A Conversation With Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland, and Jim Carr
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, and International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr discuss Canada’s global outlook, including the government’s perspective on the future of multilateralism, the importance of economic growth that benefits everyone, gender equality and women’s empowerment, fighting climate change, and restoring confidence in democratic and international institutions.
HAASS: Well, good morning. And we’ll blame it on the traffic and the weather that we’re starting a few minutes late here, so thank you for bearing with us. But welcome to today’s meeting of the Canadian Cabinet—(laughter)—also known as the Council on Foreign Relations. And it’s also the Russell C. Leffingwell Lecture here at the Council. But I want to welcome the prime minister, the foreign minister, and the trade minister. And I want to thank the Leffingwell family for their generosity, especially the Pullings.
Now, for those of you who may not know this, the Council has just begun releasing quizzes online to test people’s knowledge of the world. Just a few weeks ago we released our quiz on Canada, and let’s just say that knowledge of our northern neighbor is not what it might be. (Laughter.) It’s actually one of the reasons—
TRUDEAU: Not even on stage it’s probably what you would want it to be. (Laughter.) I hope we would succeed, the quiz.
HAASS: We’re going to—actually, I wasn’t going to test you, so. (Laughter.) It’s actually one of the reasons we launched an international affairs fellowship in Canada, where we send young Americans to spend time in Canada thanks to Paul Desmarais, and the whole idea is to build up a cadre of Americans who know Canada beyond Niagara Falls.
What I thought I would do before we began is just set the table a little bit about Canada and the U.S.-Canadian relationship, in part just to make sure everyone understands Canada is more than a collection of polite people who are comfortable in the cold and play a pretty good game of hockey. (Laughter.) Canada has the tenth-largest economy in the world, larger than Russia’s or South Korea’s; third-largest proven oil reserves; seventh-largest oil producer, larger than the United States or China.
The United States and Canada still have the world’s most comprehensive bilateral trade and investment relationship in the world. Goods and services trade was over—was closer to seven hundred billion (dollars) in 2017. Investment is at eight hundred billion (dollars). Canada is the second-largest investor in this country, our second-largest trading partner, and our largest export destination. Canada is the largest market for U.S. agricultural exports. It’s our largest foreign supplier of energy. We have a small deficit in trade and we have a small surplus in trade in services.
And the United States and Canada also share the world’s longest undefended border in the world, at least for now—(laughter)—and four hundred thousand people cross it every day. Canada is a NATO ally. It soldiers have fought and died alongside American soldiers and others in Afghanistan. We work closely, obviously, on NORAD.
Two or three points you don’t know. Canada, among other things, has a strategic maple syrup reserve. (Laughter.) It contains seven-and-a-half million gallons, worth around $1,300 per barrel. If you do the math, that’s roughly sixteen times the value of a barrel of oil.
TRUDEAU: I thought that we agreed, Richard, we wouldn’t talk about secrets like that. (Laughter.)
HAASS: Two last points, and then I will start the questioning. Canadians—though I am curious about this, sir—Canadians consume more doughnuts per capita than any other country in the world. (Laughter.)
TRUDEAU: If you stats say that we do, we do. (Laughter.)
HAASS: And just to clear up any confusion, Canadians did not burn down the White House. (Laughter.)
TRUDEAU: Canada didn’t exist yet. (Laughter.) We’re only a hundred and fifty years old.
HAASS: Details, details.
OK. Well, again, thank you all for being here. This is—we’ve never had anything quite like this, this amount of talent arrayed in one place, so thank you. And thank you for taking time out. This is the busiest week of the year, it’s difficult to get around, so we appreciate it.
Let’s just start with the—what’s been the principal issue, which is the trade conversation between us. You’ve got the bilateral U.S.-Mexican agreement. I guess there’s two questions, though, come to mind. What the United States and Mexico negotiated, does that offer a basis for Canada and the United States now to negotiate to make it a three-way? Or has that gone in directions that don’t really give you a foundation for a trilateral NAFTA 2.0 kind of deal?
TRUDEAU: Well, the foundation for our trading relationship is fairly well-established with NAFTA 1.0. It’s a twenty-, twenty-five-year-old deal. There’s always opportunities to improve it and to strengthen it. There were issues particularly around the auto sector that the U.S. certainly wanted to straighten out with Mexico or improve with Mexico. That was one of the things that the president was very much focused on as he talked about improving NAFTA. So they, you know, got a conversation going on that and made certain agreements. I think there is—there’s a possibility there to build on what they agreed, but we know that Canada’s interests are what we have to stand up for and we will.
The trading relationship between Canada and the United States is deep, successful, multilayered as you’ve said. We are looking for the right deal, not just for Canada but for the U.S. I mean, there’s no country in the world that has a greater vested interest than the U.S. doing well than Canada because we are so interlinked that we—you know, we know that both of us can do well, and we should do that.
