Strong-willed minister leads talks
TORONTO — She is many things that would seem to irritate President Donald Trump: a liberal Canadian former journalist.
That makes Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland an unusual choice to lead Canada’s negotiations over a new free trade deal with a surprisingly hostile U.S. administration.
Recruited into politics by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Freeland has already clashed with Russia and Saudi Arabia. Those who know her say she’s unlikely to back down in a confrontation with Trump.
“She is everything the Trump administration loathes,” said Sarah Goldfeder, a former official with the U.S. Embassy in Canada.
Freeland, a globalist negotiating with a U.S. administration that believes in economic nationalism and populism, hopes to salvage a free trade deal with Canada’s largest trading partner as talks resumed Wednesday in Washington. The 50-year-old Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar speaks five languages and has influential friends around the world.
“I have enormous sympathy for her because she is negotiating with an unpredictable, irrational partner,” said CNN host Fareed Zakaria, a friend of Freeland’s for 25 years.
Freeland cut short a trip to Europe last week after Trump reached a deal with Mexico that excluded Canada. Talks with Canada resumed, but Trump said he wasn’t willing to make any concessions.
The Trump administration left Canada out of the talks for five weeks not long after the president vowed to make Canada pay after Trudeau said at the G-7 in Quebec that he wouldn’t let Canada get pushed around in trade talks. Freeland then poked the U.S. when she received Foreign Policy magazine’s diplomat of the year award in Washington.
“You may feel today that your size allows you to go mano-a-mano with your traditional adversaries and be guaranteed to win,” Freeland said in the June speech. “But if history tells us one thing, it is that no one nation’s pre-eminence is eternal.”
Despite being the chief negotiator with the Trump administration, Freeland has criticized it when few other leaders of Western democracies have.
“She’s an extremely strong-willed and capable young woman, and I think Trump generally has a problem with that,” said Ian Bremmer, a longtime friend and foreign affairs columnist and president of the Eurasia Group. “She’s not going to bat her eyelashes at Trump to get something done. That’s not Chrystia. She doesn’t play games.”
After Freeland and her department tweeted criticism of Saudi Arabia last month for the arrest of social activists in the kingdom, Canada suffered consequences. The Saudis suspended diplomatic relations and canceled new trade with Canada and sold off Canadian assets.
Peter MacKay, a former Canadian foreign minister, said public shaming like that doesn’t work and said some Americans viewed her June speech in Washington as something less than diplomatic.
“It was around that time, within days, that the U.S. threw Canada out of the room,” MacKay said. “There is sometimes concern that she is taking the lead from her prime minister by playing a little bit to a domestic audience.”