Democracies like Canada can be “reliable suppliers” of goods that espouse both environmental sustainability and the rule of law, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday.

Trudeau spent the day at various events with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was in Canada for an official visit.

If global companies make their imports contingent on environmental responsibility and barring slave labour, they will turn to goods produced in countries like Canada, Trudeau said. That would also allow Canada to become a global leader in industries like lithium mining.

“Democracies can also be those reliable suppliers of what actually matters,” Trudeau said.

His comments come as Canada and its allies seek to establish more reliable supply chains with each other and reduce dependence on countries like Russia and China, who may seek to exploit that dependence to influence foreign politics.

Trudeau said investors like the stability of countries with strong social safety nets, and he argued Canadian-made goods are also more appealing than what he referred to as “cheap lithium batteries from China.”

He suggested that instead of ruling out goods made in China, global companies should opt for materials and products that come from countries that make efforts to fight climate change and pay workers a decent wage.

“We’re not going to let you use slave labour? Okay, well, we weren’t going to anyway, but now it becomes competitive, because there are places where there are terrible labour standards around the world where they can get it cheaper. So we just have to be consequential with our values,” Trudeau said.

“That’s the strength and the might that the Chinas and the Russias of the world cannot compete with.”

Steinmeier’s visit is heavily focused on the importance of democratic values but Trudeau said there is work to do to uphold those.

“If our system of democracy is so great, how come for so many years we’ve had to rely on inputs and resources from autocracies around the world that don’t enjoy our freedoms?” Trudeau asked. “If we are truly to be that model to the world, we must be consequential in our entire approaches.

“We certainly shouldn’t be vulnerable to decisions that countries like Russia or China could make to endanger our prosperity and our futures because they don’t agree with our politics or our direction.”

At a reception held by the German ambassador in Ottawa Monday, Steinmeier said a growing global desire for autocratic rule and a decline in multilateral co-operation put at risk the liberal values of inclusion and the rule of law.

“The years ahead will demand a huge effort. Our societies are facing major changes,” he said, arguing that liberal democracies have taken their freedoms for granted.

“We must prevent ourselves from being politically and economically vulnerable. Our democracy too is part of our critical infrastructure. We must secure and protect it against attacks.”

The two also warned about misinformation and spoke about the need for citizens to have a shared set of facts in order for democracy to function.

“There is more than just a taking-for-granted of democracy. There is a devaluing of those principles of democracy that have been fought for so hard, over decades and generations, that we need to reignite,” Trudeau said.

“Citizens have a responsibility and have an impact on the community around them. Being open, being engaged, open to differences — including that brother-in-law who’s an anti-vaxxer — listen to them; engage with them.”

Steinmeier said COVID-19 showed the importance of electing governments that respond to crises the best way they can with limited information, especially in such a turbulent world.

“We have to expect to find ourselves in a similar situation, where things aren’t all that clear and the government nevertheless must make a decision for the well-being of the population,” he said in German.

“This is part and parcel of responsible government.”

He also added that China poses a challenge to liberal democracies in a number of ways.

“The temporary detention of the two Canadian nationals, as well as the indications of Chinese interference in Canadian elections, show what that means for our liberal democracies,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2023.


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