HAASS: Chrystia, one thing we keep hearing about is the dispute resolution procedure. Why is this so important? Why does this seem to have emerged as one of the principal stumbling blocks?
FREELAND: So Ambassador Lighthizer and I at the beginning of this intensive period—which seems like a century ago but was actually just a month ago, and we’ve sort of described as being a continuous negotiation since then—we agreed that we would not be negotiating in public. And as, you know, a lot of people—I see a lot of dealmakers in this room, and I think you’ll agree with me that having goodwill and trust on both sides of the table is really important. So I’m not going to go into specific issues.
But I will say, you know, the Canadian positions going into the negotiation are well known and, you know, the Canadian national motto is peace, order, and good government. For us, rule of law is an extremely important part of how we do things, including trade. And the prime minister has been very clear about that with Canadians.
And I would just add to your statistics, Richard, that Canada is the largest market for the United States—larger than China, Japan, and the U.K. combined. So we are very aware of the importance of this trading relationship for us, and we think it’s kind of important for you guys too. (Laughter.)
HAASS: Let me ask a question for Minister Carr, which is the U.S.-Canadian conversations are taking place in a larger context of trade friction, and front and center is the U.S.-China. President Trump and his administration have launched a pretty clear critique of China since it entered the WTO. And let’s put aside the remedies for a second about tariffs. Do you basically accept the critique that China has essentially, to use an untechnical word, gamed its membership in the WTO and exploited its opportunities in ways that many did not anticipate?
CARR: Well, I wouldn’t want to agree to that without having a very close examination of what it might mean. What it means for Canada is that China’s a very important economy, and it’s an economy that we think has much to offer investors into Canada and the movement of goods and services between our two countries.
What you didn’t say about Canada is that we all come from somewhere else because of a very generous immigration policy, from indigenous peoples. That means that our diversity is a strength. And as we look at the world, we look to diversify our trade and our contacts.
This is the most important relationship for us—seventy, seventy-five percent of our exports are to the United States—but we look to make sure that we touch every other continent, and that includes Asia. We have several million Canadians who are of Chinese ancestry. We know that the possibilities between Canada and China are very promising, and it’s a region that we think is very interesting because, when we think of trade, I always have to explain why I’m traveling to the people who work in my grocery store. Now what does it mean to me, Jim? And I said, well, trade means growth, and it means wealth creation. We talk a lot about distributing wealth, and that’s important, but this is a conversation about creating wealth, and that means jobs, and that means jobs for Canadians.
HAASS: Thank you.
Prime Minister, I thought I’d see a lot of things in my life. One of the things I didn’t have on the list was that Canada would be labeled a national security threat. (Laughter.) Is this just a blip in this relationship, or do you actually think that there is something of a warning here; that this is a relationship that, as good as it has been, that we shouldn’t take for granted, and beyond the narrow trade frictions, is there something of, if you will, a continental drift here, or do you actually think it is just a blip?
TRUDEAU: First of all, we have to remember that the relationship between Canada and the United States is far deeper than between the Canadian government and the American administration. The people-to-people ties, the business ties, the shared history, you know, the interwoven nature of our relationship means that there will be moments where there is, you know, better alignment or worse alignment between our two governments, and the relationship will just continue to create, quite frankly, prosperity, and opportunities, and security for our citizens.
So given that context, you know, even in the conversations I’ve had with the White House, there is a recognition that, you know, Canada is using 232 around security—they make an argument, well, it’s around economic security and economic sovereignty, and that’s how they get into it. There is no perception that Canada could be an actual threat in a military or, you know, the way one usually perceives national security. I think this is just a—the 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum; whereas, you know, you have a surplus in steel with us, the threat of tariffs on cars—these are things that are something—is a tool that the president has to use, and he is using them because I think there is a sense that there are other tools that have to go through Congress that he doesn’t get to use.
We have had a number of conversations in which I highlighted how it didn’t really make sense for Canada to be branded a national security threat, and I think most Americans understand that. And my focus on this throughout has been simply not escalating, not opining, not weighing in. My job is very simple. It’s to defend Canada’s interests, stand up for Canadians, and make sure that everything is good. And in order to defend Canadians’ interests, having a constructive relationship with the president, with the United States’ administration while choosing to not escalate or respond in kind is something that we need to do, although we have responded with counter-tariffs because of the steel and aluminum because we cannot simple accept punitive tariffs without looking for a little bit of balance there.
HAASS: Just to be clear, the counter-tariffs you put on have not seen us and raised us; they’ve basically seen us.
TRUDEAU: Yeah, we recognized that the equivalent amount to what you are charging our steel and aluminum producers we’re going to charge on various imports. We’ve looked at it very carefully to make sure that the tariffs—because the thing with tariffs—everyone know this—is they actually raise prices for consumers. So we haven’t wanted to put—we put tariffs, for example, on Heinz ketchup because ketchup made in the United States—well, we have ketchup made in Canada—called French’s ketchup that’s just great—(laughter)—and so if you are going to raise the price of Heinz ketchup, Canadians should have an alternative that’s not going to cost them more in their pocketbooks. But it does have an impact on the American company.
