Free­land proud to be ‘earnest and ideal­is­tic’

DEPUTY PM NOTES BE­LIEV­ERS IN LIB­ERAL DEMOC­RACY ‘HAVE HAD A RUDE AWAK­EN­ING’

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - ED­WARD LUCE IN ED­MON­TON

I DID GO TO HAR­VARD AND OX­FORD. HAV­ING SAID THAT, I’M FROM NORTH­ERN AL­BERTA AND MY DAD IS STILL A FARMER THERE, AND THOSE ARE THI NGS THAT ARE VERY MUCH PART OF ME TOO. I’M A VERY GRATE­FUL DAUGH­TER OF AL­BERTA. — CHRYS­TIA FREE­LAND

❚ Bistro Praha

10117 101 St, Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta

Prague egg salad $ 14.95 House spe­cial $ 16.95 Glass of house white $ 9.50 Cap­puc­cino x 2 $ 9.90 Green tea $ 3.95

To­tal ( in­cludes tip) $70.19

The deputy prime min­is­ter dis­cusses U. S.- Canada re­la­tions, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness in this pro­file by our part­ner, the Fi­nan­cial Times.

Lunch with Chrys­tia Free­land, the deputy prime min­is­ter, who is widely tipped as Justin Trudeau’s heir, was al­ways go­ing to be faintly sur­real. Not only was she my for­mer boss, as the FT’S one­time deputy edi­tor and U. S. man­ag­ing edi­tor, she has also con­ducted many Lunches with the FT her­self. Her sub­jects in­clude Glo­ria Steinem, the Amer­i­can fem­i­nist, Lawrence Sum­mers, the for­mer U. S. Trea­sury sec­re­tary, and one or two Rus­sian oli­garchs with whom Free­land — our Moscow bureau chief dur­ing the Yeltsin era, when their like were run­ning riot — de­cid­edly did not hit it off.

I am aware Free­land will be the only in­ter­vie­wee to have also sat on my side of the table — and so will doubtlessl­y an­tic­i­pate ev­ery con­ver­sa­tional gam­bit. They say a fair in­ter­viewer ap­proaches their sub­ject blind. In Free­land’s case, my eyes are wide open, or at least they have been most of the time. When Free­land was my boss many years ago, she once un­ex­pect­edly breast­fed her newly born baby in front of me. I ap­plauded her moder­nity and lack of fuss. This is ex­actly how things should be. But I have never stud­ied a ceil­ing or car­pet with quite that level of dili­gence.

We meet at Bistro Praha, a some­what faded restau­rant in down­town Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta, the prov­ince where Free­land grew up. It was founded by a Czech émi­gré and quickly be­came a hub for the windswept city’s cen­tral Euro­pean im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties. Among them was Free­land’s late mother, Ha­lyna, who was born to Ukrainian refugees in a U. S. dis­placed per­son’s camp in post­war Ger­many. Free­land’s par­ents di­vorced when she was nine. Her fa­ther, Don, still lives on his farm in Peace River, 480 kilo­me­tres north of Ed­mon­ton.

As Canada’s high- pro­file for­eign min­is­ter in the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral govern­ment, Free­land tra­versed the world. In her new job as Trudeau’s deputy since Canada’s elec­tion in Oc­to­ber, Free­land will need to spend a lot more time in places such as her na­tive Al­berta. Though the par­al­lel is in­ex­act, Al­berta and Saskatchew­an are Canada’s rough equiv­a­lent of the left-be­hind ar­eas in the U.K. and the U. S. that en­dorsed Trump and Brexit. Free­land is also min­is­ter for in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal af­fairs, which in prac­tice means quelling the grow­ing re­sent­ment of Canada’s west­ern prov­inces against the “Lau­ren­tian elites” ­— so named af­ter the Saint Lawrence River that runs through where most of the eastern es­tab­lish­ment lives. The some­what hyped spec­tre of a Cana­dian split be­tween the fos­sil- fuel- ex­port­ing west and the car­bon-tax-lov­ing east has been dubbed “Wexit.”

I am seated at a cor­ner table when Free­land ar­rives, dressed in a red suit and a silk red scarf with a chi­nois­erie mo­tif. She is flanked by two young aides, who eat at a nearby table. There is no se­cu­rity. It strikes me that it would be in­con­ceiv­able in Washington for a se­nior politi­cian — still less the vice- pres­i­dent — to walk in off the street with­out a se­cu­rity de­tail. Who knows: maybe the Cana­di­ans are sav­ing up for Harry and Meghan’s pro­tec­tion ( our meet­ing took place be­fore the pair stepped down as se­nior roy­als).

