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The beating of the drums on who will replace Trudeau has begun and with Freeland the media have the script for a Shakespearean drama
The Liberal government will announce its cabinet on October 26.
While a number of seats around the cabinet table are expected to change, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already announced that Chrystia Freeland will remain as deputy PM and finance minister.
Little surprise there. Freeland is one of the PM’s most trusted confidantes. She’s also now become a convenient foil for the emerging media narrative on leadership questions lingering around Trudeau since the election and following the Liberal party’s inability to score a majority. Indeed, the beating of the drums on who will replace Trudeau has begun in earnest among the Ottawa press corp. And with Freeland, they have the script for a Julius Caesar-inspired Shakespearean drama.
This week, the Globe weighed in with a flattering opinion piece on Freeland following the release of KGB documents detailing her efforts as a student activist during the independence movement in her native Ukraine when the country was still part of the Soviet Bloc. Apparently the Soviet secret police were so impressed with Freeland’s abilities to elude them – not to mention, detail democracy efforts on the ground to Canadian diplomatic authorities – that they gave her a code name: Frida.
For a Liberal government that’s supposed to be in bed with Communists – and has messed up Canada’s international reputation for supposedly being weak on China – the good press is a surprising twist for Canada’s national newspaper.
The Globe, for example, was front and centre back in 2017 when a Russian news site leaked information that Freeland’s maternal grandfather was allegedly the editor of a Nazi propaganda newspaper in Poland during the Second World War. Freeland was foreign affairs minister at the time and a vocal critic of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
And while there is evidence to suggest that Freeland was the target of a Russian misinformation campaign – and that the paper her grandfather edited also secretly played a role in the Nazi resistance – the message in the Globe’s reportage was clear: that Freeland knew about her family history and actively tried to hide it from public scrutiny.
Whether the minister should be saddled with the alleged sins of her grandfather is a separate issue.
But on the leadership question, it’s no secret that Freeland has long been rumoured as a possible replacement for Trudeau. Most Liberal party insiders acknowledge that possibility and welcome it (at some point). Freeland is eminently qualified. She’s as good as it gets.
But it’s also no secret that the Globe has had it in for Trudeau ever since the paper inexplicably endorsed the Islamo-baiting Stephen Harper for PM back in 2015. They’ve been on a mission ever since.
Freeland not only represents a helpful foil for questions about Trudeau’s leadership, but his perceived foreign policy failures (and blunders), in particular on communist China, which has been a fixture of the media’s coverage in general.
Compared to Trudeau, who has expressed admiration for China – and in certain Conservative conspiracy circles is wildly rumoured to be Fidel Castro’s illegitimate son – Freeland can be expected to be a boss on the world stage is the message implicit in the Globe’s recent reportage.
Conventional wisdom in Ottawa is that voter fatigue is working against Trudeau and that he’ll step down before another election.
That’s not necessarily a given considering the disarray the Conservatives find themselves in with Erin O’Toole and the NDP’s static fortunes under Jagmeet Singh. For Trudeau there’s a legacy to think about and right now there are still a few items to check off on that to-do list.
But it’s also true that for Freeland the time is nigh if she’s serious about being party leader. She’s pretty much done all that there is to do politically. The PM’s office is the logical next step but that won’t be in the cards for years – if at all – if she waits after another election under Trudeau.
At the same time, Freeland is a loyalist. She’s arguably been the PM’s biggest backer. When Jody Wilson-Raybould and other women in caucus bolted over the SNC-Lavalin affair, Freeland defended the PM. She’s not going to stab Trudeau in the back.
If there is to be a transition of power, most expect that to take place before another election and to be a smoother one than what took place, say, between Chrétien and Martin, which ended with the Liberals in disarray.
Of course, Trudeau could decide to try and hang on. He has been shaken by scandal before only to survive to fight another day. This time around, however, there isn’t much wriggle room.