And that approach, in trying to be reasonable, say, look, we don’t want to do this. We’re raising prices for consumers, but we cannot not respond to punitive tariffs that don’t make a lot of sense either in the integration of our steel and aluminum industries or in our relationship as neighbors and friends.
HAASS: Got it.
I have a question for the foreign minister. In a speech you gave where you laid off Canada’s priorities—I want to quote one sentence. “The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course.”
It has been about a year since you said those words, so what’s different now about Canadian foreign policy because you are operating in a world—I’ll just put it neutrally—where the United States is not carrying out its traditional—the role, in many ways, that it has carried out for the past 70 years. How has Canada adapted to that?
FREELAND: Well, you know, Richard, I’m going to start by repeating something that I said in that speech before that line which is to look back on the post-war period, the sort of the 70-plus years since the end of the Second World War, and to reflect on the fact that, from Canada’s perspective, that was an era of clear American leadership in the world. That’s an era when we all got used to calling the American president the leader of the free world. And it wasn’t perfect, of course, but I think, looking back, we can see that as a time of remarkable expansion, of peace and prosperity, starting in the transatlantic space and expanding to include more and more countries in the world.
And that time was led by you guys, and I think the United States did a heck of a job. And one of the things that I said in that speech, which I think is very important to say, and maybe we as Canadians see this most closely, is to say thank you. That post-war effort, led by a U.S. administration but broadly supported, I would say, by everyone from the returning World War II veterans—there’s a reason we call them the Greatest Generation—to, frankly, the kind of people who come to the Council on Foreign Relations.
That was the ultimate win-win era. I think that was a time when Americans—and also Canadians—looked back on the carnage of two world wars and the Great Depression, and when we said, never again, we really meant it. And I think we did some amazing things. Our reflection, in Canada—which I expressed in that speech—is that we observe that Americans—and I’m talking also about, you know, regular people, the people who vote—are starting to say, you know what? Maybe that mantle of leadership is too heavy for us. Maybe we’re not so ready to keep on doing it.
And for us, that public sentiment, you know, which we see—I think all of you see signs of it—is something that we need to reflect on really deeply and think about what it means in terms of the policies we need to pursue. We find it is much more effective for us to pursue the liberal democratic values in the world that we believe in when we’re doing it shoulder to shoulder with our American friends and allies.
One example is the Rohingya in Myanmar. Canada—the Canadian parliament unanimously, in a unanimous consent motion, named that to be a genocide last week, which I think was absolutely the right thing, and in our effort to bring accountability to the generals in Myanmar, the U.S. has been an excellent partner and leader. And there are a lot of areas in the world where I think we can do that.
And I think we—you know, countries that believe in liberal democracy—also need to get used to shouldering a bit more of the burden ourselves. And a good example of that is what happened with the White Helmets in Syria. There was in July a moment—so the White Helmets, they are these amazing, incredibly brave people, civil society volunteers who go in where there is an attack on civilians. They are first responders. They provide first aid. And they have also been documenting the atrocities, which has made them not Syria or Russia’s favorite people. And as Assad’s forces were advancing, they were in real danger of being targeted to be killed.
And we talked about this at the NATO summit. There was broad agreement that the white helmets needed to be supported and rescued. And I would say that Canada, Germany, and the U.K. took the leadership role and brought together a coalition of countries willing to provide them with refuge. And the U.S. played a central role as well. Our prime minister spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu—so did the president—to provide them safe passage.
So there are a lot of things we can do together, and we don’t always need to—we need to step up too. And this was an example where we took the leadership role, working very closely with the U.S. And we accept sometimes we have to do that.
HAASS: Minister, one of the areas that Canada has the option of stepping up is looking at the WTO. As you know better than anybody, the Doha Round came to naught at the end; failure. A lot of people have questions about the WTO mechanisms. Does Canada have an agenda for trying to bring about WTO reform?
CARR: We’re very good at calling meetings—(laughter)—because people come.
HAASS: We are as well, by the way. So we have that in common. (Laughter.)
CARR: So thank you for this meeting. (Laughter.) We called a meeting—
TRUDEAU: Jim meant it seriously. Canadians are good at convening—
CARR: We are.
TRUDEAU: —groups of people. It’s one of the things we do really well.
CARR: Because we’re really, really nice. (Laughter.)
So on October 24 and 25, thirteen like-minded nations will travel to Ottawa and talk about WTO reform. We know that the WTO is not perfect, but we know it’s good and we seek to make it better. So we’ve invited these like-minded nations from all over the world to see if we can’t come up with a consensus for reform that we will then roll out to other members of the WTO.
