TORONTO (AP) — Chrystia Freeland, who helped negotiate Canada’s free trade deal with the United States and Mexico, was named the country’s first female finance minister Tuesday, a day after her predecessor resigned after reportedly butting heads with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Freeland, a former journalist who had been Canada’s foreign minister, is a trusted ally of Trudeau and will keep her job as deputy prime minister.
“It’s about time that we broke that glass ceiling,” Freeland said of being the first woman in the powerful post. The 52-year-old is a Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar who speaks five languages.
Trudeau named her to the job after Bill Morneau stepped down on Monday amid reported difference with Trudeau’s administration, which has been spending heavily to shore up the pandemic-hammered economy. He said he was no longer the appropriate the person for the job.
“This crisis has exposed flaws and weaknesses in our country that we need to fix,” Trudeau said.
Canada’s government is predicting a historic CDN$343 billion (US$260 billion) deficit for 2020-21 resulting from its economic and stimulus plans to battle the impact of COVID-19. Trudeau has called the spending a lifeline to Canadians battling to stay afloat. On Tuesday, he said taxes won’t go up.
“The coronavirus is still with us. This is a once in a lifetime challenge for whole country,” Freeland said. “We will do whatever it takes to support Canadians.”
Trudeau personally recruited Freeland to join his Liberal Party while it was the third party in Parliament in 2013. Freeland had a senior position at the Reuters news agency but was ready to move on after setbacks in her journalism career, friends said.
Freeland previously had risen rapidly at the Financial Times where she became Moscow bureau chief in her mid-20s during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Freeland also served as deputy editor of the Globe and Mail in Toronto and the Financial Times, but left the latter publication after a clash with the top editor. She was familiar to many TV viewers in the U.S. because of her regular appearances on talk shows like Fareed Zakaria’s on CNN.
She has been a frequent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who banned her from traveling to the country in 2014 in retaliation for Western sanctions against Moscow.
“The appointment of Freeland will be very popular, especially with women,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
“She’s risen quickly because she is smart and competent. She impressed Trudeau in the NAFTA negotiations. It is still too early to speculate about a successor to Trudeau, but there is little doubt that she is currently the favorite with Liberal voters and, probably, the Liberal backbench.”
Opposition parties had been calling for Morneau’s resignation over allegations that he had a conflict of interest in a controversy with WE Charity, a scandal that has also touched Trudeau.
Trudeau has said he should have recused himself from a Cabinet decision to award a contract to We Charity to administer money to students having trouble finding work due to the pandemic. Trudeau’s wife, brother and mother have been paid a combined $300,000 Canadian (US$228,000) for speaking at a number of WE events.
Trudeau also announced he will suspend Parliament until Sept. 23 when his government will deliver a speech outlining priorities for a new Parliament session. If the three main opposition parties oppose what the government outlines an election could be triggered.
Trudeau said Morneau did not wish to run in the next election.
“We need a team this is focused on the future,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau said he will “absolutely” run for a third mandate in the next election.