Good manners backed by muscle mark Canada's approach to the world, Chrystia Freeland says

Canada can better define its place on the world stage — and at the negotiating table — by having both "good manners" and "strong muscles," Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

'We have strong, positive, optimistic values,' Freeland says. 'We need to back them up with strength'

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland sits down with CBC News in her office on Parliament Hill on Tuesday after her speech in the Commons. (Lindsay Rempel/CBC)

Canada can better define its place on the world stage — and at the negotiating table — by having both "good manners" and "strong muscles," says Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Freeland spoke to CBC News just a few hours after delivering a major foreign policy speech to the House of Commons, in which she said it was time for Canada to step up and play a global leadership role — even as the U.S. turns inward to focus on its own national interests.

Canada and its values, she said, are stronger in a world where those values are "most broadly" shared.

"There are only 36 million Canadians. A fortress Canada approach is not going to be an approach that will maintain our prosperity or our safety," she said.

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The minister also reiterated that Canada, as a middle power, needs to be actively involved in renewing and strengthening the multilateral, rules-based order that came after the Second World War — something she called her "central conviction."

And, she said, Canada must also being willing to use military power "in defence of our values and our allies."

Freeland's speech came a day before Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is set to release a road map outlining the future of Canada's military. She used the Commons address to point out that we can't rely on our American ally for protection simply because of our geography.

Contrast to 'America First'

Freeland didn't once mention President Donald Trump by name in her speech, but her pledge to have Canada build up its leadership role in multilateral alliances in order to maintain "rules-based international order" is a stark contrast to the U.S. president's "America First" mandate.

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Still, Freeland told CBC News that the Canadian government is committed to "doubling down" on its relationship with the U.S., stressing that our southern neighbour remains our most important trading partner — and vice versa.

But she also said Canada would be "firm and resolute" when it comes to defending our economic interests.

Talks related to a new North American Free Trade Agreement are expected to start in August, and Trump's recent protectionist rhetoric has many expecting a hardline approach.

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Freeland acknowledged that trade negotiations are always "tough," saying she expects the discussions to be "robust." But she called Canada's trade negotiators the best in the world.

"I believe trade is a win-win, I think we're going to get there, and I think we're going to get a great deal."

Canada's polite reputation, she added, is not contradictory to taking a stronger stance on the global stage; Freeland says she sees it as complementary.

"We have strong, positive, optimistic values," she said. "And at the end of the day, we need to back them up with strength.

"I think that's a very good way of approaching the world and a very Canadian way of approaching the world."