And meanwhile, Canada is working very hard to sign other trade agreements. We just in the last few days celebrated the first anniversary of CETA, which is the Canada-European agreement. We have introduced in Parliament, and we’ll move it as quickly as we can, the CPTPP. And we’re also having serious conversations with the Pacific alliance, with the ASEAN group of nations, and with Mercosur. So we are reaching out because we believe not only is diversification in our interest, but also because we want to promote a rules-based system. And the foundation of that system is the WTO, and that’s why we’ve called the meeting in Ottawa.
HAASS: Prime Minister, have you had any experience that you’re aware of with Russian interference in Canadian elections? And what do you—where do you stand both with preventing it and, to the extent you’ve had it, responding to it?
TRUDEAU: We didn’t in 2015 have much direct interference in the way that some other countries may have experienced. But we are very aware that the rapid pace of change and the new technological tools and the new disruptive tools for democracy, and quite frankly the motivation by certain countries, including Russia, to weaken institutions in the West, weaken democratic foundations, weaken people’s confidence in their institutions, in their governance, in their governments, is something we’re very, very alert to.
We’ve been working—I mean, this is a conversation we led at the G-7 in terms of a fast—quick-response team to defend our democracies in terms of coordinated cybersecurity or social-media threats. We also have invested significant amounts in our own cyber capacities, counter-cyber capacities. And we’re renewing and going through our electoral laws to ensure that we’re, you know, better resistant to interference.
I mean, Canada already has a fairly strong set of electoral laws, for example, that do not allow—the big two differences you guys might notice is you can’t donate more than $1,500 a year to a political party, and you can only make individual donations that are, you know, fully disclosed; no corporate, no union, no other donations. So that has really leveled the playing field to a certain extent.
And the other thing is our electoral district boundaries are determined every year—every ten years by fully independent commissions. So you get actual, you know, reasonable-looking electoral districts and not some of the zigzags that you guys have.
So there is a robustness to our electoral system, in our approach to things, that reassures, on one sense, but that we need to continue to defend from new threats and new challenges.
HAASS: Chrystia, probably the biggest crisis in this hemisphere right now is Venezuela. It’s hemorrhaging—it’s already hemorrhaged two-and-a-half, three million, even more, according to some estimates, refugees. You’ve got political repression as severe as we’ve seen. The National Assembly essentially has been bypassed. A new constitution is being written. People are starving. The health-care system has broken down. It’s a failed state, to put it—or failing state.
If this were taking place anywhere else in the world, we’d be having something of a big debate, and there’d be all sorts of calls to action. I’m struck by how deafening the silence is, relatively. So what’s your sense? What’s your—first of all, I’d be curious what Canada is doing. And what’s your sense about what else needs to be done? Because clearly whatever is being done isn’t enough.
FREELAND: Well, I mean, certainly, from the Canadian perspective, the silence is not deafening. Venezuela is one of our foreign-policy priorities. There’s a group of countries in our hemisphere called the Lima Group, which Canada is a member of. We’ve hosted a Lima Group meeting in Canada. And we’ll plan to host one again soon. And this is the countries in the hemisphere. The U.S. is not a part of the Lima Group, although the Lima Group works closely with the U.S. And it’s a group of countries in the hemisphere who are really worried about Venezuela.
And I do want to emphasize one aspect of what Richard has said, which is the migration issue. We’ve all seen the way in which the tragedy in Syria became a truly international tragedy when you had the refugees leaving. And we saw a destabilizing effect very much more broadly.
And I think when we think about Venezuela, we need to start really thinking about the impact on Colombia, potentially the impact on Brazil. There are, as Richard said, a lot of people who are fleeing Venezuela. And these people, in addition to being poor and hungry, many of them are really sick and have illnesses which we thought had been eradicated.
So I think the first thing we need to really be thinking about is understanding that the migration crisis coming out of Venezuela is not just a local problem. It has to be a problem for our hemisphere and really a global problem. And Canada very much sees it that way. We raised it at the G-7, at the G-7 foreign ministers. And we’re very active with the Lima Group.
I think that, you know, we have imposed—Canada has imposed targeted sanctions on Venezuela. I think we do need to do that. I think the Venezuelan leadership needs to know that actions have consequences. And I think all of us need to continue to let the people of Venezuela know that they have our support. And not to be too gloomy, but I would say we need to be looking very closely also at what’s happening in Nicaragua, where I think things are reaching quite a dangerous state as well.
HAASS: Mr. Carr, there’s a growing consensus that the reason jobs are under pressure is not because of immigration or trade but because of new technologies. And I’m just curious. What is the Canadian program for dealing with the inevitable improvements in productivity, whether it’s robotics, AI, autonomous vehicles? What are you doing to see that large numbers of your workers are not displaced? What do you have in train?
CARR: Interesting question. I was in Kelowna in British Colombia just a few weeks ago, and they were complaining because they didn’t have the skilled workers to keep up with the orders, particularly from the United States. So they were saying no to millions of dollars of contracts because there was nobody there to do the job.
