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Podcast: Trudeau up against the ropes

Podcast: Trudeau up against the ropes
Trudeau Up Against the Ropes

TRANSCRIPT: Trudeau up against the ropes

Justin Trudeau:

If you get elected through negativity and through division, it's really difficult to then govern responsibly for everyone.

Ian Bremmer:

Hi, I'm Ian Bremmer, and welcome to the GZERO World podcast. It's an audio version of what you can find on public television, where I analyze global topics, sit down with big guests, and make use of little puppets. This week I've got a special show for you, an exclusive interview with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. We're switching up the podcast format a bit to include some more context about what's happened since I sat down with Trudeau earlier this month.

Ian Bremmer:

His already challenging re-election campaign took another hit recently after old photos and videos of him in Black and Brownface surfaced. Hear what he has to say about the scandal, then listen to our wide-ranging conversation recorded in Canada's capital, Ottawa. I asked him what it means to be one of the last globalists standing, as public opinion begins to sour on some of his signature policies. Let's get to it.

Announcer:

The GZERO World is brought to you by our founding sponsor, First Republic. First Republic, a private bank and wealth management company, places clients' needs first by providing responsive, relevant, and customized solutions. Visit firstrepublic.com to learn more.

Ian Bremmer:

He swept to power as Canada's second-youngest prime minister. It was a rout, a galvanizing moment for Canada's liberal movement that leaned on young voters to end the near decade long reign of Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party.

Justin Trudeau:

It's time for a change in this country, my friends. A real change.

Ian Bremmer:

But 2015 is a lifetime ago. These days, liberal democracy is on the ropes, populism is on the rise, and the anti-establishment forces that brought us Donald J. Trump and Brexit, maybe, are growing. In fact, populist parties across the continent in Europe have more than tripled their vote count since 2000. That juggernaut may just be getting started. Think Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Boris Johnson of the UK. So why does it matter? Historically, populists have often undermined individual rights and deepened corruption, and they tend to favor strong men. Of course, globalists have their own issues and have a habit of forgetting about the little guy. And let's face it, as Western manufacturing jobs shrink and income inequality rises, big chunks of the middle class in developed countries like the United States and here in Canada have not benefited from globalization in the way others have.

Ian Bremmer:

Still, Canadians aren't doing so badly. Poverty and unemployment rates are at historic lows, while Canadian tech and innovation centers have upped their game. The 82,000 tech jobs Toronto added over the past seven years have quietly made it North America's fastest growing tech hub. Nobody calls it Maple Valley. That's a syrup, it moves very slowly. Country could use some rebranding for successes in taking on Silicon Valley, but that doesn't mean there aren't serious problems. Soaring housing costs in big cities, a struggling oil and gas sector, loss of full-time labor, and with an election looming, the stakes are high. How America's northern neighbor will deal with climate change, trade, a rising China, and questions of economic insecurity could all change with the new prime minister. If Trudeau was to prevail, he first has to put some fires out.

Speaker 4:

Tonight, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doing some serious damage control.

Speaker 5:

This is so hurtful to so many Canadians.

Speaker 6:

His aides reportedly pressured his attorney general to cut a deal for a Montreal company accused of bribery.

Speaker 7:

One more reason why I don't believe he's fit to govern this country.

Ian Bremmer:

Conservative opposition, led by Andrew Scheer, is gaining steam. He's labeled Trudeau corrupt, ineffective, hostile to business, especially Canada's struggling natural resource sectors. And perhaps most pointedly, he's called him elitist. So yeah, it's complicated.

Justin Trudeau:

Yeah, it's not necessarily this Western model that we have...

Ian Bremmer:

But if Justin Trudeau wants to show the world that there's still a place for internationalist leaders of a more liberal democratic order, he'll have to prove it. Canadians head to the polls October 21st. The world will be watching.

Ian Bremmer:

Since our meeting in Ottawa, those images surfaced of Trudeau from years past, in costumes that were blatantly racist. He since apologized and addressed the media while campaigning in Winnipeg.

