which once acted as bal­lasts for this coun­try, have sud­denly floun­dered, cre­at­ing an op­por­tu­nity for Free­land to step for­ward. “Main­tain­ing the in­ten­tional rules-based order and the global trade sys­tem is a huge pro­ject,” she says, “and we are on the front lines.”

Free­land’s ne­go­ti­a­tion strat­egy can be boiled down to three prin­ci­ples: per­suade but don’t pro­voke, seek al­lies where you can, and ground your ar­gu­ments in facts rather than ide­ol­ogy.

Be­fore the NA FTA chal­lenge, Free­land had al­ready proven herself an adept ne­go­tia­tor. Af­ter the 2015 elec­toral sweep that vaulted the Lib­er­als to ma­jor­ity sta­tus, Free­land, then two years into her po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, be­came minister of in­ter­na­tional trade. Her first ma­jor order of busi­ness was fi­nal­iz­ing the Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade Agree­ment be­tween Canada and the Euro­pean Union. A legacy pro­ject from Stephen Harper’s time in of­fice, CETA is the coun­try’s big­gest trade deal since NA FTA, and it’s ex­pected to re­move tar­iffs on 99 per­cent of goods that pass be­tween Canada and the Euro­pean com­mon mar­ket. To build con­sen­sus for the deal, Free­land toured in skep­ti­cal parts of the con­ti­nent, such as Ger­many and Aus­tria. When, in Oc­to­ber 2016, talks broke down in Wal­lo­nia, a fran­co­phone re­gion of Bel­gium, Free­land conducted an outreach blitz, en­list­ing ev­ery Lib­eral MP with pass­able French to call Wal­loon gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. In late Oc­to­ber, she helped ham­mer out a gru­el­ing eleventh-hour com­pro­mise.

On Oc­to­ber 31, 2016, only weeks af­ter the Wal­lo­nia break­down, Free­land ap­peared in the Cana­dian par­lia­men­tary press gallery and an­nounced that CETA would go through. “It’s pos­si­ble to have poli­cies that are about build­ing bridges and not build­ing walls,” she said. She also dis­cussed the mer­its of an “open so­ci­ety,” Canada’s sta­tus as both a “trad­ing” and “im­mi­grant na­tion,” and the “dan­ger­ous” pro­tec­tion­ist rhetoric com­ing from south of the bor­der as the US pres­i­den­tial race neared its fi­nal week.

“For thirty-five US states, Canada is the num­ber-one cus­tomer. The gov­ern­ment has got to get that mes­sage across.”

Free­land’s world­view puts her at odds not only with na­tivists and author­i­tar­i­ans but also with the resur­gent democratic left.

While fi­nal­iz­ing CETA , Free­land had eked out a vic­tory through sheer force of will; sal­vaging NA FTA, how­ever, is a more daunt­ing task. With Mul­roney’s help, she has come to un­der­stand this chal­lenge as a mas­sive hu­man-re­sources en­deav­our. Ac­cord­ing to Derek Bur­ney, a Mul­roney­era diplo­mat and trade ne­go­tia­tor, the former prime minister’s con­ver­sa­tions with Free­land are of­ten about mes­sag­ing. “We talk about how for thirty-five US states, Canada is the num­ber-one cus­tomer,” says Bur­ney. “The gov­ern­ment has got to get that mes­sage across.”

By early 2017, Free­land, now minister of for­eign af­fairs, had spear­headed another outreach cam­paign. Cana­dian politi­cians made hun­dreds of trips to the US, meet­ing with fed­eral law­mak­ers, state gov­ern­ments, busi­ness lead­ers, labour unions, and agri­cul­tural boards. Fi­nance minister Bill Morneau trav­elled to In­di­ana to schmooze with city and state of­fi­cials; trans­port minister Marc Garneau vis­ited Florida, where he’d pre­vi­ously worked; and trade minister François-philippe Cham­pagne re­turned to Ohio, where he’d gone to school. The goal was to push a sin­gle point: mil­lions of Amer­i­can jobs de­pend on the trade re­la­tion­ship with Canada.