And then you have another conversation with people in the forestry sector who say we’re laying off people all over the place. And I asked those who were running the assembly line at Kelowna if they could retrain a lumberjack to do the work on the airplane. They said absolutely. So we have to be far more nimble than we have been so far.
You may know that we have invested $950 million in superclusters across our country.
HAASS: What’s a supercluster?
CARR: A supercluster is that we have identified industrial capability in every region of the country. So in British Columbia, it’s the digital economy. In Saskatchewan, it’s protein and protein industries. In Ontario, it’s advanced manufacturing. In Quebec, it’s artificial intelligence. And in Nova Scotia, it’s the oceans. And in every one of those sectors, we’re inviting the international community to invest along with us.
And central to all of these initiatives will be future employment. And we understand that community colleges have to be more nimble in adapting to the changing reality of the workforce. We’re squarely focused in making sure that we can best anticipate those changes and prepare for them.
TRUDEAU: Yeah, I think—I think, you know, fundamentally, we’re facing, obviously, a moment of transformation of our economies, of significant disruption. People have called it the fourth industrial revolution. We know that with industrial revolutions comes transition that can be really challenging for people while we go through it, but you end up with better jobs, better prosperity once you’re through that transition period.
And I think as we see these changes come, societies have two choices. You can either sort of sit back and say, OK, let’s try and stretch out what we have, the status quo, as long as you can; or you can do what Canada’s decided to do and say, OK, let’s leap forward and try and shape what it’s going to look like. So we invest massively in AI, even though we recognize that AI is going to be a significantly disruptive force. But Canada actually helped—Canadian researchers and Canadian AI centers helped define what modern AI is through the long AI winter, if you’re following that sort of stuff. You know, Canada has emerged as a real hub around AI, and there’s two aspects to it. One is having great researchers, but the other aspect is thinking about what are—what is the framework, the ethical or legal framework, we have to put around AI in order to make sure that it is a benefit to humanity and not as challenging as it could be.
So we’ve decided that we’re, you know, diving forward and, you know, investing massively in STEM education, including getting more women and girls into STEM education, and more marginalized communities to have pathways to good schooling.
We’ve also invested significantly in retraining and skills programs. Our employment insurance programs now allow you to collect employment insurance while you’re back—while you’re in school. We’ve looked at how people, you know, including dependents and families, can go back to school and be supported so they can get new skills. We know that workforce is changing. We need to be investing in education and skills training, and—as the same time as we invest in the research and the competitiveness and the innovation and the fundamental science that is going to help shape what the—you know, what the next decades look like.
So we’re diving forward because we know that Canadians can and will, through a great public education system, through a strong social fabric and social safety net, and a recognition that the diversity that we bring to our colleges, to our organizations—people from every corner of the world who identify now as Canadians, who come from all sorts of different backgrounds and different perspectives—is actually a tremendous source of creativity, of new solutions, of, you know, different approaches to solving big, intractable problems that a country or an organization with less diversity sometimes has trouble thinking outside the box on.
So I’m excited about the challenges, but we know we’re going to have to support people who have been disrupted.
HAASS: Yes, ma’am.
FREELAND: I just want to add one more thing to that. And from kind of the enthusiasm of the three of us in taking on this question you will get a sense of the extent to which this is—you could even say this is the core preoccupation of our government, is thinking about what are the jobs that Canadians will do in the 21st century. And I think at a thirty-thousand-foot level, that probably should be the preoccupation of all the governments of all Western industrialized societies.
And I would say—you know, I would add, building on what Jim and the prime minister said, what I think characterizes how we as a government approach it is something that the prime minister started to say during the election campaign in 2015, which is trust Canadians and Canadians are smart. And the prime minister is—
TRUDEAU: And that works for electors all around the world. (Laughter.) If you trust your voters and you treat them like intelligent, rational, thoughtful individuals, they will rise to the—I’m a former teacher, so I know—(laughter)—I know that if you treat your kids like, you know, terrible students, they will be terrible students. If you expect more of them and you treat them like responsible actors, they will respond. And that’s—it applies to—applies particularly well to Canadians, but it does apply to anyone around the world. (Laughter.)
FREELAND: So, and I would say—
HAASS: So how do you explain—so how do you explain this doughnut thing, then? (Laughter.)
FREELAND: No, and I would really say—I would kind of—
TRUDEAU: Don’t get me to explain Timmy’s; I’ll be here all day. (Laughter.)
FREELAND: I would characterize that—like, if I were still a journalist, I would probably characterize that line as maybe the most important core of the prime minister’s, and therefore all of our political philosophy. And it’s very powerful. It can be scary for neophyte politicians like me, but when it comes to confronting this big challenge of what are the jobs of the 21st century going to be, part of what it means is also being truthful and saying no one knows for sure. There is no person, there is no brilliant scientist at the University of Toronto or in Silicon Valley, there is no brilliant politician who knows for sure what those jobs are going to be.
