Chrystia Freeland has a tough balancing act ahead of her and farmers should hope she succeeds.
As the new finance minister, she must deliver on her Liberal party’s and her prime minister’s desire to create a formidable “Green” legacy, while protecting this country’s ability to do business, to produce goods and services at world-competitive costs, and to get those goods and services out onto the world stage.
In short, she has to be able to balance the green and growth agendas.
There’s no question she’s a capable woman. The main jokes about her when she was announced for the job last week were along the lines of “What crucial role has Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not put her into yet?”
She has been willing to fight U.S. President Donald Trump on the North American trade agreement, China on canola and hostages, and Russia on Ukraine. She’s a tough cookie.
And she understands business, industry and the economy. She’s a long-time and successful financial journalist (the highest form of human life, in my eyes), and clearly knows how Canada pays its bills.
Her boss doesn’t seem to differ much from that. He’s been forging ahead with the TransMountain pipeline and seems very pro-industry, even when industry is struggling to make itself seem green and relatable.
That’s where farming faces its risks. More and more, urban activists target farmers for all sorts of normal farming practices, like using fertilizers and chemicals, spreading manure, creating dust and raising livestock.
Farmers have been easy for some in the cities to demonize, which can lead to some bad public policy. We’ve seen that at municipal and provincial levels, with anti-farming laws imposed. As well, the federal carbon tax on grain drying and barn heating, as well as tougher regulatory approvals for major infrastructure projects, have caused a lot of concern among farmers.
I don’t doubt that Freeland understands how agriculture works and what it needs to thrive, but she’s going to be sitting at a cabinet table with a bunch of urbanites who likely know little about modern farming, but who suspect the worst.
It’ll be easy for Trudeau to push his green agenda on his party and cabinet. Things that are seen as green are popular with most Liberal representatives and members, and those likely to vote for the party. Cabinet members will be hollering for their cut of whatever mega-largesse Trudeau looks set to unleash in late September, when the House of Commons comes back to life.
Freeland will have to keep spending within some bounds of sanity, while staving off green proposals that threaten to kill the growth that Canada will need to pay for bold spending plans.
Some reports say the political demise of her predecessor, Bill Morneau, was due to him saying “no” too many times to Trudeau and the Liberal desire to spend more and bigger. Freeland has the confidence of the prime minister, without question, but what happens if she starts fighting over control of the purse strings?
Many farmers are fiscal conservatives, at least with non-agricultural money. Now might be a case in which farmers need to pick which poison they would least like to consume: big spending overall, or specifically “bad” spending on some green projects that threaten farming? Do they spend their time preaching against what they see as reckless overspending, or save their time and energy to push back against green proposals that crimp the ability of farmers to remain financially viable?
Freeland is likely the best choice prairie farmers could have had with the pick for new finance minister. Let’s hope she’s able to maintain the balance the industry and Canada need.