Emergencies Act inquiry: Key moments in Freeland’s testimony

On the penultimate day of the Emergency Public Order Commission hearings, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke, testifying to her role in shaping the measures economic emergencies that came into effect when the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act.

Freeland told the commission about conversations she had with senior US officials about the severe strain the “Freedom Convoy” border blockades were having on the auto sector, recalled with some emotion a crucial appeal she had had with banks and sought to explain why she felt last winter’s protests were “an attack on democracy”.

Here are some takeaways from Freeland’s testimony.

WHITE HOUSE “VERY, VERY, VERY CONCERNED”

The main point that Freeland sought to convey through his testimony was how seriously concerned senior US officials were about the impact of the “Freedom Convoy” border protests and blockades on cross-border trade and major chains of supply between Canada and the United States. Repeatedly citing the auto manufacturing sector as a key example, Freeland testified that the federal government was concerned that border closures would have long-term effects on Canadian businesses.

During her testimony, Freeland was asked about a Feb. 10 email she wrote to senior federal officials following a phone call she had with the White House director of the Council. National Economics, Brian Deese.

According to Freeland’s email, US President Joe Biden’s top economic policy adviser called her and was “very, very, very worried” about the Ambassador Bridge border blockade. “If this is not resolved within the next 12 hours, all of their northeast auto plants will close,” Freeland wrote, indicating the couple would speak daily until this is “resolved.”

Here’s what Freeland then told the commission about that interaction.

“What struck me in the conversation I had with him…he’s a very difficult person for Canadians to reach…And so what really struck me was how quickly he m phoned. … It was instantaneous. And although in some ways, you know, it was a practical matter. It was fine. But it gave me a measure of the White House’s concern at this subject.

“It was so disturbing to me, because I could really see for the first time the Americans having this flashing amber light in Canada, and this amber light saying to them, ‘you know what, the Canadian supply chain could be a vulnerability.’ … And that’s a problem for us, because there are a lot of Americans, Democrats and Republicans, who would love any excuse to impose more protectionist measures on us,” Freeland said.

“I really understood at that moment that the danger… it wasn’t just the immediate damage. It wasn’t just the immediate damage. It wasn’t ‘oh, you know, this plant is losing four days of operation.’ The danger was, were we, as a country, causing long-term, and possibly irreparable, damage to our trade relationship with the United States?

This conversation with Deese then prompted Freeland the next day, in texts she sent to the show Brian Clow, Deputy Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to take the position that “this can’t go on any longer.” and “we have to show some federal direction.” »

CALL “COUP DE CŒUR” WITH THE BANKERS

Another notable portion of Freeland’s testimony centered on reading a Feb. 13 call Freeland had with bank executives seeking comment on what the federal government could do to respond to the protests. Although not stated in the reading, at this point the government was about to invoke the Emergencies Act.

The reading has the names of the bankers on the call redacted, but here are some examples of what the bankers had to say:

“Canada’s reputation is at stake… The big hole in our financial system is these platforms, which are in fact money services businesses that are not regulated as such.”

“If you list them as people subject to sanctions (i.e. as if they were terrorists), we could act quickly.”

“I am very concerned that the banking system is seen as a political weapon of the government. We cannot politicize the banks.”

“I just spent a lot of time in the United States last week, and people called us a ‘joke’. An investor said to me, ‘I won’t invest a penny more in your banana republic in Canada’ This adds to an already difficult investment outlook… This is a national crisis, you must act immediately.”

Recounting this “heartbreaking” conversation in front of the commission, Freeland appeared to burst into tears.

“That quote that was passed on to me really made me realize that I had a duty of stewardship. I have a duty. I had a very deep duty to Canadians at that time to stand up for them. And I’m surprised I got emotional, but I really felt it. And I felt like, you know, the Canadian economy might seem like this amorphous thing. Investing, it might seem amorphous. Incentives for electric vehicles; amorphous. But when I heard that, I realized that I’m finance I’m the Deputy Prime Minister. I have to protect Canadians. I have to protect their well-being, it really is, really damaged. So yeah, that was a meaningful conversation for me,” she said.

CAN ECONOMIC DAMAGE BE AN “ATTACK ON DEMOCRACY”?

In the same appeal, according to the notes, Freeland called the protests “an attack on democracy.”

“You all need to know, I think this is indeed a crisis. This is a threat to our democracy and to peace, order and good government. I care about privacy, but I also care about restoring order to our society All options are on the It’s not just a job for Finance…and we won’t let that happen again.

Asked by a commission lawyer to explain what she meant by calling the protests an attack on democracy, here’s what she said.

“I was responding specifically to one of the CEOs whose bank had acted to freeze an account. Based on – this was before the Emergency Measures Act was invoked – he was based, as this memo shows, on what the bank’s anti-money laundering systems detected. And based on that, the bank acted rightly. What was a concern for me and it shaped the way we act is that banks were blamed for taking this action… And you note the mention of Fox News The thing you have to remember about Canadian banks is that many of them are also major banks in the States They are big players there and some of them are trading under their Canadian name, so they were at risk not only in Canada but also in the United States, if they were seen as adopting a politicized position. I didn’t think it was their responsibility. I thought it was the responsibility government to pass judgment on this.

His view of the protests as an attack on democracy, as they portrayed Canada as potentially politically unstable, was further explored during cross-examination by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).

ACLC lawyer Ewa Krajewska told Freeland that economic security would not trump the right to protest, noting that forms of civil disobedience such as a general strike or the “Occupy Wall Street” movement “, cause economic damage.

Freeland said that in his view, the economic harm in these examples would not be comparable to the harm seen in Canada as a result of the “freedom convoy.”

“If what was happening in Canada had been, I don’t know, the fields behind the National Art Gallery had been occupied for a long time, and maybe a comparable public park in Windsor had been occupied and so on across the country. It would have been a perfectly legitimate protest. But that was not what was happening,” she said.

PREVIEW ON MULRONEY AND BEATTY TALKS

Finally, Freeland’s testimony also revealed that she was in contact with former federal Conservative lawmaker Perrin Beatty – who was responsible for the original drafting of the Emergencies Act in 1988 – and then cabinet minister Brian Mulroney, about the law.

In a text message dated February 22, Beatty, who is now president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, wrote to Freeland:

“While I am still working out the implications, the financial aspects you have announced appear to be the most significant additional measures the government has taken under the law.

“I certainly hope that we will see a quick and non-violent end to the blockades, although I am worried, as I know you are.

“There are also a lot of long-term issues that we need to consider once this is complete, including whether we need to take further steps that may avoid the need to use extraordinary powers in law in the future. , and how to fix the holes in our politics.I am particularly concerned about the radicalization of people who would normally be law-abiding and focused on their daily lives.

Beatty’s comments came a day before the federal government revoked the national declaration of a public order emergency.

Next, Freeland saw notes she had taken during a call she had with Mulroney, dated February 25.

“Emergencies Act – I signed it into law, so I’m in favor of this one,” read one of Freeland’s memos of Mulroney’s comments on the call.

“I’m glad I introduced this legislation,” reads another.

When asked what she remembers of that call with Mulroney, Freeland said she thinks it was largely a conversation about the Russian invasion of Ukraine a day before, although that she noted that Mulroney had been a useful advisor to her and the Liberal government since NAFTA. renegotiations.

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