By Sarah Ritchie in Ottawa
Once upon a time, Chrystia Freeland attempted to relate to Canadians’ cost-of-living concerns with a personal anecdote — and it didn’t produce a fairy-tale ending.
“I personally, as a mother and wife, look carefully at my credit card bill once a month, and last Sunday I said to the kids, ‘You’re older now. You don’t watch Disney anymore. Let’s cut that Disney Plus subscription,'” Freeland told Global News in an interview that aired on Nov. 6.
She went on to say: “I believe that I need to take exactly the same approach with the federal government’s finances, because that’s the money of Canadians.”
Maybe Freeland meant to show that managing a $430-billion budget is not all that different from handling a household one.
But as word of the clip spread throughout the land, and was viewed nearly a million times in just a couple of days, so did outrage.
Emails sent to her office and obtained by The Canadian Press under access-to-information law show that Freeland’s attempt to connect with Canadians made her a villain to thousands.
“This advice is about as wise as boomers telling younger folks if only they skipped the avocado toast then they could afford a house,” said one person. The names of the senders are redacted in the documents.
Some commenters felt the minister’s attempt to blend in missed the mark, like when Princess Jasmine visited the market in “Aladdin” and encountered a less-royal way of life.
Messages accused Freeland of being “smug,” “elitist,” “clueless” and “entitled.”
One person accused her of underestimating the platform’s offerings. “There is more than just Disney movies on Disney Plus, so you are actually depriving your children of the things their friends might watch.”
The person added that Freeland was doing so “when we all know you can easily afford that.”
Federal cabinet ministers will earn just over $289,000 this year. The median household income in Ontario in 2020 was $79,500, according to Statistics Canada.
Someone wrote to say they’d already cut Disney Plus and wanted to know how to “cancel my portion of the CBC subsidy.” CBC’s $1.2 billion in government funding in 2022 works out to about $30 per Canadian per year.
Others were less sarcastic, noting that “poverty is not a choice.”
One email urged the government to better manage inflation.
“If you are out of ideas on how I do this, might I humbly suggest your office consider a more aggressive approach to regulating the skyrocketing profits in the grocery industry?”
Another writer, who described herself as a single mother on disability, said that she sometimes goes without food to ensure that her 10-year-old son doesn’t.
“That was an absolute slap in the face to people who are truly struggling,” she wrote.
“Like I tell my son: You need to think before you speak.”
One would-be knight in shining armour did come to Freeland’s defence, emailing to say they, too, had cut out TV channels — along with beauty treatments, travel and cellphones, among other things.
They argued: “Inflation means lifestyles must be changed!”
Staff in the Finance Department did a social media scan on Nov. 7, the day after Freeland’s series of interviews about the fall economic statement.
Over two days, there were 13,000 mentions of Freeland and Disney Plus, and “coverage was predominantly negative,” an official in charge of media monitoring wrote in an email.
A word cloud graphic attached to the email showed the phrases “tone-deaf” and “high inflation” featured prominently.
Freeland walked back her remark the next day, telling reporters that “Like other elected federal leaders, I am paid a really significant salary, and I know that that puts me in a really, really privileged position.”
Her office did not respond to questions this week about the feedback she received, instead pointing to her comments in the Nov. 7 press conference.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2023.
Banner image via The Canadian Press