Analysis

Justin Trudeau says Davos is about attracting investment not celebrities

Davos is a place where celebrities, CEOs and heads of state mingle over dinner but that does not mean the only opportunities are to score tabloid headlines says the prime minister.

PM says he told actor Leonardo DiCaprio 'enflamed rhetoric' won't help reach carbon reduction targets

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chats with Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday. Trudeau says Jack Ma's company can connect Canadian businesses with 300 million middle class consumers in China. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau strode into the room that has housed the travelling Canadian media this week and offered what sounded like a preemptive retort.

"Global investment creates jobs for middle class Canadians," he said, nearing the end of his time at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"The people who invest billions of dollars in the global economy are gathered here this week and I've been spending the past few days pitching them on Canada, talking about Canadians and the extraordinary innovation, the natural resources, the diversity that makes us so strong, and encouraging them to take a closer look at Canada when they make their investment decisions because we have an awful lot to offer."

The optics of Davos are perhaps not ideal. To a resort town in the Swiss Alps flock the world's rich and powerful, to muse and meet and enjoy each other's company. Expensive suits and colour-coded badges are worn and along the streets roll a steady parade of darkly painted Mercedes Benz cars and vans. No matter how worthy the causes and ideas that are discussed, it is all ripe for mockery. And then there are the celebrities who inevitably appear.

Kevin Spacey, Bono and Justin Trudeau are seen here snapping a selfie Wednesday while attending a dinner party hosted by Jack Ma, executive director and founder of the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group, in a photo posted on a Chinese news site. (SINA.com.cn)

This year's stars included Leonardo DiCaprio, Kevin Spacey and Bono, all three of whom ended up at the same dinner as the prime minister on Wednesday night. A picture of Spacey, Bono and Trudeau posing for a requisite selfie has since emerged.

DiCaprio, a critic of Alberta's oil sands, spoke to the forum on Tuesday and used the opportunity to venture that, "We simply cannot allow the corporate greed of the coal, oil and gas industries to determine the future of humanity." As such, it might have been awkward for the prime minister of Canada to acknowledge socializing in the actor's proximity. But a day after their encounter, it was claimed Trudeau had used his moment with the Oscar nominee to rebuke him.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio was honoured for his work against the climate crisis and then he blames corporate greed for climate crisis. 0:57

"I pointed out that both Alberta and Canada have new governments over the past year that are committed to action on climate change, committed to engaging with the emissions causing climate change in a responsible way, and that there are families suffering and out of work who need to be supported," Trudeau told reporters today when asked what he had said. "And enflamed rhetoric doesn't necessarily help either the families or help Canada achieve its significant carbon reduction targets."

And DiCaprio's response?

"He actually said that if we really took concrete action on climate change he'd be the first to come up and celebrate us for it."

There was something reminiscent here of the report that, over a handshake at an international summit, Stephen Harper had told Russian President Vladimir Putin to get out of Ukraine. 

In Davos he suggests agreement can be found on pipelines and said his government is committed to a review of the environmental processes for energy infrastructure. 2:44

If nothing else though, at least Trudeau will come away from Davos with that commitment. Perhaps the federal government could dangle DiCaprio's potential presence as an incentive over the first ministers meeting on climate change in March.

Pressed about what struggling Canadians might make of his celebrity encounters, Trudeau pushed back.

CBC Forum on Trudeau abroad

"Hollywood has no business sticking their noses into ... Canada's business." — a comment from linnylou306 on the CBC Forum chat on Trudeau abroad. Read the full discussion here.

"The reason you covered that dinner I attended was because Kevin Spacey and Bono were there. The reason I accepted the invitation to that dinner was because Jack Ma invited me. Jack Ma is the founder of Alibaba," Trudeau said of the Chinese e-commerce goliath.

"And Alibaba has 440 million subscribers in China who are looking to purchase global goods. And the idea of connecting Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses with the 300-million strong middle class in China that are looking for Canadian products is a very exciting one. And that's what I spent two different meetings, including that dinner, talking with Jack about. These are the kinds of things that deliver for the middle class in Canada, these are the kind of things that grow the economy."

Which is perhaps to say that it's Jack Ma who GQ and TMZ should be fussing over. But then, it wasn't Ma who was spotted out with Rihanna in Paris the other night.

Shortly after speaking with reporters, Trudeau was to host a reception at a nearby hotel. For whatever it is worth, Spacey and Bono are said to have stopped by.

About the Author

Aaron Wherry

Parliament Hill Bureau

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail.

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