Chrystia Freeland uniquely well-placed to take on Canada’s response to Russian invasion of Ukraine

OTTAWA—Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is the woman the prime minister seems to turn to for everything.

The former journalist has been on the front-line of Canada’s response to a wave of troubles since Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government first came to power.

First, it was Donald Trump and the president’s abandonment of American global leadership. Freeland was tapped as Trudeau’s trade minister, then she graduated to foreign minister, as Canada grappled with Trump’s hostility to the free exchange of North American goods.

Then the pandemic hit, and Freeland was elevated to finance minister, where she now oversees a massive deficit and the ongoing challenges of high inflation, funding the shift to a green economy, and persistent U.S. protectionism.

Now, in her dual role as finance minister and deputy prime minister, Freeland is at the centre of the government’s answer to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

She is uniquely well-placed for the task. As a Harvard student in the 1980s, she studied Russian history, went on exchange to Soviet-era Kyiv, and later reported from Moscow for the leading U.K. business paper, the Financial Times. Though she was barred from entering Russia in 2014 as she led criticism of the country’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Freeland has also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.

With her tough talk and pride in her Ukrainian identity, she is now calling on Western countries to cut Putin and his oligarchs off from the global economy.

As a senior government source told the Star, the sanctions imposed on the Russian Central Bank — eventually pursued by the whole Western alliance — first came from Freeland, who receives “almost daily” calls from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s number two minister, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

Following a 2013 byelection in Toronto Centre, Freeland quickly found her political bearings.

She made her first speech in the Commons as a rookie MP on Jan. 27, 2014 during an emergency debate on the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Kyiv at that time.

Tracing her Ukrainian roots to her mother, born in a refugee camp, and her grandparents who were grateful to find refuge in Canada, she said Ukraine’s fight over closer trade ties to the West had “become a fight about democracy or dictatorship.”

And this week, she said there are times in history when “the great struggle between freedom and tyranny comes down to one fight in one place”.

“In 1863, that place was Gettysburg. In 1940, it was the skies above Britain. Today, in 2022, it is Kyiv,” she said.

With files from Raisa Patel

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