Never mind NAFTA, Freeland's biggest challenge will be to win the west

Opinion

When Chrystia Freeland, then International Trade minister, was thrust into the NAFTA renegotiation with the Trump administration, she probably thought that would be the greatest challenge of her political career. Little did she know that there was a greater challenge awaiting her back home in Canada just a few years later —  that challenge is Western Canada.

With the announcement of the Trudeau cabinet last week, Freeland has found herself removed from the high-profile foreign affairs role to instead focusing on limiting the growth of western alienation on the Prairies.

If current sentiment is any indication, it may have been easier to deal with U.S. President Donald Trump.

The anger and resentment towards Ottawa that the west feels is very real and in many ways very justified. People in the west feel left out and, quite frankly, not appreciated at all by what people define as the “Laurentian elite of the east.”

As we have seen in the past twelve months, it’s become politically advantageous for western premiers to politic against Prime Minister Trudeau, keeping the western alienation fires burning.

We have yet to see what is written in Freeland’s mandate letter, but her mission — as I assume it to be — is almost impossible to accomplish.

I have been a supporter of Freeland because I feel she handled the NAFTA talks quite well, and Canada escaped without total trade carnage. We were never negotiating from a point of strength in those talks. This new challenge in Western Canada is different. Even though the NAFTA talks were cantankerous, the White House wanted a trade deal. In comparison, I am not sure Western Canadians really want a better relationship with this Liberal government, if this last election’s results are any indication.

I do believe that westerners should keep an open mind to her increased western Canadian responsibilities, but it will be up to Freeland to prove that this new attention for the west is genuine and has executable benefits and not just lip service

U.S. trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer respected Freeland and her credentials. They even shared books and found common ground throughout the NAFTA negotiations. To western Canadians, Freeland is an extension of the Trudeau ideology, representing a riding from posh downtown Toronto, with a complete lack of understanding of the west.

Freeland’s only real connection to the west has been that her dad still farms in Alberta. And although she often invokes canola as one of her “Made in Canada” examples, her connection to the west is hanging by a thread. I don’t think that thread is enough to tie this country together.

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