Free­land’s im­print on for­eign af­fairs won’t dis­ap­pear: an­a­lysts

‘You don’t lose any­thing’ by shuf­fling her to an­other cabi­net post

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - MIKE BLANCH­FIELD

OT­TAWA — Whether or not Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau shuf­fles her to a new cabi­net post on Wed­nes­day, Chrys­tia Free­land’s im­print on Canada’s for­eign pol­icy will re­main vis­i­ble for some time to come, an­a­lysts sug­gest.

That will be es­pe­cially true in how Canada pushes for­ward with its top pri­or­ity: get­ting the new North Amer­i­can free­trade deal rat­i­fied and re­in­forc­ing the cru­cial economic bond with its key ally, the United States.

But her de­ci­sion to po­si­tion Canada as a leader on a cri­sis in Canada’s greater neigh­bour­hood, the melt­down of Venezuela, may be Free­land’s most in­flu­en­tial move as the coun­try’s top diplo­mat.

Free­land was ap­pointed for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter in Jan­uary 2017 with one very im­por­tant march­ing or­der: deal with the newly elected U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and keep the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, and Canada’s econ­omy, from be­ing trashed.

Free­land largely ac­com­plished that, even though NAFTA’s re­place­ment has yet to be rat­i­fied. But behind the head­line-grab­bing fight to save a trade deal that was cru­cial to Canada’s economic sur­vival, a de­bate sim­mered within the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs over how to ad­dress the very real economic and po­lit­i­cal im­plo­sion that was un­der­way in an­other nearby coun­try: Venezuela.

Ac­cord­ing to Ben Rowswell, Canada’s then-am­bas­sador to Venezuela, the in­ter­nal di­vi­sion at Global Af­fairs Canada boiled down to this: Should the prob­lem be left to its Latin Amer­i­can neigh­bours, or should Canada step up to help?

Three years later, Canada is a key mem­ber of the Lima Group, a bloc of about a dozen coun­tries in the Amer­i­cas, mi­nus the U.S., that has made a con­certed, if not suc­cess­ful, ef­fort to pro­mote democ­racy in Venezuela and stanch its epic flow of refugees.

“One of the rea­sons why Canada is at the cen­tre of re­gional and in­ter­na­tional dis­cus­sions of Venezuela is very much due to the per­sonal ini­tia­tive of Min­is­ter Free­land,” said Rowswell, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian In­ter­na­tional Coun­cil.

Though she rep­re­sents a down­town Toronto rid­ing, Free­land is fond of her Al­berta roots — she was born in Peace

River — and that con­nec­tion could be of some use to a gov­ern­ing party with no seats there or in Saskatchew­an.

Hav­ing faced un­pre­dictable ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners abroad, Free­land might ap­peal to Trudeau as an in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal af­fairs min­is­ter, or in some ca­pac­ity where con­tend­ing with frac­tious pre­miers would be a big part of the job.

As a jour­nal­ist, she re­ported on fi­nance and par­tic­u­larly economic in­equal­ity, one of the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy pre­oc­cu­pa­tions.

As ef­fec­tive as she was, es­pe­cially in deal­ing with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on NAFTA, no min­is­ter in any port­fo­lio is in­dis­pens­able, said Colin Robert­son, a re­tired diplo­mat with ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in Wash­ing­ton and across the U.S.

“I think she’s done a su­perb job as for­eign min­is­ter. But I don’t think she has to have that job,” said Robert­son, vice-pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Global Af­fairs In­sti­tute.

Free­land’s ap­proach to widen­ing Canada’s ap­proach to re­la­tions with the U.S. be­yond the White House and the Capi­tol will be her great­est pol­icy legacy, and one that any suc­ces­sor will have to carry for­ward, he said.

With NAFTA un­der threat, Free­land presided over a charm of­fen­sive that tar­geted key congressio­nal lead­ers, as well as state gover­nors and busi­ness lead­ers in key states that had strong economic ties with their part­ner to the north. It in­volved the out­reach of about a dozen cabi­net min­is­ters.

Trans­port Min­is­ter Marc Garneau and En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna were among them, and both have the bona fides to take over where Free­land left off, Robert­son ar­gued.

“Free­land is al­ways go­ing to speak out. You don’t lose any­thing. She will still be in cabi­net,” he said.

But Bessma Mo­mani, a se­nior fel­low at the Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Gov­er­nance In­no­va­tion in Water­loo, said there isn’t a deep pool of op­tions from which Trudeau could draw.

“Th­ese are im­por­tant bi­lat­eral per­sonal re­la­tion­ships that are built. In a mi­nor­ity Par­lia­ment, this might not last very long. You don’t want to put some­one in there for two years, at most, where they don’t re­ally get a chance to grasp the char­ac­ters and per­son­al­i­ties.”

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