Chrystia Freeland must provide “clear vision” as she steps into her new role as finance minister, especially taking over the portfolio with little direct financial experience, according to one of her predecessors.   

“The first thing she wants to do is create confidence – that she’s confident; that she has a handle on where things are going; that she’s got a clear vision; and that she’s in sync with the government,” Joe Oliver, who served as federal finance minister from 2014 to 2015 under former prime minister Stephen Harper, told BNN Bloomberg in an interview on Tuesday.

“That’s absolutely crucial and it shouldn’t be impossible to do. But she’s got to be solid in the next couple of days.”

A former journalist, Freeland has steadily ascended the ranks of Trudeau’s cabinet since his mandate began in 2015. Initially named minister of international trade, Freeland was at the forefront for Canada in the renegotiation of the new North American Free Trade Agreement. In a 2017 cabinet shuffle, she was moved to minister of foreign affairs, and was named to her current role as deputy prime minister and minister of inter-governmental affairs in Trudeau’s minority government following the 2019 federal election.

“I think it was absolutely critical that the prime minister moved immediately to appoint a new finance minister,” Oliver said.

“Freeland is going to take on that extremely challenging role without a direct background in finance or economics, but a fairly extensive (political) background now, with five years in government.”

However, Oliver said people will be most interested in what the government intends to do in terms of managing the country’s ballooning deficit.

“There’s potentially a big disconnect between what some people are hoping and perhaps what Morneau was advancing, which was a modicum of prudence now that we’re up to a deficit of over $340 billion, debt approaching $1.2 trillion.”

Last month, Morneau projected a $343.2-billion deficit when he detailed the cost of government measures to help the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, he said Canada’s debt structure is “prudent” and promised the government would “continue to make sure this is the case in the months and years to come.”

“Are we going to go that route with a little bit of restraint, which we haven’t seen much of before?” Oliver asked. “Or is it going to be the great re-set and an opportunity that a lot of people on the left see this crisis creating, which is: ‘Things are really bad so why not make them worse? Why not take advantage of a crisis to make some fundamental changes in the role of government – how big it should be, how much support there should be?’ Basically, how far left is the government wanting to go?”

As the government grapples with the fiscal fallout from the pandemic, Oliver said there’s a big question mark around Canada’s economic future.

“Going forward, what is critically important is: Where is the country going to go economically? And there’s a big question about that, and we’ll start to find out in the next few days and weeks,” Oliver said.