Do­minic Bar­ton, manag­ing di­rec­tor of the con­sult­ing firm Mck­in­sey and Com­pany, re­mem­bers get­ting a call from Free­land in Fe­bru­ary 2017. “I felt like I was kicked in the ass,” he says. “Chrys­tia was like, ‘Come on, Do­minic. Who are you talk­ing to? Are you mak­ing sure peo­ple un­der­stand what’s at stake here?’” Bar­ton then met with re­tail­ers, auto ex­ec­u­tives, and ma­jor in­vestors, in­clud­ing Repub­li­can donor Stephen Sch­warz­man and Lau­rence Fink, who over­sees the world’s largest as­set-man­age­ment firm, to dis­cuss how pro­tec­tion­ism could hurt busi­ness.

Even if Trump an­nounces his in­ten­tions to with­draw from nafta, ne­go­ti­a­tions could still con­tinue: it’s un­clear whether the US ex­ec­u­tive branch has the power to kill the pact with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval. But the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment clearly seeks to stay in Trump’s good graces. While the Lib­er­als have sought reme­dies for what they see as un­fair trade prac­tices—last De­cem­ber, they filed a com­plaint with the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion, ac­cus­ing the US of vi­o­lat­ing six poli­cies—they’re not spoil­ing for a war of words with the president. In her high-pro­file June 6 for­eign­pol­icy speech in Par­lia­ment, Free­land af­firmed Canada’s in­ter­na­tion­al­ist out­look and ex­pressed “deep dis­ap­point­ment” with Washington’s in­ward turn, but she never crit­i­cized Trump by name.

Cana­di­ans who long to see Trudeau or his for­eign minister put the US president in his place will re­main dis­ap­pointed. As a jour­nal­ist, Free­land didn’t hes­i­tate to call Putin a despot, and as a politi­cian, she will talk un­flinch­ingly about au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in Venezuela, but she is more re­strained in her com­men­tary on Trump. Other jour­nal­ists who have spent time in both Rus­sia and Amer­ica — for in­stance, The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen — have drawn dis­turb­ing par­al­lels be­tween the ad­min­is­tra­tions in both coun­tries. When asked if she sees a sim­i­lar com­par­i­son, Free­land says she doesn’t. “Rus­sia is an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime that has bro­ken one of the most pre­cious things about the post­war order,” she says, “which is that Euro­pean coun­tries don’t in­vade each other. Putin broke that com­pact. He has been part of ter­ri­ble per­se­cu­tions of his own cit­i­zens. We should be care­ful not to lightly com­pare those ac­tions to short­com­ings in our own Western so­ci­eties.”

It’s a de­fen­si­ble ar­gu­ment, but it un­der­scores how pro­foundly, as a politi­cian, Free­land’s vi­sion of the world order de­pends on ex­pe­di­ency and prag­ma­tism. It also shows that she’s will­ing to lead by ex­am­ple. In 2017, when she ac­com­pa­nied Trudeau on his first of­fi­cial visit to the Trump White House, she ap­peared on CNN with Wolf Bl­itzer. She spoke ju­di­ciously, opt­ing for piv­ots and plat­i­tudes in­stead of her usual high-pre­ci­sion rhetoric. Bl­itzer in­quired about the so-called travel ban — was Trump wrong to block Syr­i­ans from en­ter­ing the

US? Free­land re­it­er­ated Trudeau’s sig­na­ture line, a vari­a­tion of “I’m not here to tell Amer­ica what do to.” Bl­itzer asked whether Trump might act on his stated in­ten­tions to kill NA FTA, and Free­land gave a sim­i­larly eva­sive re­sponse.“you sound like you’ve emerged from be­ing a jour­nal­ist,” Bl­itzer had re­marked ear­lier in the in­ter­view, “to be­com­ing an ex­cel­lent diplo­mat.” Free­land smiled; “That’s my job, Wolf. What can I say?”

Even if you be­lieve, as Free­land does, that the post­war lib­eral order en­abled seven decades of un­prece­dented peace in Europe and North Amer­ica, it’s worth con­sid­er­ing what it didn’t do. It failed, for in­stance, to pro­tect many coun­tries from civil wars, to pre­vent ter­ri­fy­ing nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion, or to stop the West (in gen­eral) and the United States (in par­tic­u­lar) from act­ing as an em­pire. De­spite its ben­e­fits, the lib­eral order also froze un­even global re­la­tions in place. As the post­war West be­came more se­cure and pros­per­ous, it inevitably be­came pow­er­ful too. A brief sur­vey of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy — from elec­toral med­dling in Latin Amer­ica to atroc­i­ties in South Asia to the dis­as­trous in­va­sion of Iraq — sug­gests that the West didn’t al­ways use its power benev­o­lently.

