For decades, Chrystia Freeland has shown her ability to be malleable. Over the past five years, she’s worn several hats during the Liberal party’s time in power; the former financial journalist started her political career by being hand-picked to run for the University-Rosedale seat in Toronto, and five years later she has made history by becoming the country’s first female finance minister.
During her tenure in office, she’s negotiated against U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionism to strike the best USMCA deal for Canada, and then managed to be the federal leader handling the Premiers of each province in the midst of a pandemic. Her newest role will be focused on getting Canada back on track as the country faces a recession during a pandemic that has stunted the economy. It won’t be easy task, and some women’s groups are celebrating her as the right woman for the job.
“Chrystia Freeland is clearly an extremely impressive politician, extremely impressive person. It’s surreal to see a woman finance minister for the first time ever in Canada's history, it's been far too long in coming,” said Eleanor Fast, Executive Director of Equal Voice, a multi-partisan group focusing on electing more women in politics.
Freeland’s appointment comes on the heels of former Finance Minister Bill Morneau resigning citing differences with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regarding how to move forward on spending post-pandemic and being embroiled in an ethics scandal regarding the WE Charity. Regardless of how it happened, Fast thinks Freeland’s latest appointment shatters the glass ceiling.
“Freeland becoming finance minister is really, really important. We know there's so many amazing, outstandingly capable women ready to step into those positions and we need to see that happen,” said Fast.
While Fast admits she’s happy to see Freeland assume the role, she admits that it’s taken far too long to have a qualified woman in higher-ranked cabinet positions.
“It's a very important signal, but we still have such a long way to go in terms of women's representation and in politics generally, and also at higher levels of leadership,” she said.
Earlier this year, Equal Voice announced Freeland as the winner of their annual Eve award for her “contributions to advancing women in public life.”
Fast said that not only has Freeland ascended to the top ranks of the Liberal party on her merit, but she’s consistently advocated for more female politicians to be placed in positions of power.
“Not only is she an inspiration to many women looking to run for elected office, she has been outspoken on the need for more women in politics,” said Fast.
Double standard called out
I’m on vacation but can’t stop watching the train wreck taking place in slow motion in Ottawa. Trudeau has now removed the only person in Cabinet with business experience and handed the task of economic recovery to a journalist. As a journalist, I find that concerning.
— John Ivison (@IvisonJ) August 19, 2020
While there are many people excited to see Freeland as finance minister, some political pundits are less impressed with Freeland’s appointment citing a ‘lack of credentials’. However, Freeland is a Rhodes Scholar, the former managing editor of Reuters which focuses on finances and has published a handful of books regarding the wealth gap in society.
The criticisms faced by Freeland were ones not faced by the likes of former Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who prior to being appointed to the role had only worked as a personal injury lawyer. John Paul Manley and Ralph Goodale, who both held the position of finance minister, had little to no prior experience of managing businesses or major financial endeavours, either.
“I think that's great to see her in this position. Yes, there’s a lot happening right now, but it's a very important moment to have Canada's first woman finance minister, nobody can take that away,” Fast said.
As critics question Freeland’s credentials for the role of finance minister, Fast wonders if the same thing would have happened if the prime minister had handed the role to another man.
“Nobody would be saying anything. This is why we need to have more women as members of parliament, then more women naturally will show their leadership and will be appointed to these more senior positions,” she said.
On the other hand Fast understands the legitimate concerns of putting people in positions simply for symbolism, but she says all the Freeland doubters should turn their attention to how she’s handled her portfolios.
“It’s not a need because of the symbolic nature of having a woman in power, we have seen especially during the pandemic the difference women make in leadership roles. Women do things differently,” she said.
In fact, Fast wants people to look at how differently countries like Germany led by Angela Merkel or New Zealand led by Jacinda Arden have handled the pandemic in comparison to countries with men as their leaders.
“Those countries who have been most successful in managing the pandemic and managing through times of crisis have been those countries which have been left by women. New Zealand is sort of the prime example,” said Fast.
With Freeland seemingly becoming a more popular figure and being the second-in-command in the Liberal government, Fast said that if Trudeau did ever cede his leadership role, she knows Freeland would be ready to serve — and do it well.
“It would be a great thing, the first woman prime minister in Canada from whatever party since Kim Campbell. It's time for Canada to have a woman leader,” she said.