Chrystia Freeland worried Freedom Convoy would harm trade with US

Freeland was ‘very worried’ US would use Freedom Convoy for ammunition on protectionist measures

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OTTAWA — Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tested Thursday that a difficult call with a top adviser to the US president during Freedom Convoy border blockades had her “very worried” that American politicians would try to bring in devastating protectionist measures against Canada.

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“What was happening was profoundly jeopardizing the Canadian economy and putting investment in Canada at risk,” she told the Public Order Emergency Commission.

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She described her Feb. 10 call with President Joe Biden’s national economic council director Brian Deese as a “seminal” moment when she “realized as a country, somehow, we had to find a way to bring this to an end.”

That call led to another between Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau less than 24 hours later.

At that point, Freeland was apparently very unimpressed by Canada’s response to the Freedom Convoy protests and blockades, according to text messages she exchanged with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s deputy chief of staff Brian Clow.

“I am very worried that we are failing right now,” she wrote to Clow one hour before the Biden call.

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“Agreed,” he responded while noting “action” at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., was planned for the next day.

Windsor was supposed to be today. This can’t go on. And we need to show some federal leadership, too,” Freeland replied.

The concerns Freeland heard from the US came up again during a call with top Canadian bank CEOs on Feb. 13 (the day before her government invoked the Emergencies Act) during which she took swipes at G7 allies for their criticism of Canada’s response to Freedom Convoy blockades.

A summary of the call made public by the commission Thursday reveals that two unnamed CEOs expressed profound concerns about the impact of the protests on Canada’s reputation, noting it was “at risk.”

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“Just spent a lot of time in the US last week, and we were being called a ‘joke’ by people. I had one investor say ‘I won’t invest another red cent in your banana republic in Canada’. That adds to an already tough investment perspective on Canada,” the unnamed CEO is quoted as saying.

It also shows them complaining about limitations in existing laws and making a series of recommendations for government action that would help them freeze protest organizers’ funds.

Some unnamed CEOs also suggested the government designate Freedom Convoy organizers as “terrorists” so they could “move fast” against their funding.

“The fact that they were saying the tools were not adequate, and you need to do more, was particularly compelling to me, because they were not a constituency that was inclined to seek strong government action in the economy,” Freeland testedified.

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Speaking to the inquiry Thursday, Freeland explained that the “joke” and “banana republic” comments from a foreign investor whom the bank CEO had been trying to convince to invest in Canada were “heart stopping.”

It also elicited a strong response from Freeland on the call.

“lf the investor you speak of is American, tell them we are not like the USA who had people literally invade their legislature. If they are a Brit, remind them of Brexit. If they are French, remind them of the Yellow Vests. If they are German, look at how badly they are handling Russia right now,” reads the summary of what Freeland, Canada’s former foreign affairs minister, told the CEO.

She also told CEOs the government was considering “all options” to end the protests, some she admitted would be considered “draconian” in normal times.

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The conversation with bank CEOs came just three days after the difficult call with top Biden adviser Deese.

She said Deese told her the US was deeply worried that the Ambassador Bridge closure would lead to more auto plant closures. Freeland said getting Deese on the phone often takes weeks, but he called her back immediately during the blockades, which spoke to the American level of concern.

A summary of the call notes that Deese pointed out he was realizing how closely integrated the US and Canadian economies and supply chains were and that “he did not seem to see this as positive.”

He also warned that all of all US “northeastern car plants will shut down” if border blocks did not end “in the next 12 hours,” according to the summary.

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Freeland tested, “that one conversation was a seminal one for me. And it was the moment when I realized as a country, somehow, we had to find a way to bring this to an end.”

She said the government had already been pushing back against US measures to bring in tax incentives for electric vehicles (EVs) that would have destroyed the Canadian auto industry.

“These incentives, frankly, were quite intentionally designed to drive all of the building of the new fledgling EV industry into the US only,” she said.

She said ever since the NAFTA deal was renegotiated there has been ongoing pressure by some US politicians to cut Canada out of US supply chains to support their local industries. She said she didn’t want to give those people ammunition.

“There are plenty of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, who would love any excuse to impose more protectionist measures on us.”

Watch Chrystia Freeland at the Emergencies Act inquiry:

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