The risk to Canada’s economic reputation was behind the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act to deter the “Freedom Convoy” blockades across the country, the deputy prime minister and finance minister repeatedly told MPs Tuesday.
But Chrystia Freeland — the highest-ranking minister yet to appear before the special committee investigating the government’s unprecedented use of emergency powers — would not share specific data that would have been available at the time the Act was invoked, which would have shown the protests were damaging the national economy.
“It was clear to me that with each passing hour, our economic reputation with the United States as a reliable trading partner and as a reliable investment destination was being damaged,” she said.
She pointed to comments made by Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin in early February, when protesters blocked the key Ambassador Bridge border crossing between her state and Ontario, who said the blockades made the case for more Buy American policies to end the reliance on foreign trade — including with Canada.
“This is so dangerous to Canada, colleagues,” Freeland said.
“I was deeply, deeply concerned that these illegal blockades and this illegal occupation would provoke a whole new wave of protectionism and deeply erode our trading relationship with the United States. That was a real economic threat.”
Such a threat could not be specifically felt in the moment, the minister said, but rather “in the years ahead.”
Freeland says Ottawa convoy was ‘agonizing’ time for Canadians, government
That didn’t sit well with some members of the committee, including NDP MP Matthew Green, who pressed Freeland for relevant economic data that would have influenced the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act.
Their exchange grew testy as Freeland disputed Green’s assertion that reputation and “feelings” don’t matter when it comes to the economy, and specifically its impact on the government’s decision-making.
“I’m not talking about pontification, I’m talking about facts here,” Green said at one point.
“I don’t believe I’m pontificating,” Freeland replied. “The economic impact was absolutely, clearly there.”
“That’s not good enough,” Green shot back.
Some of the economic data figures Freeland pointed to were released after the last trucks were removed from outside Parliament, including Ottawa city council’s estimation that the blockade there cost the city at least $30 million.
Experts predicted at the time of the blockades that the economic impacts could be felt for months afterwards, without giving specific figures.
Yet data showed the blockades at the Ambassador Bridge and Coutts, Alta., border crossings had little impact on cross-border trade, with truckers simply being rerouted to other nearby ports of entry.
While she could not speak to police actions and their needs at the time, Freeland said she was speaking daily with Canadian business leaders and owners who were raising concerns about the economic impact of the blockades.
“These were not people who hyperventilate,” she said. “These were people who could really see every day their businesses being eroded, and therefore the national economy.”
Throughout her appearance, a few MPs from the opposition parties accused Freeland of not providing clear answers to questions, with Green at one point accusing the minister of being “almost contemptible.”
Conservatives continue to hammer Liberals over the invocation of Emergencies Act
Freeland did speak to the controversial financial measures carried out under the Act, which included directing banks to freeze some protesters’ accounts, as well as those of any donors to the “Freedom Convoy” movement.
She said any decisions to freeze accounts were made independently by financial institutions independent without “political direction,” based on information received from law enforcement and internal data.
The government has said more than 200 bank accounts worth $7.8 million were frozen while the Act was in place. Any affected accounts were unfrozen once the Act was lifted on Feb. 23.
Freeland told the committee that RCMP never provided a list of donors to financial institutions to be targeted under the emergency measures. She later added that court orders would have taken too long to have the desired effect, which was to cut off the “Freedom Convoy” movement and deter future blockades.
Freeland repeatedly said invoking the Emergencies Act was a “last resort” for the government to crack down on the blockades and give police the necessary powers to remove protesters and their vehicles after weeks of inaction.
“It was an agonizing time, I think, for many Canadians, and it was an agonizing time for everyone in government, because we had to balance some serious things against each other,” she said.
“We did not invoke the Emergencies Act lightly. That’s why it took some time.”
Following Freeland’s appearance, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair told the committee it took several days for the “Freedom Convoy” movement to rise to the level of a national emergency, prompting his ministry and others to step in.
He also tried to clarify that the government never received a recommendation from police to invoke the Emergencies Act.
Marco Mendicino, Blair’s successor as public safety minister, has come under fire for telling the committee that police asked for the government to invoke the Act, despite the heads of the RCMP and Ottawa police saying otherwise.
Conservatives call on Marco Mendicino to resign
“(Police) were clearly having difficulties in affecting the lawful purpose of restoring public order in the city of Ottawa, protecting the people of Ottawa, to opening up those vital trade corridors (under existing laws),” he said. “I needed to understand why.
“One of the considerations the government has to consider before invoking the Act is to ensure that no other law of Canada can be applied to these circumstances. So I think it was absolutely essential and appropriate to consult with law enforcement.”
Mendicino has used similar language to try and clarify his earlier comments, but that has not stopped Conservatives from calling for his resignation. The minister has defended his actions.
— with files from the Canadian Press
This content was originally published here.