Ordinary people around the world have been failed by globalisation, Justin Trudeau has told the Guardian, as he sought to explain a turbulent year marked by the election of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote and the rise of anti-establishment, nation-first parties around the world.
“What we’re facing right now – in terms of the rise of populism and divisive and fearful narratives around the world – it’s based around the fact that globalisation doesn’t seem to be working for the middle class, for ordinary people,” the Canadian prime minister said in an interview at his oak-panelled office in the country’s parliament. “And this is something that we identified years ago and built an entire platform and agenda for governing on.”
Last year, at a time when Trump was being described as a long shot for president and the threat of Brexit seemed a distant possibility, Trudeau, 44, swept to a majority government on an ambitious platform that included addressing growing inequality and creating real change for the country’s middle class.
One year on, what has emerged is a government that seems to go against the political tide around the world; open to trade, immigration and diversity and led by a social media star whose views on feminism, Syrian refugees and LGBT rights have provoked delight among progressives.
But as he enters his second year in power, Trudeau – a former high school teacher and snowboarding instructor – is under pressure to show the world that his government has found an alternative means of tackling the concerns of those who feel they’ve been left behind.
He cited the signing of Ceta – the free trade deal between the EU and Canada – and a hotly-contested decision to approve two pipelines as examples of this approach.
“We were able to sign free trade agreement with Europe at a time when people tend to be closing off,” he said. “We’re actually able to approve pipelines at a time when everyone wants protection of the environment. We’re being able to show that we get people’s fears and there are constructive ways of allaying them – and not just ways to lash out and give a big kick to the system.”
Canada has not remained immune to such pressures, he said – despite what the fresh wave of interest in migrating to the country in the wake of Trump’s victory and the Brexit vote would suggest. “I think there’s a lot of people saying ‘oh well, Canada is a special place,’ and we are,” said Trudeau. “But we are subject to the same kinds of tensions and forces that so much of the world is facing right now.”
Trudeau said he is keenly aware that the world is watching. “I think it’s always been understood that Canada is not a country that’s going to stand up and beat its chest on the world stage, but we can be very helpful in modeling solutions that work,” he said. “Quite frankly if we can show – as we are working very hard to demonstrate – that you can have engaged global perspectives and growth that works for everyone … then that diffuses a lot of the uncertainty, the anger, the populism that is surfacing in different pockets of the world.”
In January, Trudeau’s government will face off against its greatest challenge to-date: A Trump presidency. When it comes to US relations, few countries have as much at stake as Canada – last year saw nearly three quarters of Canada’s exports head to the US while some 400,000 people a day cross the shared border.