Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chrystia Freeland new Canadian International Trade Minister banned from Russia

In a surprise move, Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister, replaced prominent Liberal Stephan Dion by Chrystia Freeland who had been serving as international trade minister.

Freeland is banned from Russia as part of Russian counter-sanctions. In 2014 after the referendum and Crimea's joining Russia, the Harper Conservative Government imposed sanctions on some Russian officials. Russia responded by sanctioning 13 Canadians. Freeland responded in a tweet in March 2014: "Love Russ lang/culture, loved my yrs in Moscow; but it's an honour to be on Putin's sanction list, esp in company of friends Cotler & Grod." Freeland is a proponent of personal asset seizures and travel bans a part of an economic sanctions program against Russia. She visited Ukraine on behalf of the Liberal Party. She met with MP Petro Poroshenko who was subsequently elected president of the Ukraine. She owns an apartment with her sister in Kiev overlooking Maidan square.
Freeland is known for her support for the Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU that she helped negotiate. Wikipedia notes that many oppose the treaty:Critics oppose the treaty on the grounds that it will weaken European consumer rights, including those concerning food safety, and that tariffs are already very low.[8] It has also been criticized as a boon only for big business and multinational corporations, while risking net-losses, unemployment, and environmental damage impacting individual citizens.[9][10] [11]The deal also includes a controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. The agreement has prompted protests in Europe and Canada.[12]
Michael Carley, head of the history department at the University of Montreal, and specialist in relationships between the West and Russia said that the decision to appoint Freeland may be related to Trump's stated desire to renegotiate the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which Trump has called the worst trade deal in history. Her experience in negotiating CETA may be helpful. However, Carley also said:"This appointment is a catastrophe for Canadian-Russian relations, I cannot understand why the government would have selected her to be minister for external affairs with her stated position with respect to Russia, Crimea, and Ukraine. She's a Russophobe, a hater of Putin, of Russian politics. To me this looks like the Prime Minister Trudeau is just abandoning any thought of better relations with Russia, for me it's an incomprehensible appointment."
Carley notes that Stephane Dion had made it quite clear that he wanted to improve relations with Russia. Apparently, Dion did not have much support for that policy. Radio Canada International reported: "Dion had sought to reverse the policy of the previous Conservative government of Prime Minister Harper who cut almost all political contacts with Moscow."
An article by Craig Scott a professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School and former NDP MP for Toronto-Danforth is also critical of Trudeau's appointment. The article sarcastically claims that the presence of Dion in the cabinet served as a constant reminder to Trudeau of progressive positions he would rather forget on climate change, electoral reform, and handing over detainees --in Afghanistan--to be tortured. There is no mention of Dion's desire for better relations with Russia. Dion is a strong supporter of electoral reform and favors a system of proportional representation. Scott suggests that Trudeau appointed Dion as foreign minister to keep him away from the issue of climate change and electoral reform. Dion stressed environmental issues in the Green Shift while he lead the Liberal Party from 2006 to 2008. Trudeau also removed Dion from the cabinet environmental committee because he was allegedly stepping on toes in an attempt to make Liberal policies more progressive.
Scott also notes that he would be put in a position where he would immediately face problems such as the sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia and apparently officials did not provide him with important information about the sale. The time to "kill" Dion came early with the election of Trump. Freeland could be given Dion's cabinet position as having expertise on negotiating trade agreements and could deal with Trump who wants NAFTA renegotiated. Nowhere does Scott mention that Freeland is banned from Russia and is strongly against improving Canadian relations with Russia. Trump on the other hand is friendly towards Putin and wants to improve relations with Russia. Freeland is unlikely to hit it off with Trump.
An article in the Globe and Mail relates some of the problems Dion had with the Saudi contract and other issues. The Globe reports a "long-time Liberal who worked with Dion" who worked with DIon saying he has an insufficint ability to read people which he claimed would be a challenge dealing with Donald Trump who is quick to take offence. Apparently Feeland, banned from Russia and who approves sanctions would be a much better fit for negotiating NATO deal with Trump, who is friendly to Putin and wants better relations. The anonymous Liberal said: “The No. 1 job of a diplomat, especially the top diplomat, is relationships. It’s all about relationships. [Mr. Dion] has got a bunch of strengths, but that is one area in which he was the wrong fit.” Fen Hampson, distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation said: “Trump is the great communicator and I think [the Prime Minister’s Office has] come to the conclusion that they need a foreign minister who is also going to be an effective communicator at a time when there is a risk we could get sideswiped on a whole bunch of issues from auto trade to softwood lumber." There is no mention in the article of Freeland being sanctioned by Russia. This seems to have escaped the notice of at least two significant Canadian media outlets. We need to turn to a Russian propaganda outlet and alleged fake news producer Sputnik for such trivial information.
UPDATE: A friend sent me the following link which shows that Russia offered to withdraw the sanction but Freeland rejected the offer. He also included a link that argues the annexation of Crimea was in accordance with international law:

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