Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland given mandate to play key role in every top federal government file

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Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland given mandate to play key role in every top federal government file

Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada December 12, 2019.

BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

Justin Trudeau is calling on Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to play a major role in all of the Liberal government’s top files, including tougher greenhouse-gas reduction targets, a health-care deal with the provinces and a first ministers’ meeting on reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians.

The list of responsibilities awarded to Ms. Freeland are detailed in the ministerial mandate letters released on Friday and illustrate the extent to which the Prime Minister will call on her to preserve national unity and fulfill his government’s key electoral commitments amid rising regional tensions.

Ms. Freeland was sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs on Nov. 20, but her exact duties as the government’s second-in-command were not spelled out at the time. Ms. Freeland’s mandate letter states she will work “very closely” with Mr. Trudeau in “setting and fulfilling the government’s agenda.”

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As Finance Minister, Bill Morneau now has four “key principles” to govern his decisions. According to his mandate letter, he must continue to reduce the federal debt-to-GDP ratio; preserve Canada’s AAA credit rating; make investments that improve Canadians’ quality of life; and to “preserve fiscal firepower in the event that we need to respond to an economic downturn.”

The four key principles are the government’s response to economists’ concern that the Liberals no longer have a firm fiscal anchor after abandoning any timeline for erasing the federal deficit. The emphasis on holding back some spending room in case Ottawa needs to stimulate the economy in the future is new language for the government.

The letter repeats the Liberal campaign pledges to increase tax revenue from large multinational tech companies such as Facebook and Google, including by requiring them to collect and remit the same level of sales tax as Canadian companies, but no details on timing are provided.

On housing, Mr. Morneau is asked to review and consider recommendations for “making the borrower stress test more dynamic.” The lending standards are aimed at ensuring Canadians do not take on mortgages that they won’t be able to manage should interest rates rise, but housing industry groups have said the terms should be loosened.

Also affecting homeowners, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair was instructed to create a low-cost national insurance program to cover flooding, the most damaging and costly form of natural disaster in Canada. The government, stung by escalating flood damage claims to federal disaster assistance programs, wants to stop payouts to homeowners for whom private flood insurance is available. There is also a call for a plan to help relocate homeowners whose properties are at risk of repeat flooding.

On the thorny issue of climate change and economic development, Ms. Freeland is being asked to work with Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan to introduce “additional carbon reduction measures that exceed current 2030 targets” while ensuring that energy sector is a “full partner in this transition to a cleaner economy.”

In the letter to Mr. Wilkinson, the Prime Minister is calling specifically for the establishment of “legally-binding, five-year emissions-reduction milestones based on the advice of experts and consultations with Canadians.”

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Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne is tasked with strengthening Canada’s role in multilateral organizations, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and leading the government’s campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Canada’s run for a spot on the UN’s most powerful branch in 2021-22 has been a cornerstone of the Trudeau government’s foreign policy. Mr. Champagne and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan are instructed to work together to expand Canada’s support for UN peace operations, a commitment that will be watched closely by other nations for the UN Security Council vote.

International Development Minister Karina Gould has been called on to boost Canada’s support for global education by investing at least 10 per cent of bilateral international development assistance on education. Canada took an international leadership role on this front last year when it led a historic $3.8-billion investment in girls’ education at the G7 leaders’ summit.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau’s mandate letter asks her to “draw on lessons from recent trade disputes” to improve export protections for Canadian agriculture, including faster short-term support for the industry when needed. Without directly mentioning China, the mandate letter alludes to Beijing’s decision to ban Canadian shipments of pork and beef and severely curb purchases of canola this year as part of tense relations between the two countries.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna is urged via her mandate letter to focus on the “successful, timely delivery” of the billions in federal funds already committed to infrastructure over the next decade. She also received new instructions for overseeing the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which was created in 2017 with a $35-billion budget. The letter says the minister should work with the bank to deliver high-speed internet to 100 per cent of Canadian homes and businesses by 2030 and to develop a “clean power fund” that will help finance the development and transmission of clean energy.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s letter includes more definitive language regarding Via Rail’s multibillion-dollar plan for a new dedicated passenger rail line between Quebec City and Toronto.

The letter to Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the government will create new regulations for social media platforms that require them to remove illegal content and hate speech within 24 hours or face “significant penalties.” Illegal content would include terrorist propaganda or radicalization content.

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The ministers of Heritage, Justice and Innovation, Science and Industry are being asked to establish a new set of rights for Canadians concerning their personal data, such as being made aware of data breaches and able to erase data from a platform.

With reports from Chris Hannay and Matthew McClearn

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