PARIS — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron defended their shared efforts to ease the worries of citizens, denounced those seeking to capitalize on such fears and dismissed the notion that their message wasn’t breaking through to an anxious electorate.
Standing together Friday in the regal ballroom of the Elysee Palace following their second face-to-face meeting in a month, the two leaders, often described as kindred spirits, acknowledged that many people in Canada, France and elsewhere are nervous about their future.
The growth of digital technology that automates tasks and threatens jobs, concerns about immigration and the threat of climate change have led to a rise in isolationism, said Macron, and a decline in political discourse.
Without naming anyone in particular, both leaders singled out for blame those who Trudeau described as trying “to amplify or echo back those fears to people without actually offering solutions,” before touting their shared attempts at home and abroad to address those fears.
“What Emmanuel knows, what I know, what we’ve been working very hard on both together and individually and in our countries has been to demonstrate to people that our institutions can function,” Trudeau said. “Our governments can function to support families.”
Both leaders specifically cited the importance of free trade and advancing the fight against climate change as essential elements for easing voters’ anxiety, and promised to advance gender rights and other shared values.
Those efforts will get a boost on the international stage as France succeeds Canada as president of the G7, meaning the progressive agenda shared by Macron and Trudeau will continue in that forum for at least another year.
While Trudeau and Macron were clearly on the same page, the question is whether voters in their own countries are buying into their messages. Both have struggled with low popularity in recent months as right-wing nationalism at home and elsewhere has grown.
Both leaders dismissed the opinion polls, saying such surveys have no bearing on their actions and the only arbiter of success or failure is at election time.
“It’s not about popularity,” said Trudeau, who was in Paris after two days of commemorations in the United Kingdom and France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. “It’s about doing things concretely the right way that are going to make a difference in Canadians’ lives and our citizens’ lives.
“That’s what we remain focused on and that’s what certainly on a personal level I’m looking forward to talking about as we embark on this election campaign.”
Macron’s party came second to a far-right party in European Parliament elections last month.
The French president, who met U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday while marking the D-Day anniversary, appeared to reference that pivotal moment of the Second World War when he said it was easier to promote “us-versus-them” messages instead of solutions.
“That is what history shows us,” Macron said, adding: “We need to show that democracy is effective. That we have an avenue that we are following to … help our societies.”
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Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press