Why Canada Is Taking More of a (Polite) Lead on the World Stage

October 17, 2018, 3:13 AM UTC

Canada is ready for its close-up.

That’s how it seems to Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, who acknowledged at the Fortune Global Forum in Toronto on Tuesday that the nation is taking more of a lead on the world stage. “I think you’re starting to see it,” she said.

Freeland noted that the country is speaking out about issues including human rights, trade, and generally a “rules-based international order.”

Freeland discussed Canada’s position on journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has been missing since visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago as is alleged by Turkey to have been killed by Saudi agents. She called it “a very worrying situation” and said that questions need to be answered.

Freeland, who’s a former journalist herself, noted that it’s a dangerous time for people in the news industry and that it’s important to speak up for journalists in order for democracy to function properly.

“Canada really believes it’s important to speak about humans rights in the world,” Freeland said, adding that the country will always do it in a Canadian way: politely, from a position of humility, and recognizing that the nation is far from perfect itself. “We will continue to do that, and we make no apology for doing that,” she said.

Freeland described a similar approach when it came to its recent trade negotiations with the U.S. and Mexico: they were polite and friendly—what she called “our national way”—while still standing firm and knowing its bottom line.

After the 14-month long negations for the NAFTA replacement were completed, the first thing she did was go into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office and lay down on the floor, she said.

Trade negotiations are technical, she said, but they always have their moments of drama. “People who are not Canadian have no idea how it was a real national thing,” she added, noting that people in the supermarket would stop to give her a hug and that someone once offered her their seat in business class on a flight.

Freeland said that in addition to climate change, what worries her the most is that “we have to fight in a way we haven’t since before World War II for our liberal democracies” and for the free press and rules-based constitutional order they stand for. She said that angry populist nativism has been “remarkably successful” in a number of places “premised on a very different set of views about the world.”

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