Free­land, whose diminu­tive stature be­lies an en­ergy that would put a nu­clear plant to shame, im­me­di­ately throws a wrench in the pro­ceed­ings. It turns out that to­day is Christ­mas Eve for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to which Free­land be­longs. It is a day of fast­ing. She can­not eat be­fore evening. “I’m go­ing to cheat by or­der­ing a cap­puc­cino,” she says. Since Free­land, 51, has fre­quented this place for 40 years, we agree that she will or­der for me. She chooses a Prague egg salad to start and a glass of Cal­i­for­nian sauvi­gnon blanc. “You must try the Prague egg — it’s one of the bistro’s spe­cial­ties,” she says. I am re­minded of what Chrys­tia was like as a col­league: she is al­ways in charge and it hap­pens in a hurry.

I ques­tion whether Free­land’s back­ground pro­vides such a big ad­van­tage in the con­text of her job. Nei­ther Al­berta nor neigh­bour­ing Saskatchew­an elected a sin­gle Lib­eral in Oc­to­ber. Free­land, who rep­re­sents a con­stituency, or “rid­ing”, in cen­tral Toronto, must some­how ne­go­ti­ate a trans- moun­tain pipe­line to ex­port Al­berta’s heav­ily car­bonized oil­sands with­out break­ing Trudeau’s pledge for Canada to lead the fight against global warm­ing. How can she square that cir­cle? “I’m very aware I rep­re­sent a very ur­ban rid­ing and I’m de­lighted to,” says Free­land, with the painstak­ing­ness of a highly am­bi­tious politi­cian. “Also I did go to Har­vard and Ox­ford. Hav­ing said that, I’m from north­ern Al­berta and my dad is still a farmer there, and those are things that are very much part of me too. I’m a very grate­ful daugh­ter of Al­berta.”

My “starter” has ar­rived. It looks large enough to end at least five Ukrainian Greek Catholic fasts. The sauvi­gnon blanc pro­vides a crisp an­ti­dote to the mound of egg, potato, may­on­naise and caviar be­fore me.

Can you please one half of Canada with­out alien­at­ing the other, I ask. Free­land answers guard­edly. “Yes, we do have to take ac­tion on cli­mate change,” she says. “At the same time we also need a strong econ­omy and we un­der­stand the re­al­ity that fos­sil fuels are part of the Cana­dian econ­omy and the world econ­omy.” But how can the world slow cli­mate change if Canada keeps ex­port­ing so much car­bon, I in­ter­rupt. “What I would say is my dad could not live or get around with­out a pickup truck, and his com­bines need to run on fos­sil fuel,” she says. “We’re the 10th- largest econ­omy in the world and pre­dicted to be­come the eighth largest partly be­cause of im­mi­gra­tion. But we’re real­is­tic. Even if all Cana­di­ans ceased emit­ting car­bon we wouldn’t move the dial. A big part of our task needs to be lead­ing the mul­ti­lat­eral chal­lenge.”

Sens­ing per­haps that I am un­der­whelmed, Free­land points out that Trudeau has vowed to plant 2 bil­lion trees. That sounds like a lot, al­though a sim­i­lar num­ber of Aus­tralian trees must surely have burnt in the past few weeks. Free­land also stresses that she does not drive a car (she is of­ten spot­ted on her bike in Toronto). I re­al­ize that she has only just been handed this port­fo­lio — some might call it a poi­soned chal­ice — and is tip­toe­ing care­fully.

Talk­ing of chal­ices, an­other of Free­land’s roles is to con­tinue over­see­ing U. S.- Canada re­la­tions. As Canada’s chief ne­go­tia­tor for the 2.0 ver­sion of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment — a re­hash U. S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in­sisted on — Free­land did not en­dear her­self to the pres­i­dent.

She won plau­dits in Canada for ek­ing out a deal that did not dam­age the coun­try’s in­ter­ests. She even be­friended Robert Lighthizer, the US trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive, who has dined at Free­land’s home and plans to visit her fa­ther’s farm. But Trump is not a fan. “We’re very un­happy with the ne­go­ti­a­tions and the ne­go­ti­at­ing style of Canada,” he told a press con­fer­ence in Septem­ber 2018. “We don’t like their rep­re­sen­ta­tive ( Free­land) very much.” Ac­cord­ing to the Washington Post, Trump said at a pri­vate din­ner that Free­land “hates Amer­ica”.

