Trudeau Stresses Fair Wages, Tax Compliance in Warning to Europe

  • Canadian PM addresses German gala days after meeting Trump
  • Leaders must change tack to quell protectionism, he says

Justin Trudeau delivered a forceful call to European business leaders to hike wages and pay their full tax bill, a shift in tone by the Canadian prime minister aimed at stemming rising protectionist sentiment.

Capping a week that began with his first visit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, Trudeau spoke to St. Matthew’s Day gala dinner Friday in Hamburg, Germany. His remarks contrast with a speech by former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who used the same venue a year earlier to lay out his vision for the European Union before the Brexit vote drove him from office.

This year, the Canadian leader called on European elites to, in effect, respond forcefully to the forces that drove both the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU and Trump’s election in the U.S.

“It’s time to pay a living wage, to pay your taxes, and give your workers the benefits –- and peace of mind –-- that come with stable, full-time contracts,” Trudeau said, according to prepared remarks. “I fully appreciate the irony of preaching about the struggles of the middle class to a sea of tuxedos and ball gowns, while wearing a bow-tie myself. But this discussion needs to happen.”

The pace of globalization and technological change are driving anxiety, in particular among those fearful their children will be worse off than they were, he said. That belief is fed by “record profits on the back of workers” who toil without full-time pay or benefits. “We’re watching that anxiety transform into anger on an almost daily basis.”

Liberal Rallying Cry

Trudeau called on business leaders to think beyond shareholders and take responsibility for employees and their development, to support the towns and cities where they’re based, and to expand maternity benefits. “When you hear that an employee is expecting a child, congratulate her. Don’t make her question whether or not she’ll have a job to come back to,” he said.

Trudeau met with Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier Friday, with the two emerging afterward to deliver a vocal defense of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as Trump threatens to upend the status quo. The German and Canadian leaders were hailed by former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as the last icons of liberalism in December, but have seen their popularity wane at home in recent months. 

For Trudeau, it came after he took a family holiday at the private Bahamian island of the Aga Khan, driving political rivals to paint him as out of touch with the middle class voters he frequently cites. He’s also pushed his country deeper into deficit to finance campaign pledges including lower taxes for middle-income earners, expanded child benefits and a rollback of a planned delay to the age at which a retirement benefit kicks in.

As a result -- and after Trump’s election -- Trudeau scrapped a trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and embarked on a cross-country listening tour. He told his European gala audience to do the same.

“The answers are not in this room. They’re out there. We need to leave this place and truly listen to people who are anxious about their futures,” he said. “Whether you’re a business or a government, it’s time to realize that this anger and anxiety we see washing over the world is coming from a very real place. And it’s not going away.”

The night’s two other speakers, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz, evoked similar themes in calling for more equitable global trade. “We will have no choice but to set the global economic and financial system on a more just and sustainable basis,” Scholz said.

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