But I think what our government says to Canadians is, we know that this is a big deal. We know you’re really worried about it, right? We know that it’s not just a Council on Foreign Relations preoccupation; this is something people are thinking about all the time. It’s something an eighteen-year-old kid who’s asking do I want to be a truck driver or not—my dad was a truck driver, but is it worth it for me? So we know that this is something you’re thinking about, and we’re thinking about it too. And we are committed as a country to figure it out together and to be sure that that future—which, by the way, is going to be great. Like, it’s actually good that human beings don’t have to do all the stuff human beings used to have to do. Let’s remember technology helps us stop doing really boring and difficult and dangerous jobs. And I think what we try to say to Canadians—what we say to Canadians is we’re really engaged in trying to figure this out as a government and we’re committed to being sure that the solutions are going to work for all Canadians.
CARR: Richard, if I could, just one word.
TRUDEAU: Well, but that gets back to one of the fundamental issues, is people are anxious. People are worried about their future, about their kids’ future. They see everything changing, from climate change to new technologies, robotization to offshoring of jobs, and there’s a lot of reasons for people to be anxious. And as leaders, we have to make a decision: Do we see those fears and choose to amplify them for short-term gains, or do we see those fears and say we can solve this if we work together? If we pull together, we have an approach that will allow us to overcome these challenges and—you know, and improve not just our lives collectively, but your life specifically. And that choice between choosing to augment insecurities and amplify them versus saying, you know, we got this together is I think one of the—one of the starkest contrasts we can see in political discourse around the world today.
CARR: Just add one thought, if I could, and that is we don’t see the pool of skilled workers as a Canadian pool. We see it as an international pool. And that’s why so many people have been attracted to Canada, and because that is why we encourage skilled workers and others from every corner of the globe, just as my grandparents came escaping the pogroms of the czar in 1905. Everybody else has their own story. And why would immigration be any less important to our future than it has been to our past? So we see Canada as a place that attracts skilled people everywhere as also part of the way we deal with this pending problem.
HAASS: Just on that, has our tighter immigration policy—has that actually helped you?
TRUDEAU: One of the things—(laughter)—a few years ago, when we were—like, three years ago, when we first got elected, I was meeting with some tech folks in Silicon Valley trying to figure out why—you know, why they kept coming to poach our best graduates from the University of Waterloo to go down to Silicon Valley, which is the number-one recruiting school for the tech industry in the United States, which is in Canada. (Laughter.) No bitterness there. They’ll eventually come back. (Laughter.)
But I remember speaking with a number of, you know, big tech companies and saying, so how do we get you to come up to Canada and, you know, expand? Because we got lots of great engineers graduating from our schools. We have more STEM graduates in our largest province of Ontario than you do every year from California. How do we make sure that people come and use and give jobs for our great engineers in Canada, as opposed to sucking them south? And people said, well, if you can accelerate the immigration process for our top people, that put folks who will set up an office, the senior folks or the senior programmers with senior leads, we’ll hire a whole bunch of Canadians—Canadian graduates in the field and train them up to be better, and we’ll be able to open up offices.
So we said, oh, OK. We can do that. And we turned around and created a two-week global-skills visa or strategy where, for the top folks that we know—you know, if Microsoft wants to open a new engineering office in a Canadian city and they want to send up a couple of their top folks to be able to make sure it has the right culture, the right training, everything like that, we’ll give them a visa in two weeks because we know that means hiring a lot of Canadian talent and actually improving it with their skills.
So that approach—and that’s something we worked on before the current administration, and it’s in place now. And, yes, it is being drawn on, because people are looking at Canada as a place where you can actually gather talent and grow in a very positive way.
HAASS: We’re making Canada great again. (Laughter.)
TRUDEAU: Canada’s always been great. (Laughter.)
HAASS: We’re going to—I teed that one up for you.
OK, we’re going to turn to questions. Keep it short. Wait for a microphone. Stand up.
Jane, why don’t you ask the first one?
Q: Jane Harman. I represented one of those zigzag districts in Congress for nine terms. I now head the Wilson Center and its Canada Institute.
Mr. Prime Minister, one of your first acts three years ago was to appoint a Cabinet that was fifty percent female, including your dazzlingly competent foreign minister. Why did you do that? And how has it worked out?
TRUDEAU: Thank you very much for the question. I’m glad to be able to talk about it.
First of all, there is a recognition that we need to have governments and governance that reflects more not just looking like the people we serve but drawing from the experiences of as broad a range of people as possible. And that means, yes, having half the population represented as half of Cabinet.
But the other piece of it is ensuring that the decisions taken by Cabinet about how we move forward as a country reflect the realities and the challenges of everyone within the country, and therefore bring together vastly different perspectives. I mean, we have top economic types in our Cabinet. We have people who’ve run shelters for abused women. We have people who have backgrounds in the military, people who have backgrounds as an astronaut. I mean, there is a huge range of experiences, including half extraordinary women and a great range of diversity.
