Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to the annual meeting of global elite in Davos, Switzerland, and told them to get their act together on fixing inequality, sharing the benefits of economic growth, and advancing the role of women; or to 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 to the forum. The deal picked up some of the pieces of the “TPP” scrapped by President Donald J. Trump shortly after his election; the US is unsurprisingly not a part of the agreement.
Trudeau described the deal as progressive. This was a word he used repeatedly in describing his political agenda and Canadian values, both of which include supporting free trade, ensuring a fair deal for all, and the rights of women. These values were the three core elements of his speech, delivered in English and French; however the tone of the 46-year-old son of one-time Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau sometimes came across as lecturing.
On the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – an agreement which is currently seen as vulnerable, due to Trump’s vow during his presidential campaign to cancel it, and the current re-negotiations going on between the US, Mexico and Canada – Trudeau, in his only explicit reference to the U.S. president, said: “We’re working very hard to make sure that our neighbour 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. He will be the first U.S. president to do so since Bill Clinton in 2000.
Speaking to nearly 1,000 of the world’s most powerful and wealthy individuals, politicians, and business people, Trudeau said the audience was “immensely privileged” and warned they had to do more with the responsibilities that come with such privilege: “It is well past time … you need to give back.”
Governments have consistently failed to ensure the even spread of economic growth between the rich and poor; companies have grown fat with profits and have avoided taxes, while slashing benefits to workers. Trudeau said: “That approach can’t and won’t cut it any more.”
The consequences of ignoring the pressure of inequality are profound: “the system will break down and we will all fail.”
The other central message in Trudeau’s speech related to the position of women. He hailed a progressive approach in Canada and the fact that he had delivered on promises made two years ago at Davos to appoint a cabinet with an equal number of men and women (Guardian). He told the businesspeople in the audience – mostly men – that they too should consider gender-balanced boards and teams.
He said that the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and the women’s marches to mark the anniversary the original Women’s March – a response to Trump’s 2017 inauguration – had to be heeded: “We must take them seriously. As women speak up it is our responsibility to listen.”