US concerns about convoy blockades marked a “dangerous moment for Canada,” Freeland tells research

As Secretary of the Treasury Chrystia Freeland puts it, Brian Deese is a difficult man to get hold of.

So when U.S. President Joe Biden’s senior economic adviser asked her on Feb. 10 to call about the ongoing border blockades, Freeland said, she knew the stakes were high.

“That was a dangerous moment for Canada, I thought,” the deputy prime minister testified on Thursday before the emergency bill investigation.

“That one conversation was a groundbreaking conversation for me. And it was a moment where I realized that we as a country had to somehow find a way to put an end to this.”

Freeland will appear before the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is reviewing the government’s decision to invoke the Emergency Act on Feb. 14 to overturn protests against anti-public health measures in Ottawa and discourage border blockades.

Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, speaks at a news conference at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. (Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg)

At various points in early 2022, protesters blocked border crossings in Windsor, Ont., the small town of Coutts, Alta., Emerson, Man., and the Pacific Highway in Surrey, B.C.

Freeland said she knew after her call with Deese, director of the US President’s National Economic Council, that the blockades had created an “orange flash of light” south of the border regarding supply chain vulnerabilities with Canada.

She said she feared the blockades would tip the balance in favor of Democrats and Republicans who support protectionist trade policies.

“It wasn’t just the direct damage, it wasn’t just the direct damage. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, you know, this factory is losing four days of work,'” Freeland said Thursday.

“There was a danger that if we as a country engaged in doing long-term and potentially irreparable damage to our trade relationship with the United States.”

The government cited a threat to Canada’s economic security when it invoked the emergency law last winter.

LOOK | Deputy Prime Minister explains conversations with White House official

US concerns about convoy blockades marked a "dangerous moment for Canada," Freeland tells research

Deputy Prime Minister explains text discussions with White House official

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said after research that she and Brian Deese, White House economics director, discussed how trade damage caused by the self-proclaimed “Freedom Convoy” would not be felt just temporarily.

Transport Canada estimates that the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge, a major trade corridor, has halted an estimated $2.3 billion in trade.

The committee has already learned that during the convoy protests, the federal government tried to convince the United States to scrap a plan that would exclude electric vehicles assembled in Canada from a proposed consumer tax credit, which would benefit companies that manufacture electric cars. on American soil.

Freeland called it “life or death” for the Canadian auto industry.

“That would have been a disaster for us,” Freeland said, describing what she believes would have happened if the Biden administration had not extended the tax credit to electric vehicles produced across North America.

CEOs warned Canada was seen as a ‘joke’

In a telephone conversation with CEOs of Canadian banks, Freeland was told repeatedly that Canada’s international reputation was in jeopardy.

A readout of the Feb. 13 call was entered as evidence on Wednesday.

A person on the phone, whose name was redacted in the document provided to the committee, said Canada had been labeled a “joke” by US investors.

“I had an investor who said, ‘I will not invest another cent in your banana republic in Canada,'” the speaker said. “That adds to an already difficult investment prospect.”

LOOK | US incentives for electric cars and batteries would have been “a disaster” for Canada, Freeland says

US concerns about convoy blockades marked a "dangerous moment for Canada," Freeland tells research

US incentives for electric cars and batteries would have been “a disaster” for Canada, Freeland says

During testimony at the Emergencies Act inquiry, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland discussed integrated supply chains between Canada and the US, saying that incentives encouraging American-built electric vehicles and batteries would have been bad for the Canadian economy.

Another speaker expressed concern about how the government planned to handle the blockades.

“I am deeply concerned that the banking system is seen as a political weapon of the government,” said the company chief, whose name was also redacted.

“We cannot politicize the banks.”

The speakers also questioned Canada’s relatively strict pandemic measures, which were the strongest in the OECD at the time.

Freeland assured speakers during the call that she would take whatever action was necessary, saying that “all options are on the table”.

“I am very resolute in ending this occupation of our democracy,” she said.

Freeland feared that Canada would be “discredited” as an ally of Ukraine

Later that night, the Cabinet was to meet to invoke the Emergency Act. Freeland said she had a meeting between the phone call with bank officials and the cabinet meeting to discuss intelligence suggesting Russia was planning to invade Ukraine. Russian troops entered on February 24.

In an interview with lawyers for the commission in September, Freeland said she feared the protest would affect Canada’s response to the war. A summary of that interview was entered as evidence on Thursday.

US concerns about convoy blockades marked a "dangerous moment for Canada," Freeland tells research
Treasury Secretary Chrystia Freeland appears as a witness before the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Thursday, November 24, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“Freeland also pointed out that if Canada’s capital had still been occupied when Russia invaded Ukraine, in her view, such a situation would have completely discredited Canada as an ally in support of Ukraine,” the synopsis document said.

“Russian media would have been focused 24/7 on what was happening in Canada, which would have made Canada seem very weak at a time when it was supposed to be strong. In addition, it would have become very difficult to take action after the invasion.”

Minister gets questions about frozen accounts

Freeland also questioned the decision to give authorities emergency powers to freeze the finances of those involved in the protests.

Data presented to the inquiry last week suggested that about 280 bank accounts with about $8 million in assets were frozen due to the emergency measures.

Freeland defended the move, saying the government wanted the protests to end peacefully and that the economic measures provided an incentive to leave the protest zones.

“I actually said, ‘We really need to act, something needs to be done.’ And I remember a colleague saying to me, “My nightmare is blood on a child’s face.” And I remember that very clearly. Because I was worried about that,” she said.

Last week Brendan Miller – an attorney for some of the protest organizers – argued in cross-examination that the account freezing order was an act of overreach and that stopping fundraising on crowdfunding platforms violated Canadians’ right to freedom of expression .

Several of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s staff members will also testify on Thursday, including his chief of staff Katie Telford. She is joined by Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Clow and Trudeau’s Director of Policy John Brodhead.

The three members of staff will provide a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Prime Minister’s Office and are likely to be questioned about the deliberations involved in invoking the emergency law.

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