Early signs of Liberal leadership ambitions as Chrystia Freeland biography in works – The Globe and Mail

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland make their way to hold a press conference in Ottawa on April 20.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland will be the subject of a new biography that the author calls a portrait of the “most powerful woman in Canadian politics” and possible heir apparent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Catherine Tsalikis’s book will feed into a growing perception within the Liberal Party that Canada’s first female Finance Minister is preparing for the Prime Minister’s departure from office – even though Mr. Trudeau maintains he will run in the next election after failing twice to win majority governments.
Ms. Tsalikis, who writes on foreign affairs and gender equality, said the biography is set to be published in the fall of 2023 but could be released earlier if there is a Liberal leadership race and Ms. Freeland throws her hat into the ring.
“It would be interesting if she does decide to run for the leadership of the Liberals, and I think people want to know more about her story – where she came from, what she stands for and what kind of leader she might be,” Ms. Tsalikis said in an interview.
Some in the government are seeing early signs that Ms. Freeland wants the top job. One senior government source pointed to the letter Ms. Freeland wrote earlier this month, as Deputy Prime Minister, to Air Canada’s board of directors after chief executive officer Michael Rousseau admitted he does not speak French despite living in Montreal for 14 years. Ms. Freeland urged the board to direct Mr. Rousseau to improve his knowledge of one of Canada’s two official languages and to include it in his annual performance review.
The government source said the Air Canada letter – which could help shore up Ms. Freeland’s reputation in Quebec – appeared to some people in the Prime Minister’s Office to be the clearest evidence yet that she intends to seek the party leadership should Mr. Trudeau step down.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to speak about relations between Ms. Freeland and Mr. Trudeau’s office.
Ms. Tsalikis said Ms. Freeland is aware the book is being published by House of Anansi Press but has not yet agreed to sit down for interviews.
“She has always been the most fascinating figure to me. We don’t have that many women who rise to such positions of power here in Canada,” she said. “I’d like to delve a little bit deeper into her story and why she is so successful in politics.”
One senior Liberal MP told The Globe that Ms. Freeland has become more responsive to backbenchers since the Sept. 20 election. Another Liberal source said Ms. Freeland returns calls from MPs more quickly now.
The Globe is not identifying the sources because they would only speak on background about the potential leadership race.
Ms. Freeland is not the only leadership hopeful. Newly named Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, who co-chaired the Liberal Party’s national election campaign, has a network of loyalists in Quebec for a potential leadership run, according to three Quebec Liberal insiders.
During the campaign, the insiders said, Ms. Joly used her influence to place key people as field organizers throughout Quebec, including supporters of her unsuccessful run for mayor of Montreal in 2013. One is Philippe Lafrance, who was involved in the Quebec students’ strike in 2012 and once worked for the Parti Québécois. One Quebec Liberal source said Mr. Lafrance has the ability to mobilize hundreds of volunteers to help Ms. Joly in any leadership bid.
MPs also point to a campaign event this August in Montreal to launch Ms. Joly’s local platform. She enlisted a number of local Liberal candidates to show up as well – a sign to some that she was laying groundwork for the future.
A source close to Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he wants to run for the leadership as well but has not set up an informal team or done any organizing yet. The Globe is not identifying the source, who was not authorized to speak about Mr. Champagne’s leadership ambitions.
Mark Carney, a former governor of the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada, is also frequently mentioned as a possible leadership aspirant with the intellectual and economic experience to mount a serious challenge to Ms. Freeland.
Some Liberals were disappointed that he did not run in the last election in an Ottawa riding. But a senior Liberal on Bay Street said Mr. Carney was wise to opt out – better for him to concentrate on building his national and international reputation on climate change and the economy. Should Mr. Trudeau step down in two or three years, Mr. Carney could position himself as a potential leader with the skills to manage the economy without having to carry any political baggage. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to speak about Mr. Carney’s political ambitions.
And two well-placed Liberals say Frank Baylis, a wealthy medical technology businessman, has also been speaking to MPs about a possible run for the leadership. Mr. Baylis won a Montreal-area federal seat in 2015 but did not seek re-election in 2019. The Globe is not identifying the sources, who were not authorized to discuss Mr. Baylis’s potential interest in the Liberal leadership.
Mr. Baylis said people have been asking him what he plans to do next after selling part of his business operations – including whether he would ever return to politics. However, he said he is still occupied with his remaining businesses. “I am up to my eyeballs right now. Would I ever say no to politics? No. Of course I would never say no, but I am not looking at anything right now.”
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