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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, takes part in a leaders panel discussion with, from left, Jacinda Ardern, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jonas Gahr Store, Prime Minister of Norway and Sanna Marin, Former Prime Minister of Finland, at the Global Progress Action Summit in Montreal, Saturday, September 16, 2023.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Progressive politicians hoping to triumph over right-leaning political adversaries can only succeed if they can do a better job bridging their lofty goals with people’s day-to-day struggles, Canada’s Prime Minister said Saturday.

Justin Trudeau’s remarks came during a panel discussion at the Global Progress Action Summit in Montreal, a gathering of left-leaning political figures both past and present.

“If we’re not responding to where people are, (in their) daily life, then we’re not going to be connecting with them,” Trudeau told the panel, which also included Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and former Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

The progressive promise of a better, fairer world, Trudeau continued, is too aspirational to resonate with people who may be struggling to afford their basic needs.

The goal, he said, is “getting people to be optimistic about the future but also comforted in their present challenges” by presenting progressive aims, such as an inclusive economy and fighting climate change, as solutions to affordability issues.

“That’s where we need to connect with people.”

He contrasted this approach with one he argued is more common among leaders further to the right on the political spectrum, who he said often “reflect back and amplify the very real anger and frustration and anxiety that people have and people feel like they’re being seen and heard.”

If no one is coming up with answers, he warned, people will turn to those “who are shouting the loudest and most outraged alongside them.”

Trudeau has been facing mounting pressure at home from critics who contend he’s falling short on the very goal he articulated at the panel. This week’s caucus retreat in London, Ont., saw the government pledge to both remove GST on construction of new rental apartment buildings and push the country’s largest grocery companies to find ways to stabilize sky-high food prices.

MPs attending the retreat said the three-day gathering involved frank exchanges on why the Liberals are polling at their lowest levels since taking office eight years ago.

Those polls suggest Canadians believe the Conservatives would do a better job dealing with affordability and housing concerns, while the NDP has aggressively called out corporations for the high cost of food.

But Trudeau’s co-panelists were quick to support his message on Saturday.

“We can’t stand there next to a dumpster on fire and not acknowledge that it’s on fire behind us,” Ardern said of the progressive response to mounting global challenges.

Fulfilling voters’ basic needs, the former prime minister theorized, “gives people bandwidth to then have those bigger discussions” about social and environmental issues.

Støre gave the example of climate change, saying progressives need to translate “abstract” goals to cut emissions into solutions that positively affect residents in their daily lives.

The Norwegian prime minister said the future of the progressive movement depends on creating opportunities.

“Our movement will die if it does not maintain some kind of optimistic vision of what we can achieve.”

With files from Dylan Robertson in London, Ont.

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