Chrystia Freeland says she has ‘100%’ confidence in Justin Trudeau

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says she still has “100 per cent” confidence in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following a scathing report by the federal ethics commissioner found Trudeau violated ethics rules.

Mario Dion found Trudeau tried to influence then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and get her to overrule a decision to not grant a deferred prosecution agreement to Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin. The finding has given the Liberals’ political opponents a new head of steam ahead of the fall election campaign.

Freeland was in Halifax Thursday to speak with local business leaders about the so-called new NAFTA deal.

Freeland spoke with CBC Information Morning host Julianne Hazlewood about these issues. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I’ll start with the ethics commissioner’s finding. It came out yesterday that Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act. What do you make of that?

I haven’t yet had a chance to read the report, but I’d like to say a few things.

One of the things that I was reflecting on about this is the fact that a tough report like this can be done by an impartial, independent institution, and can be published just before a federal election campaign.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured Wednesday at press conference in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., contravened Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act through a series of ‘flagrant attempts to influence’ then Justice Minister Jody Wilson‑Raybould to reach an agreement with SNC-Lavalin to avoid criminal prosecution. (Andrej Ivanov/Reuters)

Standing back, I think we as Canadians should all be really glad that we have strong, independent, democratic institutions that can hold everyone, including my government, to account.

The second thing is, the prime minister has said that he accepts the report and he takes full responsibility. I think that is entirely appropriate.

The prime minister did say that he takes full responsibility, but he also said that he doesn’t agree with everything in the report, and he did stop short of offering an apology. Does it in any way affect the way you view what happened between the prime minister and Jody Wilson-Raybould?

As I said, I’ll need to read the full report to comment on any details. It wasn’t a file that I was personally involved in.

I think it’s also absolutely the right thing that the prime minister has stepped up and said he accepts full responsibility. Now, it’s also fully the prime minister’s right to disagree with some of the approaches and he’s been clear about that too.

For Canadians, this is now a report that people can read and come to their own judgment. What I think they do need to know is whether ministers support the prime minister, and I can say unequivocally and with real confidence that I 100 per cent do.

Well, in the report, the ethics commissioner says the evidence shows that there were many ways in which Mr. Trudeau either directly, or through the actions of those under his direction, sought to influence the attorney general. What do you say to Canadians who look at the report, and who read the news stories, and think, “Why would I vote for a prime minister in a party that broke ethics rules?”

In terms of what I say to Canadians about the election, I 100 per cent say that I very much hope that they will vote for me in my riding, and vote for their Liberal candidates. I think that our government has put forward, and will continue to put forward, the best set of policies that support Canadians, support the Canadian middle class, and stand up for Canada and the world.

You’re in Nova Scotia to talk about the new NAFTA. When do you expect that to be ratified?

The new deal has already been ratified in Mexico. In terms of the Canadian position, we have begun the ratification process, and it’s gone through a couple of readings. In terms of the final ratification, our position from the very start has been that we would be moving in lockstep with the U.S. It has started to go through the process in the U.S. I spoke to Ambassador Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative who’s leading the effort in the U.S., a couple weeks ago.

Where we are right now in the U.S. is the USTR [United States Trade Representative] is speaking to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who’s the speaker of the house. That’s the first U.S. Chamber.

And there’s definitely been some concerns from U.S. Democrats. They want to see changes on labour provisions, environment, patent protection. So, is it likely to be ratified, given where it’s stalled right now, before the federal election?

We know about the Canadian process, and we know that the Canadian House has risen. We also know when it comes to Canada, that this agreement has support across the political spectrum. In terms of the U.S., the U.S. House is in summer recess as well. It will go back into session in September, and I do expect that then the conversation between USTR and the Democrats, led by Speaker Pelosi, will continue around this.

Speaker Pelosi has said, and we had a meeting with her, with the Prime Minister in June, that she wants to get to “yes.” I think we need to let the U.S. political process run its course.

The good thing about NAFTA is this is not like a brand-new trade deal where we don’t get the benefits until the deal is ratified. NAFTA is currently in place.

Trump has threatened many times to withdraw from the current NAFTA deal with the six-month provision.

Actually, since we renegotiated the deal, the American president has gone from saying “This is the worst trade deal ever” to saying “NAFTA is now the best trade deal ever.”

One of the things which actually should be very reassuring to Canadians, to Canadian workers, to Canadian companies, is that spectre of potential U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA has really, absolutely receded.

And by the way, there are very few countries in the world right now that can say they have a privileged trading relationship with the United States. Just look at the news. So, that is a huge benefit to Canadians, and I would say to Canadian companies, we are a trading nation. Get out there and take advantage of this please.