Justin Trudeau:

I didn't understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination every single day. And for that, I am deeply sorry and I apologize.

Ian Bremmer:

We reached out to Canada's prime minister to update our conversation given these new developments. My question, how seriously can anyone take your passionate speeches on respect for diversity after seeing these images? In a GZERO exclusive, he had this to say to Canadians and the world.

Ian Bremmer:

"Actions speak louder than words. I know that my actions in the past have been hurtful of people, and for that, I'm deeply sorry. Our government has acted to fight discrimination and racism consistently over our first term. And if we earn the right to govern Canada again, we'll move forward to fight racism and discrimination in our next term." As to whether he could remain credible on the issue of multiculturalism, he said, "That's for Canadians to judge. I will be spending the next few weeks working hard to earn their trust."

Ian Bremmer:

Meanwhile, as his campaign handles issues from his past, some of Trudeau's globalist policies of the present are now in question, and that was the focus of our conversation when we sat down with him this month.

Ian Bremmer:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wonderful to be with you on GZERO World.

Justin Trudeau:

Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Ian Bremmer:

So, you're running for election?

Justin Trudeau:

Yes.

Ian Bremmer:

You want to do this again?

Justin Trudeau:

Yes.

Ian Bremmer:

You having fun?

Justin Trudeau:

Yeah, I am.

Ian Bremmer:

Why?

Justin Trudeau:

Because campaigning is when you get to step out of the prime minister's office and actually reconnect with people. I think it's great that we take a moment every four years to think about our future and make important choices.

Ian Bremmer:

I've been surprised, as someone who has stereotyped Canadians as being very nice people, generally nicer than almost everyone but Minnesotans in the United States, that this election feels more toxic. There is much more polarization here like there is in the US. Social media, people seem insane. They've got some derangement, all of that. I mean, do you feel that?

Justin Trudeau:

Yes. I mean, you see in the corners of social media, you see some of the tacks that some of our opponents are taking and you say, "Okay, we're not immune to the kinds of forces going on in the world." But at the same time, the conversations I get to have with Canadians, the people who come forward, and my faith in Canadians as, yes, responding to all sorts of stimuli, including negative stimuli on social media, are ultimately going to be true to themselves and make smart responsible choices about the way we move forward.

Ian Bremmer:

Do you think that you're able to run a campaign that is as positive today, given where your popularity is, some of the scandals, what's happening in the country, as you were when you took office back in 2015?

Justin Trudeau:

I got that question all the time back in 2015. How do you think you're going to be able to run a positive campaign when everything out there is so negative? We know attack ads work, and you're putting aside a whole piece of toolbox that we know helps people get elected in negative, divisive wedge issues. And I said, "Fundamentally, if you get elected through negativity and through division, it's really difficult to then govern responsibly for everyone once you've gone and divided people."

Justin Trudeau:

So the same thing holds right now. Even though, yes, in certain ways there are more negative tools out there, there's a little more cynicism and skepticism out there, I don't believe in running an election in a way that would then handicap our ability to govern responsibly and for everyone. So yes, like we did in 2015, there will be very sharp differences on policy against our opponents, but I'm not going to attack them on their personalities or on their looks or on their background the way I know inevitably people will choose to attack me.

Ian Bremmer:

And this time around, he's given his opponents a fair amount of fodder. Before the Brown and Blackface images hit the front page, Prime Minister Trudeau was already in hot water over a scandal involving SNC-Lavalin, a major construction and engineering company in Montreal. The company was facing corruption charges related to its work in Libya. The accusation, that Trudeau pressured his attorney general to resolve the case without criminal charges.

Jody Wilson-Raybould:

I asked, "Are you politically interfering with my role, my decision as the attorney general? I would strongly advise against it."

Ian Bremmer:

As someone who has become a leading light of a values-based approach towards governance, yes, there are jobs. On the other hand, we know this company, SNC-Lavalin was also engaged in lots of practices in countries like Libya, Syria, some of the worst dictatorships and practices in the world.

Justin Trudeau:

Yep.

Ian Bremmer:

What have you learned from going through all of that?

