Chrystia Freeland speaks five languages, has won two prestigious diplomatic awards, written several books, including a New York Times bestseller, studied at Harvard and Oxford, is a Rhodes Scholar, and in most venues has swathed more canola than anyone else in the room.
“I think this room might be an exception,” Canada’s foreign affairs minister told the inaugural Canadian Crops Convention here March 6.
“And my swathing days were in the days before my dad had cabs on his swathers. So it was like serious swathing. I just also want to say as minister of foreign affairs, and former trade minister, and also as someone who grew up on a farm in northern Alberta (Peace River) where my dad is still farming, I am intensely, personally aware of and proud of how great Canadian farms and farmers are. I think this is one of the untold success stories of our country. We do a fantastic job of producing a whole lot of canola and wheat and barley and cereals.”
Freeland said she often points to canola as an example of Canadian innovation. The oilseed is a Canadian invention by publicly funded researchers who took rapeseed and created canola, which produces superior oil and meal.
At Christmas, Freeland told her 74-year-old dad she hopes he will continue farming until she retires from politics so she and her husband can take over the farm.
“My dad first of all said, ‘I’m too old and you’re too young. But then he said… ‘I’m not sure that you are smart enough,’” Freeland said, sparking audience laughter.
“I said, ‘look Dad, maybe I’m not as smart as you but I can try hard.’ And he said, ‘but no, it is really hard to be a farmer today,’ and I really know that.
“The Canadian farmer today needs to be one part commodity trader, one part agronomist, one part mechanic, and nowadays one part computer programmer… and one part CFO of a small business.”
As a result of her upbringing Freeland understands the value of canola to Canadian farmers and the importance of the Chinese canola market.
“When we travelled to China in 2016 I thought sometimes it’s good to make a message personal so I got some actual canola actually grown by my dad and brought it with me in a jar to China,” she said.
“I showed it to the Chinese premier and I said, ‘look, we really care about this stuff. It’s really personal for us. Our farmers are growing this canola and need access to your market. I realize there are some significant challenges today,” Freeland said, alluding to China’s decision to block canola imports from Richardson International. “We are working very hard on that.”