'I did not take on this job to be a spokesmodel': Freeland on deputy PM role
OTTAWA – In Wednesday’s cabinet unveiling, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Chrystia Freeland as his deputy prime minister, in addition to her role as the point person on intergovernmental affairs. While the title may be rooted in symbolism, Freeland says she wouldn’t have taken it on if it didn’t come with real power.
“I did not take on this job to be a spokesmodel,” she said in an interview on CTV’s Power Play on Wednesday when asked whether the new role comes with new powers, which it does, she said.
“A big part of the job is working closely with him and supporting the prime minster. You talked about the big jobs that I have, he has all the jobs in the whole government and it’s going to be a privilege to me to work with him and help him bear that burden,” said Freeland, adding that while she has discussed her mandate letter’s contents with Trudeau, it’s still something that’s his to write.
“It is a privilege to put my shoulder to the wheel and do what I can to help,” she said.
But what does a deputy prime minister do? Historically the job has included taking on answering questions in Question Period on behalf of the prime minister. With Wednesdays dedicated informally by the Liberals in the last parliament as the day when Trudeau would take all the questions, it’s possible she could be tapped in, in his absence.
This job has also been seen in the past as the person to act as the prime minister in his absence in other contexts, like in the day-to-day decision making. Those who have held the position have also historically been viewed as the next in line to succeed the sitting prime minister, and a few have run in leadership races after holding this role.
On Parliament Hill on Thursday, former Liberal prime minister and once deputy prime minister Jean Chretien said that having a deputy prime minister, as he did a few times when he was in power, is “useful.”
Exactly what kind of powers, roles, and responsibilities she will have will likely not be solidified until her mandate letter is released.
Freeland is also chairing the key cabinet committee on the environment and the economy, as well as the vice chair of the cabinet committee on agenda, results, and communications.
It’s the first time that Canada has had a deputy prime minister since 2006, as former prime minister Stephen Harper didn’t name someone to that role during his tenure, and neither did Trudeau in 2015.
Perhaps not a coincidence, the last deputy prime minister Canada had was Anne McLellan, who Trudeau brought in to assist his top team in the transition into a second term with a minority mandate. Freeland is the third woman to hold the role, following in McLellan and Sheila Copps’ footsteps.
Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was the first to name a deputy prime minister in 1977. Asked how he views the role in comparison to those who have held it previously, Trudeau said Wednesday that he sees it as “very much being a Freeland-ish role.”
“Chrystia and I have worked very closely on some of the biggest files facing Canada… And our ability to work together on these issues that, quite frankly, touch on national unity, touch on energy and the environment, touch relations with all provinces in all regions of this country, is going to be an extremely important thing at a time where we see some very different perspectives across the country that need to be brought together," Trudeau said.
Aside from Freeland, critics have questioned why the majority of the more meaty cabinet portfolios were assigned to, or maintained by men, including finance, foreign affairs, justice and public safety.
Though, in a press release praising that the cabinet remains gender balanced, Equal Voice – a national organization dedicated to electing more women to politics—pointed to portfolios like health, infrastructure, and employment that come with sizeable responsibilities, being led by women.