What tips does Canada have for cop­ing with Trump, I ask. Free­land gives a scrupu­lously diplo­matic re­sponse about how the two coun­tries share the long­est non- mil­i­ta­rized border in the world. In some places all that marks the U. S.- Canada border is a flow­er­pot. “Peo­ple don’t re­ally com­ment on the Canada- U. S. re­la­tion­ship be­cause it’s so bor­ing, but it’s a real historical tri­umph that we can get along with such an asym­me­try [ of power],” she says. And yet Trump has been very rude about you, I re­mind her. Doesn’t that com­pli­cate your task? Free­land pauses. “Look, the peo­ple whose good opin­ion I rightly seek are Cana­di­ans,” she replies.

From her wari­ness, I imag­ine that Free­land thinks I’m strew­ing land­mines in her path. It feels like a good mo­ment to ask about her tran­si­tion from jour­nal­ism to pol­i­tics, which she once de­scribed as a move from “snark” to “smarm”. How did she pull that off ? At this point my main course lands with a thud. It in­cludes ser­ried ranks of Hun­gar­ian sausages, a moun­tain of sauer­kraut and foothills of Ukrainian dumplings.

Free­land vis­i­bly warms to the new topic. Her word rate shoots up. “The jour­nal­is­tic in­stincts die hard,” she replies. “There was a mo­ment when I was with Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau in Washington and we had a meet­ing with Mitch Mccon­nell ( the U. S. Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader) and af­ter the meet­ing I took the prime min­is­ter by the arm and said: ‘ Can you be­lieve what Mccon­nell just said? That is a scoop. That is a fan­tas­tic story. No­body knows that.’ The PM looked at me and said, ‘ Chrys­tia, you’re not a jour­nal­ist any­more’.” What did Mccon­nell say, I ask. “I can’t tell you!” she says.

I HAP­PEN TO BE UKRAINIAN- CANA­DIAN. WHEN I MOVED TO TORONTO I HAD AN IN­STANT COM­MU­NITY OF CANA­DIAN-UKRAINI­ANS. THERE’S A CU LTURE THERE THAT MY KIDS CAN IM­ME­DI­ATELY EX­PE­RI­ENCE IN ED­MON­TON OR SASKA­TOON. OR THE SAME FOR SIKH CANA­DI­ANS.

Free­land be­lieves that strong jour­nal­ism will be crit­i­cal to the sur­vival of lib­eral democ­racy, the de­fence of which she de­scribes as the “defin­ing po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge of our times.” Many of her clos­est friends are in that line of work, she says. This ob­vi­ously in­cludes Gra­ham Bow­ley, her Bri­tish hus­band, who works for The New York Times and is also a for­mer FT col­league. “At the same time there is an in­evitable ten­sion,” Free­land adds. “When I first be­came a politi­cian and I was giv­ing a tele­phone in­ter­view, my hus­band Gra­ham used to write on a sheet of pa­per: ‘Re­mem­ber: The re­porter is not your friend’, be­cause I tended to think of them as friends.”

But surely you think of me as a friend, I protest with a hint of a sub­text. “No, that’s very true,” she hastily replies. “It’s a good ques­tion. I don’t know. If you and I were hav­ing an off-the-record con­ver­sa­tion with glasses of wine I might per­mit my­self to be a lit­tle bit less pre­cise in my lan­guage.”

I am hold­ing a glass, I point out. Free­land laughs. “Jour­nal­ists al­ways have excellent ac­cess to the world, so I want to ask you about things af­ter this tape is turned off,” she says. I say that we are paid to be skep­ti­cal, whereas politi­cians have to be pro­fes­sional op­ti­mists. “I like to think I’m skep­ti­cal but I’m not cyn­i­cal,” Free­land says. “This is a very Cana­dian thing. I’m earnest and ideal­is­tic. I’m very pa­tri­otic. For ex­am­ple, I think Canada to­day is the world’s strong­est lib­eral democ­racy.” This is a bold claim, but it strikes me as plau­si­ble. Canada has more im­mi­grants than most democ­ra­cies yet it has just re- elected a pro- di­ver­sity govern­ment. What does Canada have that, say, the U. S. lacks? Free­land cites The Jun­gle Grows Back, a book by Robert Ka­gan, the Amer­i­can au­thor. “I be­lieve that pub­lic sup­port has to be con­stantly cul­ti­vated,” she says. “We need to keep wa­ter­ing the gar­den. The fact that you ran four times last week doesn’t mean you don’t have to run four times this week to stay healthy.”

Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is what makes Canada strong, she says. She cites John Buchan, the Bri­tish nov­el­ist who was Canada’s gover­nor- gen­eral in the 1930s. “He gave a speech to the Ukrainian- Cana­di­ans and he said, ‘Be good Ukraini­ans, and by be­ing good Ukraini­ans, you will be even bet­ter Cana­di­ans,’” Free­land re­counts. “I hap­pen to be Ukrainian- Cana­dian. When

I moved to Toronto I had an in­stant com­mu­nity of Cana­dian- Ukraini­ans. There’s a cul­ture there that my kids can im­me­di­ately ex­pe­ri­ence in Ed­mon­ton or Saska­toon. Or the same for Sikh Cana­di­ans. These net­works are na­tional.”

Much of Canada’s de­mand for refugees comes from civil so­ci­ety, which she de­scribes as a “pull.” Groups of Cana­di­ans can band to­gether to spon­sor refugee fam­i­lies. They have to show they have raised enough money to carry the fam­ily for a year. This gives in­com­ers an in­te­gra­tional hook that many other democ­ra­cies lack. “There’s noth­ing ide­o­log­i­cal about this ap­proach but it works,” she says.

I point out that some peo­ple, no­tably Jor­dan Peter­son, who is Cana­dian and who is lead­ing a vi­ral cam­paign against po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, say mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism has gone too far. They re­coil, for ex­am­ple, when Trudeau uses words like “peo­plekind,” a ne­ol­o­gism with which he re­buked a wo­man last year whose ques­tion had in­cluded the word “mankind.” They say Trudeau’s govern­ment is ad­dicted to virtue-sig­nalling. “I think that’s 100 per cent un­fair,” Free­land re­joins, voice ris­ing. “The prime min­is­ter is sin­cerely very pro­gres­sive. He is sin­cerely a real fem­i­nist. For him LGBTQ rights are a core be­lief, as is Indige­nous rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. The ac­cu­sa­tion of virtue- sig­nalling pre­sup­poses you’re not ac­tu­ally do­ing it.”

There is a rich seam of con­tro­versy in the topic of Trudeau’s po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Time is short, how­ever. We have been talk­ing for al­most two hours. Most peo­ple in Canada think Free­land is des­tined to be prime min­is­ter. Aware that I am un­likely to get a straight an­swer, I tell Free­land that the last time I asked a politi­cian whether they cov­eted the crown was Boris John­son in an on­stage in­ter­view last April ( just three months be­fore he re­placed Theresa May). “Well, I’m bound to say there isn’t a va­cancy,” John­son told me. “Ex­actly,” Free­land says af­ter I re­late the story. “There isn’t a va­cancy. Canada has a ter­rific prime min­is­ter, and we’re lucky to have him.”

I suspect I will elicit more in­ter­est­ing thoughts if I ask Free­land about Vladimir Putin, her bête noire. In 2014, Putin banned Free­land from en­ter­ing Rus­sia in re­tal­i­a­tion for Cana­dian sanc­tions af­ter his an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. As far as she knows, the ban still holds. Isn’t Putin win­ning his war on lib­eral democ­racy, I ask. “Ab­so­lutely not,” says Free­land, who has lost all trace of ten­ta­tive­ness. “My view about au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes in gen­eral is that they are very brit­tle, in­clud­ing Putin’s regime.” Trump is not ex­actly a friend to Ukraine’s new govern­ment, I point out. Free­land cuts in. “We (Canada) are help­ing as much as we can.”

She then em­barks on a pas­sion­ate dis­qui­si­tion about the ro­bust­ness of Ukraine’s democ­racy. An aide halts her to say they are late for an­other meet­ing a few blocks away. “Over the past two or three years, we — the be­liev­ers in lib­eral democ­racy — have had a rude awak­en­ing,” Free­land con­tin­ues.

“You have to keep wa­ter­ing the gar­den, seed ev­ery spring and har­vest ev­ery fall, and no­tice the jun­gle is en­croach­ing. But it’s im­por­tant to re­al­ize that at the end of the day gar­dens are a lot bet­ter than jun­gles.”

I strug­gle to rus­tle up some pro­fes­sional skep­ti­cism. As a fan of gar­dens, I can­not help nod­ding in agree­ment. Be­fore Free­land can alight on an­other topic, she is whisked off by her aides. I note that they are pro­ceed­ing on foot and with­out se­cu­rity.

JIM WAT­SON / AFP VIA GETT Y IMAGES FILES

Cana­dian For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land is al­ways in charge and it hap­pens in a hurry, writes Ed­ward Luce.

SEAN KIL­PAT RICK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Then-for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and U. S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at the sign­ing cer­e­mony for the new United States-mex­ico- Canada Agree­ment held in Buenos Aires in 2018.

Chrys­tia Free­land cites a speech by for­mer gover­nor-gen­eral Lord Tweedsmuir, John Buchan, as an in­spi­ra­tion for mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

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