By: Manon Busseron
Stéphane Dion, one of the most influential Canadian politicians, has been replaced by Chrystia Freeland, formerly in charge of international trade, in the position of foreign affairs minister. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau justified his decision on the basis of keeping strong relations with the US after the election of president-elect, Donald Trump.
Indeed, Dion has been highly critical of Trump’s potential decisions, especially the proposition of preventing Muslims from immigrating to the US. Furthermore, the US is Canada’s main trade partner, and their exchanges involve roughly 9 million jobs. All these factors may partly justify Dion’s removal from his key position.
Trudeau defended his position by highlighting the shared interests with the US. Chrystia Freeland, was chosen to handle Canada’s foreign affairs. She is a former journalist who previously lived in Russia for four years and speaks fluent Russian (among four other languages).
Freeland is already seen by some experts on international affairs, such as Dominique Arel, chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa, as an unwise tactical choice given her clearly anti-Russian position. Freeland has been highly critical of Russia’s politics in Crimea — which can be partly explained by her own Ukrainian roots. She also wrote a book describing Russia as a plutocracy. In response, Russia blacklisted her, meaning she can no longer enter the country.
The consequences of this nomination can not entirely be known now. However, it seems that Canada-Russia relations will not be in total appeasement in spite of both countries’ public wish to normalize their relations. Russian officials already declared that Freeland’s removal from the blacklist will only happen as a response to Trudeau’s government lifting of sanctions regarding Russia.
According to Piotr Dutkiewicz, the former director of the Institute of European and Russian Studies at Carleton University, consequences might also be strained regarding diplomatic relations with the US since Trump has declared himself pro-Russian and Putin-friendly. His Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson — former chief executive officer of the oil corporation ExxonMobil — received the Order of Friendship, one of Russia’s highest distinctions, in 2013.
Although Freeland declared that she “loved Russian culture,” her nomination does not seem to lead to a normalization of Canada-Russia relations, which could provoke diplomatic disagreements with the US and isolate Canada on the international stage.
Canada’s decision to foster its relations with the US rather than with Russia was explained by Trudeau by the important common interests shared with US. Nevertheless, adopting a public anti-Russia position might not be in Canada’s best interests regarding the increasing global role of Russia. Indeed, the assertion of Moscow as a key global player is now a factor to be taken into account as far as North-American diplomacy is concerned.