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Prime Minister keynote speech at the World Economic Forum 2018

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the crowd during the World Economic Forum.


Good evening, everyone. Thank you, Borge, for your kind words. It’s an honour to be here in Davos.

Thank you to this year’s outstanding co-chairs: Sharan, Fabiola, Isabelle, Christine, Ginni, Chetna, and Erna.

Before I begin, it won’t surprise you that my remarks today will address the importance of progressive values in the context of globalization.

On that note, today, I am pleased to announce that Canada and the ten other remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership concluded discussions in Tokyo, Japan, on a new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The agreement reached in Tokyo today is the right deal. Our government stood up for Canadian interests and this agreement meets our objectives of creating and sustaining growth, prosperity and well-paying middle-class jobs today and for generations to come.

We are pleased with the progress we have made to make this deal more progressive and stronger for Canadian workers on intellectual property, culture and the automotive sector‎.

Trade helps strengthen the middle class, but for it to work we must ensure that the benefits are shared with all our citizens, not just the few. The Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership is a new step on that path.

I would also like to personally thank ‎Prime Minister Abe for hosting the recent talks and for his leadership on reaching this positive outcome.

Today is a great day for Canada and a great day for progressive trade.


I was last here at the World Economic Forum in 2016, two months after being sworn in as Prime Minister. And while that might not seem like very long ago, in this new era of perpetual change that we’re living in, two years might as well be a lifetime.

Think about it: The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again. There’s enormous opportunity, and enormous potential, in that realization.

Technology has always brought such promise – a better standard of living, new innovations, remarkable products. Consider that progression from steam power, to electricity, to computers.

But it also brings dramatic shifts in our social, economic, and political cultures. This current step, involving automation and AI, as the obvious examples, will totally revolutionize the world of work – in many ways, they already have.

As business leaders, I know you view these as both exciting and challenging advancements. You are rightly anxious about how quickly our existing business models are being disrupted.

Still, if you’re anxious, imagine how the folks who aren’t in this room are feeling. Workers, people who aren’t seeing the benefits of economic growth, regular men and women who are trying to grab a rung on the career ladder (never mind climb it) – for them, technology is a benefit to their lives, but a threat to their jobs.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the ripple effects of economic uncertainty and inequality play out around the world. The unrest we’ve witnessed is driven by anxiety and fear. Fear of what a rapidly changing world means for workers and their families, and for those who are already struggling in the existing economy.

And that fear – that anxiety – is valid. People have been taken advantage of, losing their jobs and their livelihoods.

Governments and corporations – we haven’t done enough to address this. Over the past decades, citizens and workers have been calling for change, but too often, their pleas have been ignored.

Too many politicians become disconnected – refusing to really listen, chasing short term wins over long term, meaningful solutions.

And too many corporations have put the pursuit of profit before the wellbeing of their workers. The gap between the rich and the poor is staggering. All the while, companies avoid taxes and boast record profits with one hand, while slashing benefits with the other.

But that approach can’t and won’t cut it anymore.

People are feeling like outsiders, lashing out, and blaming the public and private sectors alike. This is an important moment we’re witnessing – we cannot repeat the mistakes of decades past.

Economic growth must generate real benefits in our communities. Trade deals must deliver better opportunities every day to our citizens. And companies must take seriously their obligations to the workers who serve them, and the towns and cities that support them.

We’re in a new age of doing business – you need to give back. You need to be part of the solution. And if you don’t believe me, take it from Larry Fink.

In his most recent annual letter to CEOs, Larry writes, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”

Now, I understand that the burden of change falls heavy, and you cannot be expected to solve all the ills of the world.

But sitting back and hoping some other corporation – or some other country – volunteers to take the lead on this will get us nowhere. We have to drive this change. Each and every one of us.

Forums like this one are a great way to talk about how we can best work together to fulfill our duty to serve.

We cannot neglect our responsibility to the people who matter most – to the people who aren’t here in Davos, and never will be. Those are the people we’re working for. Those are the people who must be our priority.

If we do nothing, and if we operate in the mindset of “business as usual”, the systems will break down, and we will all fail.

We all know that to be competitive in the modern economy, change is imperative.

And the grassroots desire for change is there – it always has been. But it’s on us to flip the switch.

We know what needs to be done. It is well past time that we listen, learn, and finally, lead.


Of course, this kind of profound, societal change can seem overwhelming, and lead us to wonder where even to begin.

So I’d like to focus on a fundamental shift that every leader in this room can act on immediately.

One that I have made a central tenet of my leadership.

One that is core to this year’s Forum, thanks to the leadership of our seven extraordinary co-chairs.

I’m talking about hiring, promoting, and retaining more women.

And not just because it’s the right thing to do, or the nice thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do.

In Canada, like all over the world, much of the economic and labour force growth we've experienced over the last many decades is because of women entering into – and changing – the workforce.

But there is still so much room for improvement, and such enormous benefit to be had.

McKinsey estimates that narrowing the gender gap in Canada could add $150 billion to our economy by 2026.

Research tells us that organizations with women on their corporate boards and in key leadership positions perform better than those without.

In fact, The Peterson Institute for International Economics found that increasing the share of women in leadership positions from 0% to 30% translates into a 15% boost to profitability.

Recent estimates suggest that economic gender parity could add $1.75 trillion to the United States’ GDP. And in China? The GDP boost could be as much as $2.5 trillion – that’s bigger than the entire Canadian economy.

Folks – hiring, promoting, and retaining more women not only boosts your bottom line, but will also lead to diversity of thinking, and next-level innovation and problem solving.

Add women, and you’ll build stronger companies, and stronger communities.

Now, when we talk about getting more women into the workforce, the issue of pay equity comes up – and it should, it’s vitally important.

