Chrystia Freeland, a respected business journalist and author who has held senior positions at top global news organizations, is leaving journalism in a bid to win a seat in Canada‘s parliament, she confirmed to TIME on Monday. The move surprised many of her colleagues at Reuters, where Freeland was most recently Managing Director and Editor for consumer news, and raised eyebrows in the broader U.S. journalism community, which is not accustomed to seeing journalists run for elected office.
Freeland, who was born and raised in the Canadian province of Alberta, will seek the Liberal Party nomination for the downtown Toronto riding (a seat in Canada’s House of Commons) vacated by Bob Rae, who recently announced his resignation from Parliament. Freeland, who currently lives in New York with her family, will move to Toronto. A frequent guest on U.S. political chat shows and a ubiquitous presence at international conferences, Freeland has resigned her position at Reuters and will no longer contribute columns to The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper.
“This is really about wanting to have the courage of my convictions,” Freeland told TIME in a phone interview on Monday. “I really feel a responsibility to roll up my sleeves and act. Our eldest daughter was born in Toronto, and I have always been closely connected to Canada and felt myself to be very Canadian.”
In recent years, Freeland’s work has focused on the growing global disparity between the rich and the poor. Last year, she published Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, which was awarded the 2013 Lionel Gelber Prize, a top Canadian literary award. In her book, Freeland describes how an international super-elite is concentrating wealth and power at levels not seen since the Gilded Age era of “robber barons” like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.
“Today’s conventional wisdom is deeply cynical about politics,” Freeland wrote in column published Monday. “We portray our elected officials as trivial buffoons at best and as scandal-ridden, self-dealing parasites at worst. What we have lost is our belief that our government represents us all, and that we, collectively, can use it to address the big challenges of our time.”
“We all desperately need to re-engage with our democratic system, in all its messy glory, and elect leaders whom we charge with the job of solving the 21st-century’s greatest tasks, first and foremost making our new economy work for the middle class,” Freeland continued. “Diagnosing the problem is an important first step, but it isn’t enough. We need to do something about it. The place for me to do that is at home, in Canada. As the lucky beneficiary of the Canadian public education system, Canadian health care, and Canadian scholarships, I owe our country everything.”
Freeland’s decision to leave journalism and enter Canadian politics was greeted with a mixture of surprise and enthusiasm by her colleagues at Reuters and in the broader journalism community. “Current status: gutted,” Felix Salmon, the well-known Reuters finance blogger, wrote on Twitter. “Quite in shock.” Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, media editor at the Financial Times and a former colleague of Freeland, added: “I know nothing about Toronto politics, but have little doubt [Chrystia Freeland] will be running Canada any day now.”
Unlike in the United States, journalists running for national political office is not uncommon in Canada. Freeland is said to have close ties to Canada’s Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, who reportedly encouraged her to consider running for political office, according to The Globe and Mail. (Trudeau has been frequently quoting from Freeland’s book in speeches and interviews.) “I’m taking a risk, and I’m ready to compete and to fight, and I think that is the way it should be,” Freeland told the paper over the weekend. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to call a by-election to fill Rae’s seat in the fall. Freeland must secure the Liberal Party nomination in order to stand in that contest.
Freeland faces potential criticism because she has not lived in Canada for several years, and could be perceived as “parachuting” back into her home country for a political bid. In a post on Canada.com, Marc Weisblott wrote that “many Canadian wags couldn’t help but draw initial comparisons to how the Liberals parachuted Michael Ignatieff into a leadership role after 34 years away from Canada, which essentially ended in disaster, thanks in part to Conservative attack ads with the lacerating line, ‘He didn’t come back for you.’”
Prior to joining Reuters, Freeland was U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times. Before that, Freeland was deputy editor of the FT in London, editor of the FT’s Weekend edition, editor of FT.com, Moscow bureau chief and Eastern Europe correspondent. From 1999 to 2001, Freeland was deputy editor of The Globe and Mail. Freeland studied Russian history and literature at Harvard before earning a Master’s degree at Oxford, where she was a Rhodes scholar.