In the face of uncertainty over the North American free-trade agreement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will champion Canada as an attractive place to invest at the annual gathering of the global elite held in the Swiss Alps.
Mr. Trudeau intends to play down U.S. President Donald Trump's threat to abrogate NAFTA in meetings with corporate executives at the World Economic Forum, a government official told The Globe and Mail.
The Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers – Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains – leave Monday for Davos as the sixth round of NAFTA talks takes place in Montreal this week.
President Trump had planned to be at the chic Swiss ski resort to push his America First trade agenda, accompanied by top White House advisers and cabinet secretaries, but the U.S. government shutdown has made his schedule uncertain.
The official said the Prime Minister, who is not expected to meet Mr. Trump, will tell business leaders he remains confident that negotiators can update NAFTA and boost continental trade.
He will also tell them Canada is prepared for the possibility that Mr. Trump might give the required six-months notice to pull out of NAFTA, but the official noted there is widespread support for the continental treaty in Congress, the U.S. business community and in American states that trade with Canada and Mexico.
Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty said Mr. Trudeau needs to do more than say Canada is a good place to invest, especially with NAFTA under threat and the U.S. slashing taxes.
"By all means he should be going out and promoting Canada in a very positive way but we have to get our house in order here in Canada," Mr. Beatty said in an interview on Saturday. "We need to make sure that the tax and regulatory environment that both domestic and foreign investors are looking at are attractive in Canada."
Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz recently warned that uncertainty over NAFTA could derail the Canadian economy. Corporations are delaying investment decisions and some might be diverting money that was planned for Canada, he said.
"Obviously there is uncertainty that the Bank of Canada pointed to regarding NAFTA, but what tends to get missed are the dramatic changes being made in the tax and regulatory regime in the U.S.," Mr. Beatty said. "What we have seen is the most massive tax and regulatory reform in our lifetime, all designed to make the American system more competitive."
Mr. Beatty pointed to Apple Inc.'s announcement this week that it is repatriating over a quarter of a trillion dollars to the U.S. because of the tax and regulatory changes. Unless Canada follows the U.S. lead, investment dollars will flow south of the border, he warned.
During his three days in Davos, Mr. Trudeau will pitch Canada in private meetings with executives from Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Google, Royal Dutch Shell and other large multinational corporations.
In a keynote speech on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau will talk up Canadian investment opportunities and highlight his belief in progressive trade and gender equality.
Opposition MPs question, however, why Mr. Trudeau is going to the annual retreat of billionaires, Hollywood celebrities and politicians.
"It is just really rich, famous people talking to other rich, famous people while working-class Canadians are wondering how their lives might get better," NDP ethics critic Nathan Cullen told The Globe.
Mr. Cullen said he'd be supportive of the Davos trip if Mr. Trudeau would tell the super-rich that Canada will tax their stock options and crack down on offshore tax havens.
"If he said, 'Time is up and you are going to have to start paying some taxes,' then that would be worth the trip, but I suspect he is not going to do that," Mr. Cullen said. "If you are a billionaire, you are still sipping champagne and eating caviar and, in fact, are doing better under this government."
Conservative ethics critic Peter Kent said he doesn't believe Mr. Trudeau will accomplish very much at Davos other than to have selfies taken with Hollywood stars and rock musicians.
"Davos has become more and more of a celebrity, star-studded event and it not surprising the Prime Minister has chosen to go again," Mr. Kent said.
Mr. Trudeau skipped last year's summit to avoid criticism of hobnobbing with the global elite in the aftermath of revelations that he had holidayed at the Bahamas island retreat of the Aga Khan.
In 2016, Mr. Trudeau threw a reception at the upscale Grischa Hotel in Davos that attracted now disgraced House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey, Irish rock star Bono and British bon vivant Richard Branson, founder of Virgin airlines. At the same event, the Prime Minister was spotted with movie star Leonardo DiCaprio.
"I think the Prime Minister is going for relationship building and not for effective, meaningful official business," Mr. Kent said.
Oxfam Canada is urging Mr. Trudeau to use Davos as a stage to preach against the evils of corporate greed.
A new report by Oxfam shows that 82 per cent of global wealth generated last year went to the richest 1 per cent. In Canada, billionaire wealth has grown by $28-billion since 2016.
"It's hard to find a politician or business leader who doesn't say they are worried about inequality. It's even harder to find one who is actually doing something about it," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International.
Oxfam Canada policy director Kate Higgins said the Prime Minister should encourage world leaders to crack down on corporate tax avoidance, eliminate the gender pay gap and protect the rights of female workers.
"Our estimate is that 1.5 per cent of billionaires' wealth could pay for every child to go to school … and we really think the Canadian government can take a leadership role on this," she said.
The themes of this year's Davos conference, which takes place Jan. 23-26, are to examine how the global community can confront climate change and the fallout from globalization, and how to adapt to technological revolutions such as artificial intelligence and cryptocurrencies.