Canada has a big advantage over the United States in one major way: immigration, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.
“We’re a country that is open to immigration right now,” Trudeau said at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women International Summit in Montreal Monday night, responding to a question about how Canada is competing with the United States on attracting business. “[That’s a] hell of a competitive advantage I don’t see the U.S. matching anytime soon,” he added.
Trudeau, who also attended Fortune‘s Global Forum in Toronto in October, gave a speech before the summit’s opening dinner that alternated between English and French before he was then interviewed on stage by Fortune‘s Nina Easton.
“Canadians are positively inclined toward immigration,” Trudeau said, mentioning the attitudes of Canada’s citizens that allow the country to issue visas to top talent within two weeks and admit 1% of its total population in immigrants each year. It’s an advantage that he says places Canada ahead in the business world despite the United States’ recent lowering of corporate tax rates.
Trudeau gave several shoutouts to Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, who is set to speak at the summit on Tuesday. Freeland was the key force behind Canada’s negotiations with the United States over NAFTA—negotiations were especially tricky due to the unorthodox tactics of President Donald Trump.
“We knew that it wasn’t a zero-sum game. The right deal for Canada would go hand-in-hand with the right deal for the United States,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau also weighed in on Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia—something he had already started reevaluating before the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi prompted international outcry (although Trudeau has not pulled out of Canada’s arms deals with the kingdom entirely). The Saudis were “taken aback” by the vehemence of the response to Khashoggi’s killing, Trudeau said.
But Trudeau, the son of 16-year former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, ended on a reflective note: his decision-making and leadership are heavily influenced by the Canadian people, he said.
“My father came into politics with a lot of academic notions about what a just society needs to be,” Trudeau said. “He was an academic, and I’m more of a teacher. … I’m much more willing than my father ever was to let Canadians have a say.”