Address by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the St. Matthew’s Day Banquet
February 17, 2017
Good evening, everyone. Thank you all for the warm welcome.
It truly is an honour to be here. It’s a privilege just to be invited to the St. Matthew’s Day Banquet, and an even greater privilege to be one of your keynotes this evening.
I’d like to start by thanking my friend Mayor Scholz for his gracious invitation. And to speak after Foreign Minister Gabriel is no small feat, but I’ll do my modest, Canadian best.
You know, when my office received the Mayor’s invitation to this historic dinner, there was no doubt in my mind that I would accept. Yes, I do appreciate the great meal and this food’s certainly lived up to the height as high as this extraordinary room.
But I knew I had to be here because of the important relationship between the people of Canada and the people of Germany.
Our two countries have long been partners on the world stage.
Canadians and Germans value democracy and the rule of law. We understand the importance of international cooperation and partnership. And we share a progressive vision of the world, realizing the immense potential that comes with embracing change.
I talk a lot about how our goal as a government is to help the middle class and those working hard to join it. That, ultimately, was the platform for change that elected us. Regular Canadians were worried about their future, and we made a promise to help them through these uncertain times.
But that worry – that anxiety – isn’t unique to Canada. It’s everywhere. Too many people around the world are anxious about what the future may hold. And who could blame them?
With the pace of globalization and technological change, there is a very real fear that our kids will be worse off than we are; that they won’t have the same kind of opportunities that we have, despite being generally much better educated, and infinitely more tech-savvy.
Citizens around the world and across the political spectrum are looking for guidance. They’re looking for leadership. They’re looking for hope.
And so far, they’re feeling a little let down.
When companies post record profits on the backs of workers consistently refused full-time work and the job security that comes with it, people get defeated.
And when governments serve special interests instead of the interests of the citizens who elected them – people lose faith.
Increasing…increasing inequality has made citizens distrust their governments; distrust their employers.
It turns into “Us” vs. “Them”.
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 in to cynicism, to retreat from one another.
But it’s time for us, as leaders in politics and in business, to step up. It’s time to get real about the challenges facing the middle class, and those working hard to join it. Whether your goal is to build a successful company, or lead a respected and effective government, it’s time to realize that the old approaches won’t work anymore.
People are looking for leadership. And it’s up to each of us to determine what kind of leadership they find.
People don’t need leaders to tell them that they have problems.
People need leaders that will help them build solutions together.
So I want to use this speech as an opportunity to challenge us, to highlight that the challenges we’re facing require real action and real leadership. And I’m choosing to do it here in Germany because I know you get that. On values, on approach, on inclusive success, you’re on the right track and you’re inspiring others to follow.
But we all need to do more.
For business leaders, it’s all about thinking beyond your short-term responsibility to your shareholders. You have an equally important long-term responsibility to your workers, to their families, and to the communities that support you.
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.
You can’t create the corporate culture required for the modern economy when people feel overworked and undervalued. You must give your workers avenues to update and modernize their skills for a changing world.
You must be part of the communities where you operate, realizing that these towns and cities support you, and you must, in turn, support them.
When you hear, when you hear, the Mayor of Hamburg likes that, when you hear that an employee is expecting a child, congratulate her, don’t make her question whether or not she’ll have a job to come back to.
And you must ensure that your workplace, and especially your boardrooms, reflect the full diversity of society.
It’s time to take a broader view of employee-employer relationships – one that treats workers as partners in success.
So I fully appreciate the irony of preaching about the struggles of the middle class to a sea of black tie and ball gowns, while I myself am wearing a bow-tie.
But this discussion needs to happen. We need to realize our collective responsibility – to the people who elected us; to the people who put their faith, their trust, their pensions, their future in us.
And the answers are not in this room. They’re out there. We need to step out from these places, and truly listen to people who are anxious about their futures; hear first-hand about their concerns; work with them to develop solutions, and actually implement them.
The hard work of change begins with each and every one of us – around our boardrooms, around our water coolers, and yes, around our Parliaments.
Speaking of Parliaments, let me tell you a little bit about what we’ve done in ours, in Canada.
In Canada, we know that we are far from perfect, and that the success we’ve had didn’t happen by accident and won’t continue without effort. So what I’ve done over the past years is listen to people talk about their worries, about the fact that the rising tide no longer seems to lift all boats.
So we’ve taken steps to allay that anxiety, to help people deal with the uncertainty of a changing world.
For example, we raised taxes on the wealthiest one per cent, so we could lower them for the middle class.
We improved child benefit payments into one single, monthly, tax-free Canada Child Benefit. This initiative has given 9 out of 10 families more money to help with the high costs of raising their kids. And because of that, we’re on track to reduce child poverty by around 40 per cent in our country.
We’re increasing the amount of assistance Canadian students can get, helping to make post-secondary education more accessible and more affordable.
And we’re investing in a range of training and employment programs for unemployed and underemployed Canadian workers, allowing them to upgrade their skills so they’re ready for the modern workforce.
These are just a handful of the things we’ve done to help people adapt to and absorb the changes that we’re all feeling.
We could not have done this without first listening to Canadians express their worries, their concern, their anxiety.
In fact, I’ve spent the last month and a half back at home on a cross-Canada tour. Over the past few weeks, I’ve done about a dozen open town halls, filling arenas and community centres, and taking questions from the public for hours – on anything and everything. Not scripted, nothing staged. Just hearing directly from everyday Canadians about the things they were worried about. And more importantly, I heard what they needed from my government to help.
Now, for the politicians in the room, this sounds like a very high-risk proposition. It was unpredictable and, at times, very intense. And yes, the media got lots of clips they got to use in the night news. But it’s only through having those tough conversations that we can get to the heart of what matters and act on it.
So to everyone here, I leave you with this. Better is always possible. But we have to choose to make better happen.
And we’re not going to get it right every day.
But Canadians and Germans need to continue to lead by example.
Whether you’re a business or a government, it’s time to realize that this anger and anxiety we see washing over the world is coming from a very real place. And it’s not going away.
No more brushing aside the concerns of our workers and our citizens. We have to address the root cause of their worries, and get real about how the changing economy is impacting people’s lives.
Ladies and gentlemen, I know that we can all play a role in making the transition to the new economy a smooth one. And it starts by listening.
Let’s be better, because I know we can do better for our citizens, for our kids, and for the entire world.
Merçi beaucoup. (Thank you.)