Trudeau taps byelection star Chrystia Freeland for economic advice

OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau has tapped star byelection candidate Chrystia Freeland to help craft economic policy for the Liberal platform in 2015.

The choice of Freeland as co-chair of an economic advisory council serves a double purpose: bolstering the Liberal leader’s relatively weak economic credentials as well as Freeland profile before she runs in the upcoming Toronto Centre byelection, which promises to be an epic struggle for supremacy between the Liberals and NDP.

Freeland is a former journalist and author of an internationally acclaimed book, “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.”

Trudeau called Freeland “a tremendous source of strength and expertise” for the Liberal party.

Her emphasis on income inequality fits neatly with Trudeau’s stated priority to improve the lot of struggling middle-class families. He hasn’t made clear how he intends to do so, however — and Freeland’s expertise could help mute some of that criticism.

Trudeau stuck Tuesday to his position that detailed policies should be developed only after extensive consultation with Canadians, not handed down from on high.

To that end, he announced the creation of a council of economic advisers, which will consult experts and engage ordinary folks in the development of Liberal economic policies.

“What we’re doing today is putting in place a very serious process and effort to address — in a sophisticated, smart way — how we can secure real prosperity for the Canadian middle class going forward,” said Freeland, who will co-chair the council with Liberal finance critic Scott Brison.

“This is not something that you can sit down and write a bumper sticker about, it’s not a three-point plan you can come up with on a napkin one morning. This is a really, really hard problem and we are rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on it, starting today.”

Trudeau has been mocked by both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair for his refusal to be pinned down on his prescriptions for the economy. Mulcair, who until recently had mostly ignored the Liberal leader, has gone so far as to compare Trudeau to short-lived prime minister Kim Campbell, who once infamously said elections weren’t the time for serious policy discussions.

The Liberal leader insisted Tuesday that he’s offered “an awful lot of concrete policies” on a number of fronts — including democratic reform, foreign investment, oil and gas pipelines and legalization of marijuana — but reiterated that precise details must await the election platform.

“I will continue to talk policy regularly but I will not put forward a platform until the election because that platform needs to be built with Canadians,” he said.

As for criticism from his political rivals, Trudeau said Canadians are tired of the “politics of negativity and division.”

“I’ll let Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair focus on me. I’m going to stay focused on Canadians.”

Freeland, who won the Liberal nomination on Sunday, faces a stiff challenge in Toronto Centre from New Democrat Linda McQuaig, also a journalist and prolific author of books on income inequality, among other things.

Harper has yet to set a date for the byelection but it is already being seen as a trial run for the 2015 election, with the NDP and Liberals each trying to prove they are the only real alternative to the governing Conservatives.

Toronto Centre has been held by the Liberals since 1993, although the NDP surged to within 11 points of the Grits in the 2011 election. The riding was left vacant by the resignation in July of former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.

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