Tom Mulcair: Is Justin Trudeau setting up Freeland to take over?

Tom Mulcair: Is Justin Trudeau setting up Freeland to take over?

SAINT-SAUVEUR, QUEBEC —
A breathless account of Chrystia Freeland’s heroics in Ukraine published over the weekend must’ve put a smile on the face of our Deputy Prime Minister.

According to the American university professor who wrote the glowing article, she was so darn good at what she did that she had the grudging admiration of the KGB, that couldn’t keep up with her! The stuff of real-life Marvel heroes…

Let’s face it, Chrystia Freeland is positioning herself to take over as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and this type of publicity is tailor-made to help her achieve that ambition.

Much like Michael Ignatieff, Chrystia Freeland became almost famous south of the border with her writings and media savvy.

Unlike Ignatieff, she’s actually got some experience in government having ably run key ministries and, most admirably, outfoxed Donald Trump during the renegotiation of NAFTA.

If she succeeds, she’ll be taking over from one of the world’s major media figures, Justin Trudeau. A little bit of profile doesn’t hurt.

Trudeau’s inexplicable decision to disappear for a vacation on the very day he’d set aside to commemorate truth and reconciliation was more than just a heartless move. It was so hurtful to his brand that many are wondering if it isn’t also a sign that he’s had the biscuit.

We’ll no doubt have an avalanche of “progressive” promises as Trudeau swears in his new Cabinet and hands out mandate letters to the chosen few. It won’t really matter. Canadians have seen and heard enough.

From purchasing a pipeline, to continuing to subsidize oil and gas companies, to skipping out of town on a new national holiday, to complacency with sexual misconduct in the military, the lecturing and moralizing tone of Trudeau simply doesn’t carry much weight anymore. Key progressive issues such as climate change, reconciliation and women’s rights will need a new champion, one without the credibility issues that Trudeau now drags with him.

In fact, it’s Freeland’s presence during the worst of Trudeau, like the sacking of Jody Wilson-Raybould, that risks holding her back. She wasn’t content to just back Trudeau. When Wilson-Raybould resisted PMO interference in the prosecution of SNC Lavalin, Freeland attacked her for not being a team player!

Freeland won’t get the top job without an examination of her role as Trudeau’s proxy and without a fight. There will be other contenders.

The most obvious one is the genial and exceptionally accomplished Mark Carney. Earlier this year at an event at l’Université de Montréal, where I teach, he was brilliant, generous with his time, and able to do the entire gig in French. I was impressed that he’d somehow managed to keep up his knowledge of the language of Molière during his lengthy stint in London as Governor of the Bank of England. This guy’s got game.

Carney recently published a work on values (very progressive) and is a world leader on the issue of climate change and economic transition. He is currently working at the highest level of the United Nations, deepening his contacts and developing experience and expertise in areas outside of central banking.

This promises to be one heck of a battle.

Freeland’s Russophobe bent may get her some good academic coverage but on the world stage it’s a problem. Minority rights, language rights and the fallout from secession are very real issues in the smouldering conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Canada could be playing a positive role with its own, admittedly much easier, experience with some of these issues. We are indeed due for an adult conversation about the reality in Crimea, which is not about to change. Freeland would have a great deal of difficulty ever playing that type of positive role, so convinced is she that Russia is the bad actor in every scene of this play.

Canada has always prided itself on being able to punch above our weight. A middle power with good P.R. and lots of friends. We have tragically squandered our previously good relationship with China during the Meng/Trump debacle. Do we want to have another enduring enmity with a world power based on grievances of the past or are we capable of being part of the solution?

Freeland is a cold warrior without the Cold War. Highly capable, she still carries with her the baggage of six years of Trudeau’s broken promises and lack of accomplishment. Carney is a respected player on the world economic stage with a sterling track record. He resisted the strong call to be part of Team Trudeau in last month’s election and would come at this with a skill set absolutely needed as we exit the pandemic.

Not hobbled by any attachment to Trudeau’s paucity of concrete results, Carney could have the inside track. At the same time, his lack of experience in elected politics could prove decisive. Freeland is a battler who enjoys the cut and thrust of electoral politics. Carney is used to getting named to the top job. In politics, you have to fight hard to become a party leader. That difference will play out in their campaigns.

Of the five political parties with MPs in the House, only the Liberals have never had a woman as leader. Trudeau will be doing everything he can to help Freeland get his job if and when he decides to pack it in. Last week she attended a press conference with Trudeau on vaccinations for civil servants even though it has nothing to do with her job as finance minister. He may have failed on key feminist promises but he’s going to try to leave Freeland’s leadership as part of his succession.

Tom Mulcair was the former leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017.



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