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Trudeau blames corporate elites for rise in global public anger

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau are seen prior to a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on February 17, 2017.

Justin Trudeau is blaming corporate and government leaders for the spike in global anger rocking world politics, warning that low wages and the shift to precarious part-time work is at the heart of why citizens are opposing traditional powers.

Speaking at the St. Matthew's Day banquet – an elite, black-tie event in Hamburg with a tradition that dates back centuries – the Prime Minister said companies contribute to public anger when they post record profits on the backs of workers who are underpaid and overworked.

"It's time to pay a living wage, to pay your taxes, and to give your workers the benefits – and peace of mind – that come with stable, full-time contracts."

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The speech to Germany's business, government and cultural leaders came at the end of a whirlwind tour of France and Germany that saw the Prime Minister praise the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, for approving a free-trade pact with Canada and then head to Germany for lengthy discussions with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

U.S. President Donald Trump was never mentioned by name by Mr. Trudeau during his address to the European Parliament, nor during his Hamburg speech, but Mr. Trump's election victory and the earlier Brexit vote in Britain last year were the clear inspiration for the Prime Minister's message this week.

"Increasing inequality has made citizens distrust their governments. Distrust their employers," Mr. Trudeau said Friday evening at the banquet.  "And we're watching that anxiety transform into anger on an almost daily basis. It follows that people's natural defence mechanism in times of stress and anxiety is to hunker down and recoil inward. To give into cynicism. To retreat from one another. But it's time for us, as leaders in politics and business, to step up."

It is that type of language that has led Mr. Trudeau to be labelled the "anti-Trump," a term used Friday on the front page of Germany's Die Welt newspaper. The paper also declared Mr. Trudeau the "sexiest politician alive."

Mr. Trudeau's tour comes ahead of his Liberal government's second budget, which is expected to include further tax-the-rich measures by closing various credits known as tax expenditures.

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On Friday, Mr. Trudeau took a moment to tour Berlin's Holocaust Memorial, where he laid a wreath and then took a short walk in the rain among the sombre monument's grey pillars.

He also visited the site of December's deadly terrorist attack in the capital's Christmas market, where a truck ran into a public square, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more just days before Christmas.

The Prime Minister also made comments in Berlin Friday that suggested a major increase in federal spending on defence is not part of his government's plans, in spite of recent comments from Mr. Trump's administration directed at NATO allies.

At a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels this week, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis urged NATO members to step up.

The United States has long called on its NATO partners to contribute 2 per cent of their country's GDP toward defence spending. Canada's commitment is currently around 1 per cent, while Germany contributes 1.2 per cent.

Ms. Merkel said Friday that Germany is committed to meeting the target within a decade. She also said her government approved an 8-per-cent increase in defence spending this year.

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"We intend to pursue this," she said. "Obviously we have to absorb those additional funds so I think Germany shows that it is ready and willing to acknowledge its responsibility in this respect."

Mr. Trudeau, in contrast, said Canada supports the 2-per-cent target but he offered no firm timelines. The Prime Minister instead pointed to Canada's plans to boost military procurement and its willingness to play a leadership role in NATO missions.

"Obviously it is important that there be the financial contributions, and the 2-per-cent target is one that we all agreed to, but we also recognize that there are many ways of evaluating one's contributions to NATO," Mr. Trudeau said.

A Canadian official said this week that Mr. Trudeau made that case to Mr. Trump directly at Monday's White House meeting.

"The Canadian contribution to NATO is appreciated," the official said. "We send real soldiers to do the difficult things."

With a report from Robert Fife

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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