In Canada, we’ll be moving forward this year with legislation to ensure equal pay for work of equal value at the federal level.

But I’m sure there are a few of you in the audience who are thinking, “I already have equal pay policies in place. This doesn’t apply to me.”

So while I commend your effort on this front, it may not be good enough. Our own government’s pay equity efforts, while important, are still just a first step.

Because equal pay for women does not mean equal opportunity, or equal treatment, or equal sacrifice.

Paying a female employee the same as a male employee doesn’t even begin to touch issues around family planning, promotions, or job security.

Women do more part-time work, and more unpaid work, than men. How do we address that?

When we dig a little deeper, when we peel back that outer layer, we see that there are a whole host of barriers facing women in the workplace. Removing these barriers will take effort, leadership, and a willingness to change the nature of work as we know it.

What does this mean? What can we do? How do we bring more women into the workforce, and more importantly, how do we keep them there?

Well, we have to fundamentally change corporate culture, so that women in the workplace feel welcomed, supported, and valued.

Here’s where we need to start.

It’s time to take a serious look at parental leave and child care policies. We should be encouraging women – and men – to make the best decision for their family situation. In Canada, we’ve given parents more options for parental leave, and invested billions in affordable, high quality child care.

We also introduced a really successful child benefit program that gives middle- and low-income parents more money every month to help with the high costs of raising kids.

And since the Canada Child Benefit gives more money to those who need it most, the financial impact on single mothers ‎has been significant. Last year, nearly 90% of single moms receiving the Canada Child Benefit earned less than $60,000 and received about $9,000 in total benefits, tax-free.

And let’s be clear: helping those families has been a key driver of Canada’s recent economic growth.

Companies should have a formal policy on gender diversity, and make the recruitment of women candidates a priority. You may remember that we introduced our country’s first gender-balanced Cabinet in 2015. The usual suspects complained. But guess what?

Two years later, Chrystia Freeland and Maryam Monsef, who are here this week – along with their many female colleagues in Cabinet – are serving the country with great distinction, and have elevated the level of decision-making and debate for everyone in Cabinet and in government.

As corporate leaders, consider a gender-balanced board, or gender-balanced project teams.

Anytime we’re looking for a new hire, we should be identifying women candidates at a rate equal to men. In Canada, when we look to fill appointments, we work to recruit people who reflect the true diversity of our country.

And the way we report on our efforts should be open and transparent. We’re actually very close to passing a law requiring federally incorporated businesses to disclose information about their diversity policies, including gender composition for their boards and senior management. 

A few more areas that need improvement?

We must recognize that the responsibility of caring for aging or sick loved ones often falls to women. So the creation of a benefit program for caregivers would help ease the economic strain of taking time off work.  

And we have to recognize that aspects of intersectionality are always at play, and require special attention. Here’s an example: In 2016, among women who were newly appointed to the boards of Fortune 500 companies, 77% of them were white.  Race, religion, sexuality, socioeconomic status – these are just a few of the ways that women are even further discriminated against.

And finally, folks, here is a really big one:

Me Too, Times Up, the Women’s March – these movements tell us that we need to have a critical discussion on women’s rights, equality, and the power dynamics of gender. Sexual harassment, for example – in business and in government – is a systemic problem and it is unacceptable. As leaders, we need to act to show that truly, time is up. 

We must each have a well-understood, established process in place to file allegations of workplace harassment. And when we receive those complaints, we must take them seriously.

As women speak up, it is our responsibility to listen, and more importantly, to believe.

Folks, treat these not as piecemeal alternatives to how things currently run. Treat these examples as a fundamental, essential shift in the way we operate.


As governments and corporations, we are entrusted with a platform and a voice. Let’s use them.

Last year, with our neighbours in the US, we established the Canada-US Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders. The council just put out an important report – their first of five – focused on supporting and growing women-owned businesses.

This year, Canada holds the Presidency of the G7, and will host a summit in Charlevoix, Québec. And a big focus of our Presidency is women’s social, political, and economic advancement. Gender equality and gender-based analysis will be integrated across all themes, activities, and outcomes of Canada’s G7 Presidency – including at ministerial meetings and the Leaders’ Summit.

And I’m pleased to announce that the co-chairs for the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council will be Melinda Gates and Isabelle Hudon.

Both of these women are global leaders in the advancement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls – and so will ensure that gender equality is a priority through everything the G7 does this year.

2018 will also see Canada hosting Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International summit, and 2019 will bring the Women Deliver Conference to Vancouver – the world’s largest gathering on health, rights, and wellbeing of women and girls.

These are just a few examples of what we’re doing to draw regular and frequent attention to the untapped potential of women and girls around the world.

And that’s not to say that we’ve got it all figured out. In Canada, we need more women in politics, more women on corporate boards, and more women in STEM. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So in reflecting on this, let me ask you: What are your challenges? And what are you doing to address them?


Ladies and gentlemen, the hiring, promotion, and retention of women is something we can make happen today, right now.

More women in leadership positions won’t just grow our economy, create jobs, and strengthen our communities. It will also lead to innovation and change in the workplace – innovation and change that workers so desperately need.

The unrest that we see around the world is palpable, and it isn’t going away. These are uncertain times. We have a responsibility to address people’s very real concerns.

And the only way we’ll get there is by listening. If we listen to our workers and our citizens, we will create solutions that actually stick.

The people in this room are immensely privileged – we owe it to society to use this privilege for good.

We should ask ourselves – do we want to live in a world where the wealthy hide in their gated enclaves, while those around them struggle?

Or do we want to help create a world grounded in the notion of fairness?

Because right now, we are in real danger of leaving to our kids a world that is less fair than the one we inherited from our parents.

And I know we can do so much better.

Progress of any kind takes hard work. But by thinking big, and working together, we will build a better world.

Thank you.