Former journalist Chrystia Freeland became Canada’s first female finance minister on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Freeland to the job after Bill Morneau resigned on Monday. Freeland also keeps her job as deputy prime minister.
She is credited with helping to negotiate the new free trade agreement with United States and Mexico and is trusted ally of Trudeau.
Morneau and Trudeau reportedly butted heads at a time when the government was spending heavily to help the pandemic-hammered economy. Morneau said he was not asked to resign but added that he is no longer the appropriate the person for the job.
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.
Freeland is a 52-year-old Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar who speaks five languages
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.”
Recent news that Mark Carney, a former governor of both the Bank of Canada and Bank of England, has been advising Trudeau during the pandemic fueled speculation that Morneau might be replaced. Carney was the first non-Briton to take the top job at the 325-year-old Bank of England.
Opposition parties have 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.