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Justin Trudeau to push middle class interests as he heads to Davos

Last Updated Jan 21, 2018 at 3:20 pm EST

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers questions from students at Eenchokay Birchstick School in Pikangikum, Ontario, Friday, January 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

OTTAWA – After spending the past two weeks criss-crossing the country to speak with ordinary Canadians in town hall meetings, Justin Trudeau is heading to Switzerland where he’ll rub elbows with the rich and powerful at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The prime minister, who is attending for the second time since his mandate began, plans to send a message that Canada’s doors are open for business and that now is the ideal time to invest.

Whether he’s answering citizen questions in a Quebec City high school gymnasium or conversing with the one per cent at an upscale ski resort in the Swiss Alps, his goals are the same, his office argued.

“The goal of meeting these influential people is to make money for the middle class,” the Prime Minister’s Office told The Canadian Press.

“If a company announces it is going to open a factory or head office in Canada, that means job opportunities for middle-class Canadians.”

Trudeau is expected to take the opportunity presented by the forum to highlight the themes of this year’s G7 meeting set to take place in Quebec. Those themes include gender equality, the changing job landscape and clean energy.

It should serve as a preview for the G7 leaders, all of whom are expected to attend the event in Davos, save for Japan’s prime minister.

Fiercly protectionist U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to deliver a speech to the participants of the globalist, free trade forum — unless the U.S. budgetary paralysis keeps him at home.

One of the key pieces of Trudeau’s Davos program will be the speech he delivers on Tuesday, according to his office.

“It will be an opportunity to present our international priorities and to talk about the five themes of the G7 that we’ve already unveiled,” his office said.

The prime minister’s schedule is a busy one, including bilateral meetings with political leaders as well as sit-down meetings with the heads of multinational companies such as Alibaba, Alphabet, BlackRock, Coca-Cola, DP World, Investor AB, Royal Dutch Shell, Thomson Reuters, UBS and UPS.

And while the sixth round of NAFTA renegotiations will be taking place in Montreal, Trudeau will participate on Wednesday in a Canada-U.S. economic round table with business leaders.

The prime minister’s presence in Davos is a “marketing excercise” that is “very positive,” according to University of Ottawa public and international affairs professor Patrick Leblond.

“It’s a chance for him to sell Canada and to indicate to the rest of the world, and certainly to business leaders, that Canada is a place to do business, to invest and even to immigrate if you want to,” he said in a phone interview.

While Trudeau’s office has warned that the forum may not yield a flood of announcements, the prime minister has said his earlier visit to Switzerland paid off.

“We saw that my meeting in Davos the first year (in 2016) delivered concrete results in terms of investments in Canada — whether GM, GE, Thomson Reuters or the people from Microsoft who came to invest in Canada,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview last week.

The 48th World Economic Forum, whose theme is “creating a shared future in a fractured world,” will bring together about 2,500 participants from some 100 countries, including about 70 heads of state or government and 38 international business heads, between Jan. 23 and 26.

“Our world has become fractured by increasing competition between nations and deep divides within societies,” Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Yet the sheer scale of the challenges our world faces makes concerted, collaborative and integrated action more essential than ever,” he added a few days before the opening of the summit, which will be co-chaired exclusively by women for the first time.

It will be a chance for Tudeau, a self-proclaimed feminist, to shine at appearances that include a public discussion on education and women’s empowerment with young Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

With populism on the rise, Leblond says it has become increasingly necessary to find ways to ensure globalization benefits a greater number of people and to help those left behind.

It’s a message Trudeau has repeatedly championed.

“He will certainly remind people that we must ensure that everyone can benefit from globalization and that governments, and businesses too, have an important role to play in ensuring that benefits are distributed fairer,” he said.

The prime minister will be accompanied by the ministerial quartet of Chrystia Freeland, Bill Morneau, Navdeep Bains and Maryam Monsef.

The prime minister’s plane leaves on Monday and is expected to return to Ottawa on Thursday night.