Trudeau defends cost of Davos trip, 'looks forward' to what Trump will say

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrapped up his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today, saying he is pleased by what he accomplished and that he welcomes diverse views, including those of President Donald Trump.

Prime minister says World Economic Forum was good opportunity to promote Canadian interests

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during the closing news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Coca-Cola chief executive James Quincey Thursday, Quincey gave him a pair of polar bear socks, in keeping with Trudeau's penchant for themed hosiery.

But Trudeau says he is walking away from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with more than a pair of patterned footwear.

The prime minister's last trip to the forum, in 2016, cost taxpayers $855,379, according to figures obtained by the CBC in 2017.

It's not known yet the cost of this trip is, but Trudeau says any opportunity to promote Canada's interests on the world stage should be looked at seriously.

"The opportunities to engage global investors, global leaders to make a strong case for Canada has contributed to the economic growth and rise of investment over the past two years, and we're happy to be back to talk about our successes and build on more," Trudeau said in a news conference Thursday.

He cited specific examples of new investments that he claims were a direct result of meetings in Davos in 2016, including investments by Thompson-Reuters, which moved its headquarters back to Toronto, and by Microsoft.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, at the forum as part of a young global leaders group, is skeptical, considering the Davos forum is often seen a place for the elite to rub shoulders.

"I think you have to be cognizant of your appearance here, how much you're spending here, that sort of stuff, because there are a lot of people in Canada who look at this and go, 'you know, we're in a lot of debt, we're paying a lot of taxes,'" Rempel told reporters. She noted a cocktail party Canada is hosting Thursday evening.

No meeting with Trump

Trudeau has had dozens of meetings with business and political leaders, but he isn't meeting with President Donald Trump, something the prime minister downplayed.

"People know that I have many opportunities to exchange on a regular basis with President Trump," Trudeau said.

"We talk on the phone, we see each other at a broad range of international and local venues. When we're in Europe, each of us is focused on seeing the folks we don't see really often enough."

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos Thursday. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

The arrival of Trump Thursday has been highly anticipated. He is a populist president with a nationalist agenda, at a forum made up of and geared toward globalists, with a theme of "creating a shared future in a fractured world."

Reporters asked Trudeau what, if anything, the forum can learn from Trump and how the forum can attain its goal of "creating a better world" if a superpower like the U.S. is focused inward.

Trudeau was careful in his answer.

"I think the opportunity to convene different perspectives here at this conference is really important, and like everyone, I look forward to seeing what the president has to say in his speech tomorrow."

However, Trudeau won't hear that speech in person, but will be back in Canada.

Wilbur Ross accuses

On the North American Free Trade Agreement, Trudeau said his comments in his speech Tuesday are consistent with what he's always said about NAFTA.

On Wednesday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross accused the prime minister of trying to put pressure on the U.S. in his speech, in which Trudeau said he was proud of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and that he's still trying to convince Trump that NAFTA is a good deal.

"I've been very consistent in talking about NAFTA," Trudeau said. "It has created millions of jobs on both sides of the border and Mexico over the years, and it has created economic growth that has been remarkable."

While Trudeau has been at the forum, Canadian negotiators have been at round six of NAFTA talks in Montreal.

And now, a critical waiting game is underway there.

Canada used the first two days of negotiations to present compromises on key U.S. proposals concerning the auto sector, a sunset clause, and the dispute resolution process.

Both Canada and Mexico are now looking to see if the U.S. is willing to compromise on its original demands.


With files from Katie Simpson