Trudeau and Freeland to skip Davos

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland announce the USMCA in Ottawa in October 2018.

Canada’s prime minister and deputy prime minister will not be attending the World Economic Forum this month in Davos, Switzerland, The Logic has learned. It’s the second year in a row Justin Trudeau has skipped the annual gathering of political and business leaders.

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Canada will be represented by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains and International Trade Minister Mary Ng, said Eleanore Catenaro, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office. “They will promote Canada as a top innovative country and an excellent place to invest to help create more opportunities and good jobs for Canadians.”

Talking Point

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland will not attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this year, The Logic has learned. It’s the second consecutive year the PM has passed on the event, which brings together world and business leaders; U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to go, after skipping the 2019 edition.

The annual forum—which brings together political and business leaders as well as celebrities around big economic themes like the fourth industrial revolution and globalization—takes place January 20 to 23. While some prominent world leaders like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are skipping the gathering this year, U.S. President Donald Trump is among those expected to attend.

Trudeau has been to the WEF twice as prime minister. In 2016, his first full year in office, he spent three and a half days in Davos at the head of a six-member delegation, touting the “Canadian opportunity” and meeting with the likes of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma.

In 2018, his speech focused on the benefits of free trade, as well as a call for gender equality in business; his meetings included Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.

Chrystia Freeland’s absence is also notable. The deputy prime minister’s history with the WEF and its attendees extends beyond her time in government, going back to her time as a journalist and author. “The real community life of the twenty-first-century plutocracy occurs on the international conference circuit,” she wrote in her 2012 book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, singling Davos out as the invitation that “marks an aspiring plutocrat’s arrival on the international scene.” 

As foreign affairs minister, Freeland used the 2018 meeting to advance NAFTA negotiations with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer; last year, she focused on the political unrest in Venezuela, and met with corporate leaders from firms like Alibaba and Blackstone. But she’s now Trudeau’s domestic fixer—she’s spent the start of this week in Alberta, meeting with local leaders—and the main implementer on key files like climate change policy, child care and interprovincial trade.

Trump is scheduled to be in Davos this year, after withdrawing the U.S. delegation in 2019 a week before the event amid a government shutdown.

Johnson reportedly banned his ministers from attending the WEF, with an unnamed official telling Politico that his government plans to focus on “delivering for the people, not Champagne with billionaires.” However, U.K. Chancellor Sajid Javid will attend.

The three Canadian cabinet members who are attending will have full agendas. The U.S. and France are hoping to seal a deal at the event over the latter’s new digital-services tax, which targets Big Tech; the Trump administration has threatened US$2.4 billion in retaliatory tariffs in response to the measure. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are due to meet in Davos, and the outcome of that settlement could draw in Morneau—the Liberals promised a similar tax during last fall’s election.

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Meanwhile, then-international trade minister Jim Carr spent last year’s WEF working on a Canada-led effort to reform the World Trade Organization, which has been incapacitated by the U.S. blocking appointments to its appeals body. Ng’s mandate from Trudeau includes advancing that work.

Bains has used the WEF stage to announce major projects under the flagship Strategic Innovation Fund in each of the last two years. Catenaro said the government will release more details about the ministers’ Davos plans closer to the event.