But the thing that I like to point out is before I could stand up and blankly say because it’s 2015 is why we’re having that gender-balanced Cabinet, it had to be 2014, 2013, 2012, where we actively went out and recruited great women to run for politics. And this one I had to twist her arm significantly to give up a great job at Reuters in New York and move up to Toronto with a possibility of running in a bi-election, to maybe then move her family to Ottawa and take a big pay cut.
But the call to service was exactly what it was centered around and saying, look, we need really good people to step up in politics and partially to change the way politics is unfolding in our lives. And adding women in a significant way to that is a way to improve not just politics but any organization. And it’s something that is not just the smart thing to do—not just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. And that—there’s lots of examples of that.
HAASS: Minky. I had to call on a woman after that question. (Laughter.)
Q: Hi. I’m Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch.
And Human Rights Watch isn’t normally in the business of saying nice things about governments, but I wanted to commend Minister Freeland for your perfectly obvious statements that Saudi women’s rights activists should not have been cruelly imprisoned. We want to thank you for your advocacy.
My question is about China’s brutal repression in Xinjiang. A new Human Rights Watch report says as many as a million Uighur citizens have been imprisoned. They are being tortured. And if it were any other government, there would be a lot of U.N. action.
I want to ask what Canada is willing to do. Are you prepared to not deport Uighurs to China under these circumstances? And will you lead a coalition of governments to investigate?
TRUDEAU: Every single time I sit down with any world leader, but particularly ones where there are human-rights concerns, I bring up human rights. It’s something that is just par for the course with Canada. If you’re going to—if we’re going to talk about trade relations, we’re going to talk about economic opportunity, those exchanges, we’re going to do that, but I am also going to highlight real concerns that we flag.
And Canada is the first country to say, look, we have a lot of challenges. And Human Rights Watch has been helpful on this as well, challenging us on our treatment of indigenous peoples. And we have worked an awful lot over this past three years to improve it, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
So we recognize nobody’s perfect, but we are going to bring it up. And I know, Chrystia, you had a meeting just last week.
FREELAND: I met with the Chinese foreign minister yesterday, with Minister Wang Yi, and I did raise the issue of the Uighurs.
You know, as the prime minister says, something that is very important for Canada when we talk about these issues is to come from a starting point of acknowledging that we’re not perfect. And we sure aren’t. As the prime minister says—you know, the prime minister says to Canadians that our most important relationship is our relationship with the indigenous people in Canada. We still have a lot of work to do. And, you know, we are humble about our inadequacy, and that is really important.
Starting from that place, we do think it’s important to speak up about human rights around the world. The New York Times recently republished that famous essay that Andrei Sakharov wrote when he made that move from just being a physicist to speaking out for human rights. And he spoke very powerfully then about the importance of people, in countries where they are being oppressed, of hearing from the outside that they do have rights, that we acknowledge the universality of those rights.
And I think we who live in freedom do have an obligation to stand up for people who don’t. It’s a lot easier—you know, as the prime minister said, Canada is going to keep on doing that. Our Canadians expect us to. It’s a lot easier to do it when there are lots of countries with us.
HAASS: Michael Gordon. Oh, we’re going to just—the prime minister and his team have graciously agreed to go on for about five minutes afterwards since, thanks to the foreign minister, we started late. (Laughter.) So we’re going to go on to about 9:05. (Laughter.)
TRUDEAU: (Inaudible)—blame. But that’s OK, she’s been used to it over the past while—(laughter)—NAFTA negotiations.
Q: Michael Gordon, Wall Street Journal.
Quick follow to that for the foreign minister. Are you meeting with your Saudi counterpart here in the context of UNGA to try to discuss how to resolve the dispute you have with the Saudis, emanating from Canada’s criticism of the human-rights situation there? What do you think might be the first steps toward resolving that? And do you feel that the United States government has been sufficiently supportive? Because it hasn’t said much publicly about this. Have they been helpful privately, or are they neutral?
FREELAND: So I have been in close touch with Adel all summer. We call each other on our cell phones.
HAASS: Just to be clear, Adel al-Jubeir is the Saudi foreign minister.
And I do want to really recognize the hard work he has been doing. He’s very engaged on the issue. We are going to meet in New York. We are hoping to meet in New York this week, and I think that’s a good thing.
And I do want to be clear. You know, going back to Minky’s point, Canada will always stand up for human rights. You know, as Jane pointed out, we feel a particular obligation to women who are fighting for their rights around the world. Women’s rights are human rights. And we feel a particular obligation to people who have a personal connection to Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. And there are lots of people with connections to Canada around the world, and they should know our government is going to stand up for them.
