Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

Trudeau Sees Canadian Pluralism as a Tonic to Global Populism

(Bloomberg) -- At a time of global political upheaval, Justin Trudeau is keeping the liberal faith.

Trudeau, speaking in an interview Thursday with Bloomberg Editor-In-Chief John Micklethwait in Toronto, called for more free trade, increased migration and re-distributive economic policies to quell populist discontent --  and said he isn’t going to overreact to President Donald Trump’s latest threats to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Citing the victory of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and his own rise to power, Trudeau said political leaders can thrive without divisive, nationalist policies taking hold across much of the world.

“There’s an openness out there for citizens to have people pull out the best in them, rather than try to protect us from the worst within us,” Trudeau said. “I think that’s a message that people are beginning to get.”

With populist forces upending parts of the developed world’s political order, Trudeau has become one the biggest advocates of pluralism and multilateralism being questioned elsewhere. The next political crossroads are the first round of French presidential votes due Sunday and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s bid to secure a mandate for her Brexit plan with an early election.

“I think Canadians have understood that openness to the world, drawing in diversity, respecting each other’s rights, looking for ways to work together rather than to antagonize each other, is what has made us successful and what has given us an incredibly stable society, stable economy, stable political situation,” Trudeau said.

Tough Talk

Trudeau’s comments came as Trump ratcheted up his attacks on Canada’s dairy and lumber sectors as he moves to renegotiate Nafta. The prime minister responded for the first time Thursday, saying U.S. dairy exports to Canada far exceed Canadian sales in the U.S.

“It’s not Canada that is the challenge here,” Trudeau said. “We know that the trade -- Nafta, the free and open trade between Canada and the U.S. -- creates millions of good jobs on both sides of the border. So we’re not going to overreact.”

On Thursday, Trump called Nafta “a disaster” for the U.S. with both Canada and Mexico, after saying two months earlier he was only seeking “tweaks” to the Canadian side. Trudeau said he’d continue to pitch the shared benefits of trade with Canada, which is the number one buyer of U.S. goods.

“We never feel that the ideal outcome of any given deal is, you know, we win and you lose,” he said. “What we’ve been able to highlight to the new administration is that with Canada at least it’s not a zero sum game.”

Syria, North Korea

Beyond North America, Trudeau said it will take a multilateral approach to solve problems like North Korea or Syria. “We need to make sure that the international community is working in a cohesive way,” he said. “That’s where being a bit of an internationalist -- being able to engage constructively with a broad range of actors across ideologies and forms of government -- is important.”

Trudeau was asked what he’d learned so far about Trump, and paused before saying he’s found the U.S. president more open than other political leaders to being won over by a good argument.

“As politicians, we’re very much trained to say something and stick with it,” he said. “Whereas he has shown that, you know, if he says one thing and then actually hears good counterarguments or good reasons why he should shift his position, he will take a different position.”

Trade Pacts

Canada was a signatory to the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is widely seen as dead after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal. Trudeau said that in “what seems to be a post-TPP world,” Canada will look at building other trade ties in Asia.

“There’s lots of discussions whether there’s going to be a TPP minus the U.S., whether there’s going to be different clusters or clumpings or more bilaterals,” he said. “We’re just happy to be engaged in these discussions, because we know that trade will benefit both Canadians and our trading partners.”

Trudeau shrugged off questions of a decline of liberalism among world leaders, saying every country is trying to figure out how to support middle class growth. Canada has boosted transfer payments to people and increased job training in a bid to address that.

“If you’re seeing a rise of populism and nationalism, it is in response to the kinds of fears that people are feeling. So my economic approach is very much to allay those fears,” he said. Around the world, “the policy toolboxes we choose to use might vary a little bit. But we can always find common ground.”