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Trudeau promotes women's rights during Davos speech

Last Updated Jan 23, 2018 at 2:40 pm PST

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday, January 23, 2018 in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

DAVOS, Switzerland – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed Canada as an example for the world to follow as he urged the international community on Tuesday to do more to promote women’s rights and gender equality.

Trudeau took centre stage with a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he told the well-heeled crowd the gap between the rich and the poor is “staggering.”

“All the while, companies avoid taxes and boast record profits with one hand, while slashing benefits with the other,” he said. “But that approach can’t and won’t cut it anymore.”

Trudeau then switched the focus of the speech to a topic he said every single leader who was listening to him could act on immediately.

“I’m talking about hiring, promoting and retaining more women,” he said to loud applause from the audience.

“And not just because it’s the right thing to do, or the the nice thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do.”

Trudeau, who is attending his second world forum as prime minister, said that would lead to much needed innovation and change in the workplace.

“In Canada, like all over the world, much of the economic and labour force growth we have experienced over the last many decades is because of women entering into and changing the workforce,” he said.

“But there is still so much room for improvement and such enormous benefit still to be had.”

Trudeau cited one study that said narrowing the gender gap in Canada could add $150 billion to the economy by 2026.

He then referred to another that noted increasing the share of women in leadership positions from zero to 30 per cent translated into a 15 per cent boost to profitability.

The prime minister also discussed pay equity, saying the concept is important but does not address other key issues such as family planning, promotions or job security.

“We should be encouraging women — and men — to make the best possible decision for their family situation. In Canada, we’ve given parents more options for parental leave and invested billions in affordable, high-quality child care.”

He also highlighted what he called Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

Earlier in the day, he held various bilateral meetings with political leaders as well as meetings with the heads of global giants.

On Wednesday, he will participate in a Canada-U.S. economic roundtable with business leaders.

The focus on the benefits of gender equality and the advancement of women in the workplace is a preview of the themes to be raised at the G7 leaders’ summit Canada will host in June.

To that end, Trudeau announced that Melinda Gates and Isabelle Hudon, the Canadian ambassador to France, will serve as co-chairs of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council.

Trudeau began his day by meeting with Dr. Ulrich Spiesshofer, the president and CEO of the ABB Group, a key player in the robotics, industrial automation and power grid industries.

ABB Group made an investment in Montreal last year, which Spiesshofer said is going “tremendously well” and that the partnership with Canada is “going the right direction.”

Trudeau also met with James Smith, president and CEO of Thomson Reuters Corp. Trudeau noted that they had met two years ago about the company coming to Canada and they “moved their entire operation from the United States to Toronto.”

The prime minister’s efforts to attract investment in Canada comes amid an uncertain future for the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the sixth round of negotiations to renew the trade pact currently being held in Montreal.