Having said that, we have a longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia. In the G-7 foreign ministers’ statement in April, which I hosted in Toronto, we recognized the impressive reforms that are happening in Saudi Arabia and talked about our support for them, while we also referred to ongoing human rights concerns. So that’s a conversation that I’m very glad that we’ll be continuing to have.
HAASS: Just to be—
Q: And the U.S. role?
HAASS: Just to be clear on that, Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister who Chrystia’s been talking about, he’ll be here Wednesday afternoon, so you’ll have the chance to ask him this question as well.
Do you want to say anything about the U.S. role in this?
FREELAND: You know, I would say every country has to make its choices about what to say publicly and what to say privately. I speak with Secretary Pompeo often, and we have a good relationship, and he’s been supportive on a number of issues.
HAASS: Speaking of that, how often do you speak to President Trump now? And are you seeing him here this week?
TRUDEAU: We may well run into each other. I think one of the things is I am—(laughter)—no. See, this is—this always comes up as a question. Canada is the closest physically to the U.N. of any country in the world, and when I come here I’m trying to meet with a whole bunch of people who come from, you know, far-flung places that we don’t get often to meet. So my schedule is jammed with meetings with, you know, leaders from Africa and Asia that otherwise I might not be able to have a sit-down moment with. And I can only imagine that the president’s schedule is similar.
I mean, we spoke just last week on the phone. We speak every few weeks. We see each other at a whole bunch of different events. We may well see each other later today at a—at a luncheon I think we’re both at. But, you know, I have a level of access and interaction that pretty much very few other countries have, and therefore actually blocking out time to sit down and meet is time that both of us perhaps more productively could us on people who we don’t have as many opportunities to meet.
HAASS: Yes, ma’am, in the—right there.
Q: Hello. Lyric Hughes Hale from EconVue in Chicago.
And my question is about Canada’s new Arctic policy and the Arctic passage—it’s not well covered in the media here—as well as how this interacts, how this—with the—with China’s new Polar Silk Road. Could you tell us about your strategy for that?
FREELAND: So I think—yeah, that’s right. I’ll start, and then Jim is a MP for Manitoba, which, as you know, with Churchill is very much part of it, and Jim has been very personally engaged in that.
You know, when we think about the Arctic, our—we have two starting points. One is the indigenous people in Canada. You’ve heard us talk about that issue a lot, and that is I would say at the core of our government’s thinking about the Arctic. They were there first and they know the Arctic best, and it’s very important that they be at the center of everything that we do in the north.
The second thing that I would say is our core concern is the environment. I’m actually surprised that we haven’t spoken about climate change in an hour. And, wow, that’s kind of terrible that we haven’t because this is one of the central challenges humanity is facing. Canada is a very strong supporter of the Paris Accords. We know that climate change is real, and one of the places on our planet which is being most affected by climate change is the Arctic. So that is something we are extremely mindful of and concerned about.
There are, of course, economic aspects and trade aspects to our Arctic policy, and maybe that’s for Jim to talk about.
CARR: Well, just to add that Churchill, at the very tip of Manitoba, is on Hudson’s Bay. And one of the impacts of climate change is that that season has been elongated significantly. So there is going to be trade routes and shipping routes that will, within a matter of a generation, probably available all year round. So just in the last number of weeks, we have facilitated the sale of the rail line that goes all the way up to Churchill. And the port will be rehabilitated, which is going to open up an entirely different world to northern Manitoba and the northern prairie. And along with all of the other issues that are associated with Arctic policy, we will now have this additional possibility.
So we are alert to it. Cabinet ministers are focused on this. And we think that we are well-positioned to move Canada forward.
HAASS: This is probably not the time to make a joke about Canada’s Arctic policy being redundant. (Laughter.)
CARR: Ooh! (Laughs.)
HAASS: It’s about 9:05. I can’t get to the questions. I apologize. Forgive me. A lot of interest, clearly, so we hope we have you back. But why don’t—I want to give the prime minister the last word.
TRUDEAU: I just want to say thank you. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to talk about Canada. One of the things that we always encounter as Canadians engaging with our neighbors is, as your quiz showed, there’s a lot of folks who think kindly about Canada, but don’t think much about Canada—don’t think often about Canada at all. And if we can highlight that we’re working on and struggling with many of the same challenges that you, and we are, you know, trying to figure out paths that—you know, where we learn from you and perhaps there are things that we’re doing that you might be interested in, then that’s, I think, what friends and neighbors are supposed to do.
I think there’s a lot of—a lot of attention on certain aspects of the relationship right now, particularly around the renegotiation of NAFTA. But we have to remember that on collaboration, on worldview, on rolling up our sleeves and getting things done, Canada and the U.S. have always been extraordinarily fortunate to have each other as neighbors, and that’s going to continue. And the interest that all of you have and the support that all of you are offering is really, really very much appreciated to us. Keep up the great work that the Council on Foreign Relations is, obviously—(applause)—
HAASS: Thank you.