Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to the annual love-in of the global elite and told them to get their act together on fixing inequality, sharing the benefits of economic growth and advancing the role of women or risk a backlash against the established order they represent.
In his second speech to the World Economic Forum since being elected, Trudeau ticked all the boxes that might be expected of a young, progressive, globally minded Canadian leader.
“We must ensure that the benefits are shared with all of our citizens and not just the few,” Trudeau said of a major new trans-Pacific trade deal signed between Canada, Japan and 10 other Asia-Pacific states shortly before he spoke. The deal picked up some of the pieces of the “TPP” scrapped by President Donald Trump just after his election but of course left the United States outside.
Trudeau described the deal as “progressive” and repeatedly used that word to describe his political agenda and the core of Canadian values from supporting free trade, a fair deal for all and rights for women. Those were the three core elements of his speech, delivered in English and French, in what sometimes sounded a lecturing tone from the 46-year-old son of one-time Canadian premier Pierre Trudeau.
On the North American Free Trade Agreement which Trump vowed during his campaign to cancel and which is widely seen as vulnerable as the United States, Mexico and Canada negotiate on its future, Trudeau, in his only explicit reference to the U.S. president said in response to a question: “We’re working very hard to make sure that our neighbor to the south recognizes how good NAFTA is and that it has benefited not just our economy but his economy and the world economy.”
Trump is due to speak at the summit on Friday, the first U.S. president to do so since Bill Clinton in 2000.
Speaking nearly 1,000 of the world’s most powerful and wealthiest individuals, politicians and business people, Trudeau noted that they were “immensely privileged” and warned them they had to do more with the responsibilities that came with that privilege: “It is well past time….you need to give back…”
Governments had failed to ensure the benefits of economic growth had been spread between the rich and the poor and companies had grown fat with profits and avoided tax while slashing benefits to workers, he said: “That approach can’t and won’t cut it any more.”
The consequences of ignoring the pressure of inequality were profound: “the system will break down and we will all fail.”
The other central message in Trudeau’s speech was the position of women. He hailed a progressive approach in Canada and the fact he had delivered on promises two years ago at Davos to appoint a cabinet with an equal number of men and women (Guardian). He told the businesspeople — mostly men — in the audience they too should consider gender-balanced boards or teams.
He said the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and the outpouring of women’s marches on the anniversary of the marches that followed the Trump election, had to be heeded: “We must take them seriously. As women speak up it is our responsibility to listen…”