It’s hard to know what to make of Justin Trudeau’s first appearance before the moneyed elite in Davos, Switzerland.
He told assembled corporate moguls that Canada is open for business. He schmoozed with Hollywood movie stars.
Like Stephen Harper before him, the current prime minister bragged.
In 2012 at Davos, Harper congratulated himself for Canada’s ability to weather the great recession. This year, Trudeau congratulated himself for Canada’s diversity.
Trudeau also talked about something called the fourth industrial revolution, a concept that is probably best exemplified by Uber, the online taxi company that threatens to put legal cabbies out of business.
Perhaps the prime minister was just trying to be polite. Klaus Schwab, the head of the World Economic Forum that runs the annual Davos get-together had decreed that the fourth industrial revolution was to be this year’s topic du jour.
Trudeau complied by talking about the somewhat vague concept at great length.
To his credit, the prime minister phrased most of his comments in the conditional tense, noting at one point in his speech Wednesday that the first task of those interested in the fourth industrial revolution is to find out if it exists.
During his time in the Swiss resort, Trudeau wore colourful socks. He also met various business big-shots, including Mary Barra, the head of General Motors.
Perhaps Barra was so entranced by Trudeau’s footwear that she’ll eventually assign a new product to the company’s Oshawa plant to replace the three models due to be terminated there this year.
My guess though is that the prime minister’s hosiery won’t matter and that, in the end, GM will produce autos in whichever jurisdiction offers the biggest government subsidies and most agreeable labour force.
Here at home, much was made of Trudeau’s remark that he wants Canada to be known for its resourcefulness rather than its resources. This was taken by some as a slight against Alberta.
I’m not sure the criticism is deserved since, in the same speech, Trudeau also said that natural resources are and always will be important to Canada.
In fact, given that commodity prices are tanking, his attempt to broaden the world’s view of Canada did make some sense.
Other than the fact that he takes an expansive view of the Canadian economy, Trudeau’s Davos interlude doesn’t tell us much new about his thinking.
In his speech he briefly mentioned climate change, arguing — as he has before — that fighting global warming can produce jobs.
He spoke of the need to ensure that the benefits of technological change are fairly shared by what he calls the middle class.
He said that public investment has achieved this goal in the past and can do so again.
He said Canadians are confident, which, according to the polls, may not be true.
He did not mention trade. He had nothing to say in his speech about either the recently negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership or the stalled Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union.
He did not mention taxes, even though his Liberal government has left corporate tax rates at historically low levels.
Trudeau returns home at a time when the world economy is weakening. China is slowing. The United States is not picking up the slack.
The official U.S. unemployment rate is 5 per cent. But when part-time employees who want to work full-time are taken into account, that figure almost doubles.
The Canadian economy is not in recession. But the oil price shock continues to reverberate.
With the U.S. still frail, Canadian manufacturers who export south of the border have not been able to take full advantage of the 70-cent loonie.
If the Liberal government follows through with its plans to borrow money to build infrastructure, this will help.
Ditto with Trudeau’s election promise to ensure that more jobless Canadians receive the unemployment insurance benefits they fund.
These, if and when they come, will be the kind of actions that matter. By comparison, the prime minister’s adventure in Switzerland, however excellent, was insignificant.