Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he hasn’t been partying it up with Hollywood celebrities and rock stars at this Alpine ski retreat for the global super elite, but working hard to persuade wealthy tycoons to invest in Canada.
“People who invest billions of dollars in the global economy gather here and I’ve been spending the past few days pitching them on Canada … and encouraging them to take a closer look at Canada,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters when asked what Canadians might think of him hobnobbing with the rich and famous at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Mr. Trudeau threw a reception Friday night at the upscale Grischa Hotel that attracted House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey, Irish rock star Bono and British bon vivant Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines.
Selfies of Mr. Trudeau with Bono and Mr. Spacey at a different gala Wednesday have gone around the world on social media; at the same event, the Prime Minister was spotted with movie star Leonardo DiCaprio.
Mr. Trudeau said the only reason he went to the fancy dinner Wednesday was at the personal invitation of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, with whom he also held talks Friday.
“Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba, and Alibaba has 450 million subscribers in China who are looking to purchase global goods and the idea of connecting Canadian small and medium-sized businesses with 300 million strong middle class in China that are looking for Canadian projects. That’s what I spent two different meetings talking to Jack about,” Mr. Trudeau said.
He said he also lectured Mr. DiCaprio about his harsh criticism of Canada’s oil-and-gas sector. The award-winning actor has starred in a video critical of Alberta’s energy sector where he called on the world to “fight to keep this carbon in the ground.”
“I pointed out that both Alberta and Canada have new governments over the past year that are committed to action on climate change … and that there are families suffering and who are out of work who need to be supported – and inflamed rhetoric doesn’t necessarily help,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau said Mr. DiCaprio responded that “he’d be the first to come up and celebrate us for it” if Canada takes concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands.
The Prime Minister has been a popular attraction in Davos, meeting global corporate executives, delivering speeches on Canadian investment opportunities and participating in panels on gender equity and youth entrepreneurship.
When asked at a news conference whether he would consider spending up to $25-billion on infrastructure, Mr. Trudeau did not commit to a figure, but stressed the Liberal government would not allow a runaway deficit. “Being fiscally responsible as we invest in the future of our country is to ensure that we continue to reduce our debt to GDP ratio. That is something I have committed to do,” he said.
On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Mr. Trudeau and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland also met European negotiators and politicians in an attempt to save the Canada-European Union trade deal.
The Europeans want Canada to compromise on the investor-state resolution process that allows companies to recover damages from arbitrary government decisions. Mr. Trudeau, who will meet European Parliament President Martin Schulz on Saturday, expressed confidence the dispute can be settled.
“This is an important opportunity for both Canada and Europe and I’m looking forward to getting it signed,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau met privately with 13 of the world’s leading corporate chieftains such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Renault-Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Mr. Trudeau did not win investment commitments but no one should have expected that to happen, said former Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin, vice-chairman of BMO Capital Markets.
“I don’t think anyone expects him to come here and sign up a number of big jobs; that’s not realistic. But people want to take his measure and they like what they see,” Mr. Tobin said.
John Manley, president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said Mr. Trudeau’s performance has been “pretty pitch perfect” and praised him for spending three days at the forum.
“You can see more of the world investment potential face to face in Davos than you can manage to do in a year of travels,” he said in an interview. “People with money to invest like to think they can look the Prime Minister in the eye and get a sense of what his core beliefs are and how their investment will be treated in Canada.”
Kevin Lynch, the former clerk of the Privy Council under Stephen Harper and current vice-chairman of BMO Financial Group, said Mr. Trudeau is doing more than pitching for investment dollars: He is rebranding Canada as a compassionate nation, a message that will improve the country’s international reputation.
“Mr. Trudeau has an excellent reception here at Davos, partially because of the change in Canada of welcoming Syrian refugees at a time when Europe is uncertain about it and the United States seems to be quite ambivalent,” Mr. Lynch said. “Mr. Trudeau has positioned himself, but more importantly Canada, in a very positive light.”
Dr. Hans-Paul Burkner, the Frankfurt chairman of Boston Consulting Group, said he was impressed with Mr. Trudeau’s progressive and inclusive approach to government.
“His emphasis on middle-class, on jobs, on innovation, education, I think these are the topics that are important rather than trying to be dogmatic as the previous government was on focusing on a very few things,” he said.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Sheryl Sandberg as CEO of Facebook. She is in fact the COO.Report Typo/Error