Justin Trudeau:

I've learned that it is extremely important to get that balance right between standing up for Canadians, standing up for jobs, and making sure we're respecting our institutions. And this is something that we went into understanding that there's always going to be challenges around that. And we walked a careful line that looking back on, there are different ways of doing it and that's why we brought in an expert report to actually make those changes so future governments can continue to stand up for workers, stand up for pensioners, stand up for jobs, in a way that is completely clear of any of these potential challenges.

Ian Bremmer:

So, I mean, you've said you're not going to apologize for creating Canadian jobs and I can't imagine a Canadian politician that would. But looking back on it, if you could do it over, are there some choices you wish you could change?

Justin Trudeau:

Yeah, for sure. I mean, and that's exactly why we commissioned an expert report to actually lay out protocols of ways of moving forward that had never been articulated before. And this is about recognizing that, yes, future governments will absolutely need to continue to be able to push the public interest and promote their, again, protect jobs, but do so in a way that is unequivocally and unquestionably respectful of the independence of our judiciary, which we continued to be fully respectful of our judiciary throughout.

Ian Bremmer:

So when you think about, for example, Saudi Arabia and the ongoing review of Canadian arms sales to the Saudis, does the experience that you had with SNC-Lavalin affect the way you think about that?

Justin Trudeau:

No. No, it doesn't. With Saudi Arabia, we inherited a contract from the previous conservative government that was a very, very bad contract. But in this world, one government needs to be bound by a contract signed by a previous government. We are looking for ways forward that is consistent with what Canadians' expectations are, but we're going to be behaving in a responsible way every step of the way.

Ian Bremmer:

But would it change the way you think about doing business with such sorts of regimes going forward?

Justin Trudeau:

No, I think we always have had a tremendous amount of wariness about dealing with regimes where human rights aren't respected, and will continue to be.

Ian Bremmer:

So let's ask about a policy issue where things are more challenging for you these days. And there are a bunch of them, not only in Canada-

Justin Trudeau:

For sure.

Ian Bremmer:

... but also globally. Refugees. So Canada's now surpassed the United States in terms of numbers of refugees that you're actually allowing in. Surpassed the United States. Now, you have more space, but the country's tiny, right?

Justin Trudeau:

Yeah. We're one-tenth the size of the US-

Ian Bremmer:

Right.

Justin Trudeau:

... in terms of population.

Ian Bremmer:

So, and the population isn't as on board with it. A solid majority of Canadians say they don't actually want to have this many people coming in. And first of all, do you feel like you need to reign it in?

Justin Trudeau:

I think my focus is not on what is popular or not. My focus is on how to make sure that Canada does well in the 21st century. And in terms of that, we need to be bringing in people from around the world. We need immigration, and yes, part of that is accepting refugees, understanding that there are 60 or 70 million displaced people around the world right now. Global refugees is a reality, and Canada has an opportunity not just to do its part, but to benefit the way we have over successive generations, waves of people coming, whether it was from Europe after the Second World War, whether it was in various moments where the Ukrainians and Hungarians to the prairies after the terrible events of the latter, late 19th century.

Justin Trudeau:

We have succeeded as a country because people came here to build better lives for themselves. Now, the way to reassure Canadians around that, because there is anxiety around it, is to point out that we have a strong immigration system and the rules continue to apply, and security continues to be of concern, and no shortcuts are taken. And we are investing in the integration and support of new arrivals so that they can contribute as quick as possible. And that's the story we're seeing. From a chocolate factory by Syrians, Syrian refugees in Nova Scotia, to amazing stories of community success right across the country.

Ian Bremmer:

Now, I mean, in Sweden, you had an immigration system that was supposed to have a very strong social safety net to bring in all those people from Iraq that desperately needed it. Of course, in Germany, Angela Merkel said, "We can do this." The pushback internally, despite the fact that these systems are supposed to work, ended up growing and growing and hurting them. Are you feeling that now?

