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article imageJustin Trudeau: still 'optimistic' despite nationalist gains

By Fabien ZAMORA (AFP)     Nov 13, 2018 in Politics

After a weekend of World War I commemorations marked by dark warnings about the rise of nationalism, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau strikes a different tone. He even dares to say he's "optimistic" about the future.

Trudeau, speaking to AFP at Canada's Paris embassy, flew into France for Sunday's ceremonies marking 100 years since the end of the "Great War" in which around 60,000 Canadians died.

He was in the front row at the Arc de Triomphe when French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the "old demons are rising again, ready to complete their task of chaos and of death".

He later listened to German Chancellor Angela Merkel talk about "blinkered nationalism" posing a threat to global stability, as well as to UN chief Antonio Guterres who drew parallels between the present age and the catastrophic 1930s.

But despite the widespread sense of gloom and foreboding, 46-year-old Trudeau puts on a brave face.

"We can see the rise in populism, in xenophobia, the different challenges between countries, including the challenge for multilateralism," he said in French. "But I think too that we can be optimistic."

He believes -- despite polling evidence to the contrary in many developed democracies -- that citizens are "somewhat enthusiastic about the future".

Optimism and confidence in citizens, he went on to say at a Paris peace conference, should be part of the response to the politics of "fear and division".

Trudeau and Macron are among the most visible faces of a dwindling band of liberal politicians on th...
Trudeau and Macron are among the most visible faces of a dwindling band of liberal politicians on the global stage
Thomas SAMSON, POOL/AFP/File

Trudeau, like Macron, is one of the most visible faces of a dwindling band of liberal politicians on the global stage that still make the case for multilateralism and international cooperation.

Lined up against them are the growing ranks of nationalist politicians -- Brazil became the latest democracy to elect a right-wing strongman last month -- who have surfed a wave of discontent among voters.

Chief among them is US President Donald Trump who has broken with all convention by imposing tariffs on Canadian steel and describing Trudeau as "weak" and "dishonest" after a tumultuous G7 summit in Quebec in June.

As the "America First" leader arrived at Sunday's commemoration service, he went down the line of invitees shaking hands -- but stopped just short of Trudeau.

- Middle classes -

"We are obviously at a moment when 100 years after the Armistice, we need to think about the lessons we've learned over the 20th century," Trudeau said at the embassy, reflecting on a weekend of warnings against resurgent nationalism.

He was one of the star attractions at the Paris Peace Forum, which was organised by Macron to try to formulate responses to the rising tide of nationalism.

Populist politicians "have only simplistic and wrong responses," the head of the centrist Liberal party said.

But the reaction from fellow progressives must be targeted at the middle classes who feel vulnerable to the economic and cultural effects of globalisation and are turning away from traditional parties in their droves, he argued.

"They need to be reassured," Trudeau said. "We (in Canada) are in the process of creating an economy where everyone has a chance of succeeding."

He insisted: "This is enabling us to reverse the trend of cynicism towards our institutions and our governments."

But even famously tolerant Canada is not immune to the sort of angry identity politics that has swept many European countries and the United States in the last three years.

Recent regional elections in Quebec and Ontario have shown as much.

Trudeau will contest federal elections in October 2019 and says he is bracing for a similar fight to the one that has been witnessed in elections everywhere from Italy to Brazil.

"The same trends -- populists versus progressives, confidence in citizens versus fear and division -- are playing out in their own way in Canada," he said.

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