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Who's talking when Freeland is talking?
Now we're fast-tracking energy projects? PLUS: new podcast episode
In 2016 I started to notice increasing divergence between what Canada’s foreign minister was saying about Ukraine and what Chrystia Freeland was saying. So I got Freeland on the phone and she said a bunch of stuff the then-foreign minister, Stéphane Dion, would not have said. Soon enough Dion was not the foreign minister.
It’s amazing what was possible in the old days. The Deputy Prime Minister hasn’t returned an email from this corner in over four years, and I get the impression she’s not chatting much with other journalists, either. That’s life. Back then, she called ahead of the appointed hour, and made it clear she was speaking on the record, for attribution, on a file that wasn’t her line responsibility in government.
Was she really sending a different message from Dion? I asked someone I identified in the column as a “senior government source,” working in Justin Trudeau’s PMO. “I think that might be a fair characterization,” the source said. “With Dion, it’s a bit of a head-shaker to him why this is as big an issue as it is.”
I thought about all this when I read this account of Freeland’s speech yesterday to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
The speech was essentially a farewell to the fond, silly notion that post-COVID history would be a matter of building back better. “It was a relief and a vindication to imagine the entire world peacefully marching together towards global liberal democracy. It is dispiriting and frightening to accept that it is not.”
Substantially, she divides the world into good guys and bad guys, and says the good guys need to stick together. This is consistent with thinking in a lot of the corridors of Western power lately. On Monday, for instance, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell, gave a widely-remarked speech in which he said Europe is paying for years in which the continent “decoupled the sources of our prosperity from the sources of our security.” Russia and China provided the prosperity — energy from Russia, a market in China and a market for Chinese goods in Europe — and the U.S. provided the security. The first half of that bargain now looks terrible. And Borrell isn’t even sure about the second part. “We are in a fantastic relationship” with the Biden administration in the U.S. “and cooperating a lot,” he says. But “who knows what will happen two years from now, or even in November?”
Back to Freeland. “It’s a scary world” is hardly news. But her Brookings speech also contains this frankly astonishing passage. As recounted by CP:
Shared approaches to trade will be vital, she added —as will a mutual willingness to "spend some domestic political capital in the name of economic security for our democratic partners."
Freeland mentioned the European Union's willingness to allow its vaccine manufacturers to honour existing contracts with non-European allies, including Canada, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Canada remembers," she said. "Canada must and will show similar generosity in fast-tracking, for example, the energy and mining projects our allies need to heat their homes and to manufacture electric vehicles."
In the bit about spending political capital, video of the speech on CPAC shows that Freeland prefaced that remark by saying “crucially — crucially.” The Deputy Prime Minister has the virtue of not making it hard to guess when she is saying the important part.
This speech comes after Germany’s chancellor went home empty-handed from a fishing trip to Canada, and is impossible to reconcile with anything Steven Guilbeault, the environment minister, has been saying all year on the question of Canadian energy exports to Europe.
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This may not be a problem so much as a process. Sometimes when Freeland gets out over the government’s skis, the government catches up. In January Freeland was talking about the threat of Russian invasion of Ukraine, at that point not yet consummated, in far starker terms than her colleagues, who were mostly still at the embarrassing Instagram meme phase of action. What happened next was that the government, slowly at first, started putting its money and materiel where the DPM’s mouth was.
But one has the distinct impression that Freeland flew to Washignton to speak to Ottawa. Hence the “crucially” and the “Canada must” and the notion that this government would “fast-track” anything. “I’m pretty sure Guilbeault isn’t thrilled by this,” one government source told me this morning.
I emailed Goldy Hyder, the CEO of the Business Council of Canada, to ask what he made of Freeland’s remarks. He said Freeland’s remarks don’t represent a break from the government’s actions in the recent past, but that they imply a test of its resolve in the near future.
“The truth is that Canada couldn’t have sent the Germans home with LNG,” Hyder wrote. “The infrastructure isn’t in place today. The PM acknowledged as much during Scholz’s visit and, to his credit, said the government will streamline the regulatory approvals process for projects needed to export Canadian energy to Europe and, also, to build critical mineral supply chains to help support decarbonization efforts both domestically and globally. In that sense, Freeland’s comments are in line with Trudeau’s.
“Freeland’s speech was significant and important. You’re right in thinking we’ve only heard words so far and that Government needs to honour its commitments. As I told James McCarten (the CP reporter) in Washington yesterday, the real test is whether we convert these good intentions into actions. That’s what we’ll be judged by — can we build the infrastructure and deliver the goods on an expedited basis? That is the crucial question for Canada now.”
Great. If this is a test, when’s exam day? “There needs to be a serious push to have concrete steps set out in the FES,” the fall economic statement Freeland will be delivering soon-ish.
On the podcast: Next time, let’s do COVID better
The top Canadian at the World Health Organization is Dr. Peter Singer, a distinguished population health researcher who’s a Special Advisor to the Director General of the WHO. In our recent discussion at the Munk School at the University of Toronto, Singer discussed the state of the COVID-19 pandemic; Canada’s obligations to the developing world in a pandemic, and why those obligations constitute both altruism and enlightened self-defense; and the lessons governments can apply from this crisis to the next one. Because there’ll be a next one. Here’s a link to the podcast on Apple; information on finding it elsewhere is here.
I am always grateful to our Founding Sponsor, Telus, and our Title Sponsor, Compass Rose. I couldn’t get this show to you without their generous help.
The institutional basis for this work is my post as the inaugural Journalist Fellow-in-Residence at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, who played host to this week’s conversation with Dr. Singer. Our Ottawa partner is the National Arts Centre. Antica Productions turns it all into a podcast. The Toronto Star and iPolitics distribute and promote The Paul Wells Show. Kevin Breit wrote and performed the music. Thanks to them all.
I’ve been doing some traveling and I’m working on a long, ambitious post for y’all about what happens to our politics when large organizations become terrible at communicating. That’s slowed down the operational tempo here at the newsletter. I expect that to pick up next week: the commission of inquiry into the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act will be sitting, and on many days I expect to be attending and filing updates.