It’s also worth con­sid­er­ing whether free trade is as nec­es­sary to global har­mony as lib­er­als make it out to be. Agree­ments such as CETA and NA FTA re­quire coun­tries to sub­mit to rules, which can, at the worst of times, in­ter­fere with gov­er­nance. Stu­art Trew, an an­a­lyst for the left-lean­ing Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives, ar­gues that trade deals en­able for­eign cor­po­ra­tions to un­der­mine do­mes­tic reg­u­la­tors, of­ten through closed-door ar­bi­tra­tion pan­els, such as NA FTA’S in­vestor-state dis­pute mech­a­nism. “These mea­sures have a chill­ing effect on strong en­vi­ron­men­ta­land hu­man-health pro­tec­tions,” says Trew. “Un­der NA FTA, for­eign com­pa­nies use the threat of law­suits to dis­cour­age gov­ern­ment pol­icy from be­ing im­ple­mented in the first place.”

Free­land’s world view puts her at odds not only with na­tivists and author­i­tar­i­ans but also with the resur­gent democratic left. Left-wing trade skep­ti­cism is per­haps strong­est out­side Canada. The US, for in­stance, has seen the rise of politi­cians — Bernie San­ders, El­iz­a­beth War­ren — whose rhetoric is of­ten crit­i­cal of free trade even as it touches on tra­di­tional lib­eral themes: plu­ral­ism, hu­man rights, and diplo­macy. The world view these politi­cians share sug­gests that trade skep­ti­cism needn’t be the en­emy of democ­racy or of other kinds of global co-op­er­a­tion.

Free­land is open to cri­tiques of trade — in the NA FTA and CETA ne­go­ti­a­tions, she has pushed for bet­ter union and labour stan­dards — but she balks at the no­tion that, in Canada, free trade is any­thing other than nec­es­sary. “A closed econ­omy just for your own coun­try is a lot eas­ier to do with 300 mil­lion peo­ple than it is with 36 mil­lion,” she says. “And the Cana­dian left in par­tic­u­lar needs to be mind­ful of that.”

To fully make good on her goal of strength­en­ing the lib­eral order, how­ever, Free­land must even­tu­ally turn her at­ten­tion elsewhere. In the past, Cana­dian for­eign-af­fairs min­is­ters have spear­headed am­bi­tious de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives: Joe Clark led the diplo­matic charge against South African apartheid, and Lloyd Ax­wor­thy helped en­act a global ban on land mines. “Since Novem­ber 2016, there’s been a five-alarm fire hap­pen­ing in the neigh­bour’s house,” says Roland Paris, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and former Justin Trudeau ad­viser. “There’s a risk that the ur­gency of the sit­u­a­tion with the United States could end up suck­ing up so much of the minister’s time that other el­e­ments of our for­eign pol­icy get ne­glected.”

For 2018, which is Canada’s year as G7 president, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment prom­ises to make women’s rights and cli­mate ac­tion pri­or­ity is­sues. Free­land says that, in the com­ing years, she hopes to fo­cus on sev­eral hu­man rights emer­gen­cies: the Don­bass con­flict in Ukraine, the Ro­hingya cri­sis in Myan­mar, au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in Venezuela, nu­clear threats from North Korea, and wars in So­ma­lia and Ye­men. If she can con­trib­ute to hu­man se­cu­rity or the rule of law in even a few of these re­gions, she will have strength­ened not just lib­er­al­ism but the un­der­ly­ing prin­ci­ples it was de­signed to pro­tect.

“How I think we need to do Cana­dian for­eign pol­icy,” says Free­land, “is to know what our val­ues are, build coali­tions around those things, and then be con­stantly alert for sit­u­a­tions in the world where, by act­ing, we can make a dif­fer­ence.” The lib­eral order doesn’t be­gin and end with NA FTA. Free­land’s legacy will de­pend on what she does next.

above Free­land meets with US and Mex­i­can of­fi­cials af­ter the fourth round of nafta talks

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