Justin Trudeau:

No, I am not. I'm aware that that is a potential, but you have to remember that Canada is, at its core, an extraordinarily diverse country. Nobody looks like a typical Canadian. There are so many typical Canadians out there in terms of backgrounds that we're defined by a shared set of values and beliefs and desires that define what it is to be a Canadian beyond surface identities of ethnicity or language or religion, or all those things that can be such dividers in different parts of the world.

Ian Bremmer:

Now, Canada's a super diverse place, not only in terms of the types of people that make up society, but also in terms of the decentralization of the politics. And you've obviously seen both in Ontario, as well in Alberta, very different governments come into place, getting elected, and a lot of people that feel just as they do in parts of the United States they've left behind. When you have a population, a system of governance that is that diverse, does that change how you think about implementation of policies that are more decidedly internationalists, like free trade and like refugees and like human rights?

Justin Trudeau:

Well, let's take the first one you mentioned, free trade.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah.

Justin Trudeau:

We managed to negotiate three of the biggest trade deals the world has ever seen, at a time where we have significant populism and protectionism.

Ian Bremmer:

North America.

Justin Trudeau:

North America Free Trade Agreement.

Ian Bremmer:

Europe.

Justin Trudeau:

Europe, and the TPP.

Ian Bremmer:

TPP.

Justin Trudeau:

The Asian economy.

Ian Bremmer:

Minus the US.

Justin Trudeau:

We did those in a time where there's a lot of skepticism around trade, and one of the reasons we were able to do it was by drawing on not even just a political consensus, but a Canadian consensus that this mattered and that this was part of how we build a stronger society. So yes, there's some issues where I'm in deep disagreement with the conservative premieres like our need to protect the environment and put a price on pollution, but there are other areas where we are working together. I mean, you never had to really make a case for trade before. Everyone just knew. Trade leads to growth.

Ian Bremmer:

For the advanced industrial economists, that's right.

Justin Trudeau:

But it doesn't... It leads to growth for everyone. More economic activity leads to growth for all countries, but it doesn't help everyone within the countries the same way. And that's where doing trade the right way and thinking about impacts, not just on the 1%, but on everyone, is the counter case to the people who say globalization is a total failure. I say, "Listen, this model of globalization that we've tried for the past few decades needed some tweaks, and that is make sure that everyone feels the benefit as opposed to just the wealthiest."

Ian Bremmer:

Now, I have to ask you about China, becoming a vastly more tense relationship with the United States, most important bilateral in the world. Canada's in the middle of it, right? Is your view of China different now, in any way, than it was when you first became prime minister?

Justin Trudeau:

I think we were, first of all, always aware that there is a tremendous potential economic benefit for increased trade with the world's second-largest economy, moving towards the largest economy perhaps in the coming decades. And therefore, we need to figure out ways to benefit Canadian businesses, Canadian workers, Canadian suppliers, all those sorts of things. But we've also always known that China has a very different political system, value set approach to the world and to trade than we do. And we've always had to be very careful about standing up for Canadian interests as we look to create benefits for ourselves or mutual benefits.

Justin Trudeau:

Right now, the arbitrary detention of two Canadians for political reasons by the Chinese is something that is the biggest thing that we are focused on in our relationship, and it's put a hold on a lot of other things, because if we can't fully stand up for Canadians, it does put a chill on the business or economic relations or the potential benefits for Canada.

Ian Bremmer:

A big part of what you're running on right now is building the middle class, but the reality is that in Canada, a lot fewer people today consider themselves to be middle class than did, say, in 2000. Is that a collective failure of all of these advanced democracies?

Justin Trudeau:

Yes. Inequality continues to grow everywhere around the world.

Ian Bremmer:

It grew under Obama.

Justin Trudeau:

But it's growing less in Canada than it is in the United States, and that is because we made a decision to say, "Trickle down doesn't work." Now, other places, and indeed, my conservative opponents are still promoting tax benefits for the wealthy as a way of spurring growth. That doesn't work anymore. You have to invest and support in the middle class and in the folks working hard to join the middle class. And our ability to both see a million jobs created and close to a million Canadians lifted out of poverty over the past four years is directly related to the fact that we put aside trickle down, and we said, "Let's invest in the people who need it."

