Bouquets from establishment media through her tenure as foreign affairs minister has made Chrystia Freeland thin-skinned to criticism.
On rare occasions she receives it, like at Tuesday’s Senate committee appearance, rather than yielding to a difference of opinion and returning to statecraft – minister of foreign affairs’ job description – the woman named ‘diplomat of the year’ by Foreign Policy magazine took her beef to social media instead.
In an edited clip she posted to Twitter, Québec Conservative Senator Leo Housakos appears incredulous there could ever be a politician in Canada “who believes that white supremacy is a threat to our way of life in Canada, to our communities, to our democracy.”
His remarks are the tail end of a broader disagreement Housakos articulated about relative threats, taken alongside the spate of Islamic terrorism over the previous two decades – terrorism so ferocious and severe it required marshalling Canadian military expeditions to combat it.
That little more than a week ago Freeland told the United Nations “neo-nazis, white supremacists, incels, and radical anti-globalists” threatened the civilized world, her position was fair game for a member of the Senate’s foreign affairs committee.
Listen to her UN statement by clicking here.
Freeland’s truncated Twitter clip of the entire exchange shows she heartily doubled down on her UN statement only hours after David Vigneault, director of CSIS, finished telling the Senate’s national security committee that Islamic terrorist groups remain the central threat having “caused the most significant deaths recently”.
Canada’s top spy also told senators that CSIS was working with RCMP and others to track 300 Canadians believed to have left to fight for ISIS, but other Islamic terror groups including Hezbollah and Al Shabaab; 90 of whom are believed to be back in the country.
Vigneault did say “ultra-right-wing extremists” occupy “more and more” of agency resources, yet in that vein he referenced the Richmond Hill ‘incel’ who killed ten with a rental van by employing techniques associated with other Islamic terror attacks in Europe: “which is to use a vehicle to kill as many people as you can.”
But all of this was buried under the media-fed, political bunfight Freeland instigated by taking a 1:36 minute slice of an hour’s worth of questioning, to suggest Housakos – the son of Greek immigrants – is proof Conservatives are in denial about, or even in bed with far-right racists who would threaten our security and democracy.
In isolation, it is on par with Conservative and Liberal MPs arguing a fortnight previous on the subject of which party is worse at doing feminism.
Given other pressing issues for Freeland, including two Canadians in Chinese custody, extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, China’s canola blockade, Russian aggression in Ukraine and OECD’s ‘monitoring’ of the SNC-Lavalin imbroglio (topic of Housakos’ first question during the roundtable affair), winning an argument over nascent terror threats ranks less than urgent.
Senator Raynell Andreychuk chairs of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee and also engaged in a disagreement with Freeland, an albeit less publicized exchange.
“I hope that we’re not saying extremism is one definition,” Andreychuk told Freeland at the end of the minister’s appearance. “We are being bombarded from cyberspace. We are thinking we have had allies and finding out we don’t have the same allies. Countries are changing.”
The Conservative senator from Saskatchewan took particular issue with Freeland’s outlook on Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, that the minister described as the first time Russia retook former possessions “since the Second World War”.
“I do want to correct you on Ukraine and to the east. It isn’t just one fact that changes,” Andreychuk said before Freeland left, refusing to engage media on her way out the door.
“Remember the Baltics that we abandoned. Remember the fact that Georgia was invaded. It is an incremental thing, and then we come to a consensus that we say enough is enough.”
Andreychuk also addressed deteriorating relations with China in the wake of Wanzhou’s arrest and extradition proceedings, further tested by an embargo on Canadian canola seed for alleged pest contamination on a product whose export to China is valued at $2.7 billion annually.
“It’s the same thing with China,” said Andreychuk. “It’s been incremental. We’ve overlooked, we’ve forewarned and we’ve been shocked. There comes a point to act. The canola crisis is hitting now.”