In the person of Chrystia Freeland, Canada is taking centre stage during a perilous time during which the foundations of long-term friendships and trade partnerships are being rocked to their core. This month, our foreign affairs minister received the “Diplomat of the Year” award from the prestigious U.S.-based Foreign Affairs Forum. The award shone the international spotlight on Canada and Freeland, but it was her message — delivered in the form of a speech to the forum — that marked her arrival as an credible, experienced and fearless player on the international stage.

She will have her work cut out for her. Freeland, a former journalist and author who documented the rise and corruption of Russian oligarchs, gave an unvarnished and dark assessment of the dangers she sees facing liberal democracies. Not only is the world teetering on the edge of damaging trade wars, but it is also facing the rise of angry populism, protectionism, white supremacy and other reactionary tendencies.

When large groups of people feel their lifestyles, jobs and children’s futures are threatened, it emboldens demagogues who are ever-present and in search of scapegoats, she argued. She didn’t mention Donald Trump by name, but he was simmering beneath the surface. The answer, she said, is not to turn inward but rather to commit to a rule-based international order and trade relationships that are the basis for healthy and stable economies.

Freeland is correct to link economies and trade relationships with anti-democratic social movements. She is also right to say that Canada is not immune. We can arm ourselves against these inclinations by addressing stagnant wage growth and income inequality. This will be achieved by continuing to cultivate global trade relationships and rules created by multilateral organizations and agreements such as the World Trade Organization, NAFTA, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations.

Freeland believes countries like ours must nurture strong relationships with traditional allies such as the U.S., and emerging economies in Asia, the Americas, Africa and the former Soviet Union. This flies in the face of Trumpism, which seeks to pull back on globalization and immigration.

Freeland described the U.S.-imposed tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel industries as illegal under WTO and NAFTA and the justification — that they represent a threat to U.S. security — as absurd and hurtful.

She made it clear in no uncertain terms that Canada will retaliate dollar for dollar and that Canada has support from trade allies in Mexico and Europe.

Her message is confident and firm in the face of uncertainty, but she concedes that if America chooses to impose might over rule, Canada will suffer economic consequences. That makes us vulnerable to social and political problems.

There is a lot at stake for Canadians as America marches towards isolation. Chrystia Freeland finds herself behind the wheel on this treacherous stretch of highway. She will have to keep a level head and a steady hand as she fights back and negotiates for Canada’s best interests.