Ian Bremmer:

Now, in the United States, you do see this. There are a lot of support for Trump among big business interests. They may not want to say it publicly, but they love the new taxes, they love the lower regulatory environment, the regulatory rollback, the less enforcement. A lot of the criticism that you get is that, "Great. He wants to spend all this money on social subsidy, but he's losing the business community." Tell me, how do you have the business community?

Justin Trudeau:

We made a very different choice than the American administration did. They lowered taxes for millionaires and billionaires, we raised taxes on them. We don't think that it is sustainable, the model the United States does, whether it's their increasing debt. We have the lowest debt to GDP ratio in the G7 right now, one of the best balance sheets in the OECD, and we're putting that to work for ordinary Canadians because we know that if the middle class has more money in their pockets and more confidence, business is going to do just fine.

Ian Bremmer:

Now, when Trump doesn't show up at the climate portion of the recent G7 in France, of course, the United States makes a big deal out of everything, every tweet. Did that matter? You're sitting there.

Justin Trudeau:

We all knew what his perspective was. We all know what his take is on the climate, the Paris Climate Accords, and therefore, whether he was there or not, we were going to continue to do the work that needs to be done.

Ian Bremmer:

Canada's also a small economy in the context of the world, in the context of North America. And I mean, I keep seeing you popping up at the G7 and the G20, and increasingly, the other leaders around that table are saying less of what you're saying on climate, on human rights, on trade. How has that felt for you over the last four years?

Justin Trudeau:

I think it makes it all the more important for Canadians to be showing that this approach is working to solve the very similar challenges that everyone's facing around the world. Whether it's an energy transition, whether it's wariness around immigration, whether it's success economically, the Canadian approach that predates me, that Canadians have had for generations of working hard, finding out that balance, leaning on each other, is more important now as people are lashing around for quick fixes and easy solutions. Where the hard work that Canadians have done to build this extraordinary country over the generations that we're continuing to do right now is a model that people can look to for inspiration, as they look to actually solve some of their challenges, rather than just use them as a lever to get elected in the short term.

Justin Trudeau:

I think that might end up being a tipping point on the-

Ian Bremmer:

Later, as we toured Canada's parliament building, I asked about reports that President Trump wants to invite Vladimir Putin to the next G7 to be held in Miami.

Justin Trudeau:

Productive around the table. That's sort of the difference there.

Ian Bremmer:

The exchange was candid, to say the least.

Ian Bremmer:

It seems to be pretty clear that he's going to be invited as a participant of some form.

Justin Trudeau:

I don't know. I mean, Donald was fairly down on that idea, that he won't want to be there so he can come and sit around the table for one session and sit in an empty room twiddling his thumbs with the president of South Africa for a few hours until he gets invited to the table. He wanted to come back as a partner or not at all, but we'll see what happens in Miami next year.

Ian Bremmer:

But Macron offered no support for that.

Justin Trudeau:

Yeah, no. No.

Ian Bremmer:

Anyone did?

Justin Trudeau:

Italy was Italy.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah, but Boris was not.

Justin Trudeau:

No. Boris was [inaudible] Salisbury.

Ian Bremmer:

Boris on Libya was hilarious, with his, "Here here. Here here." "Crooked Hillary." "Here here."

Justin Trudeau:

Boris, actually, on environment, on gender, on a number of things...

Ian Bremmer:

Is fine.

Justin Trudeau:

Is going to be fine.

Ian Bremmer:

Yeah.

Ian Bremmer:

That's our show this week. We'll be right back here next week. Same place, same time. Unless you're watching on social media, in which case, wherever you happen to be, don't miss it. In the meantime, check us out at gzeromedia.com.

Announcer:

The GZERO World is brought to you by our founding sponsor, First Republic. First Republic, a private bank and wealth management company, places clients' needs first, by providing responsive, relevant, and customized solutions. Visit firstrepublic.com to learn more.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform, to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.
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