Chrystia Freeland and the fate of the federation
This week, two cabinet ministers and the Conservatives' foreign affairs critic join us on the show
By Chris Hall, host of The House
Chrystia Freeland's entire cabinet career to date has been spent looking out, not in — focused on foreign files such as the renegotiation of NAFTA, or navigating an increasingly strained relationship with China.
She did that work as the world was entering one of the most turbulent periods in international relations since the end of the Second World War. So it might seem odd that she considers that experience to be the ideal preparation for her new task: taking on the national unity file as regional grievances are also growing more intense.
"I think that's why I have this new job," Freeland said Friday in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House.
The former foreign affairs minister was tapped this week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to serve as the new minister of intergovernmental affairs, a post that PMs often reserve for themselves. It's not even a separate department, like finance or global affairs; it's a secretariat within the Privy Council Office that advises the minister and the prime minister.
Freeland's mission is to work with the country's top bureaucrat, Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart, to overcome regional tensions and find ways for the federal government can respond meaningfully to the demands of the regions.
She said she's being given both the tools and the authority to pursue solutions. Her working relationship with Trudeau on the national unity file, she suggested, will mirror their approach to the NAFTA talks.
"The prime minister and I felt like we came up with a successful way of working together on a really difficult negotiation known as NAFTA and we're going to take that approach and bring it to bear on our big national challenges," she said.
Those challenges begin in Alberta — where Freeland was raised — and Saskatchewan. Voters in those provinces elected no Liberal MPs last month. Both provincial governments are continuing their legal challenge of the federal government's price on carbon.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is looking into pulling his province out of the CPP and establishing its own public pension plan. He's also considering establishing a provincial police force and collecting federal taxes on Ottawa's behalf — just as Quebec has done.
Premier Scott Moe of Saskatchewan is demanding a change in the way equalization is calculated, and has hired former prime minister Stephen Harper to help the province expand its trading relationships in Asia rather than relying on the Trudeau government.
He said he emerged "disappointed" from a meeting with the prime minister last week, telling reporters Trudeau had learned nothing from his party's dismal election results on the Prairies.
Freeland said she believes the opposite is true: the Liberals' failure to elect a single MP in those two provinces and the re-emergence of the Bloc Québécois in Quebec both point to a growing divide between Ottawa and the regions — and the Trudeau government is paying attention.
"That's a serious message," she said. "Voters are saying ... that our government has some work to do in listening."
Freeland also said she thinks the vast majority of Canadians want the country to work, want federal and provincial politicians to drop the knives and get things done. She said she believes Canadians expect that of the group of anti-Trudeau Conservative premiers Maclean's magazine infamously dubbed "the resistance" on its front cover a year ago.