Canadian prime minister slams rise of ‘authoritarianism’

In a speech, Justin Trudeau called on ‘like-minded democracies’ to use economic incentives to combat authoritarianism.

Justin Trudeau holds a microphone and speaks on a panel in New York
Trudeau called Canadian lithium more expensive ‘because we don’t use slave labour’ [File: Mary Altaffer/AP Photo]

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given a speech denouncing the rise of authoritarianism around the world and calling on democracies to live up to their ideals through trade and foreign policy.

“If we don’t step up, other forces will step in. As like-minded democracies, as major economies, we need to work together to meet this moment,” Trudeau said in remarks on Friday to the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank based in the United States city of New York.

His speech took swipes at countries like Russia and China, while encouraging Canada and its allies to strengthen their commitments to human rights through economic incentives.

“We can’t just push back or punish or single out bad actors. We can’t just say, for example, that we want our companies to restrict the amount of critical minerals they buy from China specifically,” Trudeau said.

“Instead, we should simply commit to sourcing our critical minerals from places that ban forced labour. That have safety standards. That pay their workers a living wage.”

He later noted: “The lithium produced in Canada is going to be more expensive because we don’t use slave labour.”

China is one of the biggest producers of lithium — a metal used in mobile phones and electric batteries — in the world, behind Australia and Chile.

Trudeau also added that, while his administration hopes to cooperate with China on issues like the environment, the Asian country has become “an increasingly disruptive global power” in his estimation.

Tensions have been high between the two countries. Ottawa has accused China of election meddling and establishing overseas “police stations” in Canada, claims a foreign ministry spokesperson denied as “smears“.

In November, video also circulated appearing to show Chinese President Xi Jinping chiding Trudeau for alleged leaks to the media about the contents of their private discussions. The Chinese foreign ministry refuted claims that any criticism had passed between the two leaders, calling their conversation “normal”.

“We are going to be contesting China on the issues of human rights, whether it’s in Xinjiang or Hong Kong or elsewhere,” Trudeau said on Friday, referencing regions where China has been accused of stifling independence movements through repression. China has likewise denied committing abuses in those regions.

Xi Jinping speaks, with his arms outstretched, as Justin Trudeau listens in a conference room. A man stands behind them both wearing a mask.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at November’s Group of 20 Leaders’ Summit [Adam Scotti, Prime Minister’s Office/Reuters]

Turning his attention to Russia, Trudeau applauded European allies that previously “relied on Russian fossil fuels” for having moved to instead invest in clean energy alternatives. Canadian pro-oil groups had previously been accused of “opportunism” amid calls to ban Russian energy products.

The Canadian government has been an outspoken critic of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, launched in February 2022, slamming “unprovoked and unjustifiable aggression” that has resulted in “atrocities against Ukrainians”.

“War has returned to Europe and authoritarianism is on the rise,” Trudeau said on Friday. “Antagonistic states around the world are using our economic interdependence for their own geopolitical advantage.”

Later, in a question-and-answer segment with the think tank’s president Richard Haass, the prime minister emphasised more specifically Canada’s support for Ukraine, highlighting its training of Ukrainian forces and calling for an increase in defence spending.

“It’s not just, ‘Oh, war has come back to Europe and we all have to be worried about that’. It’s the underpinning of our system that is being directly challenged by an authoritarian state that must not succeed,” he explained. “That’s why as much as it takes, as long as it takes, until the folly and the mistake of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s decision is clear for everyone.”

In a darkened room with flags, a man in glasses looks at Justin Trudeau as he speaks
Justin Trudeau (right) joins Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal for a press conference on April 11 in Toronto, Canada [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Trudeau also offered a vision for the end of the war in Ukraine. “We know this doesn’t end militarily. This only ends with a political resolution of some sort. But Ukraine needs to be able to decide that.”

While the Canadian prime minister reserved praise for his US audience, he also called on the country and its allies to step back from isolationism and address poverty and inequality within their own borders.

“We talked up the superiority of our system but turned a blind eye to the authoritarianism, worker exploitation and environmental degradation on the other side of the world — and that our prosperity relied on,” Trudeau said.

“And that prosperity? Those in charge were not making sure it was being shared across the board at home either. We were not living up to the promise of progress.”

Source: Al Jazeera