PARIS — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ventured into the heart of French democracy Tuesday in hopes of enlisting his hosts as progressive, like-minded defenders against the onslaught of global perils like climate change, authoritarianism and inequality.
His message — a call to arms of sorts in the face of anxiety and division both at home and around the world — was delivered almost entirely in French, and with Trudeau's usual rhetorical flair, on the occasion of a Canadian prime minister's first-ever speech to France's National Assembly.
Not everyone swooned — especially not nationalist leader Marine Le Pen, and especially not when talk turned to the Canada-EU trade deal.
Tuesday's speech came only hours after French President Emmanuel Macron, in many ways Trudeau's political doppelganger, raised many of the same issues at the European Parliament, where he warned about a "European civil war" between democracy and rising authoritarianism.
But while Trudeau's reception was by turns polite, warm and even raucous, it turned frosty when he mentioned the trade deal. One French MP later accused him of cheap sales tactics.
A number of MPs grumbled audibly about the trade deal, known as CETA. And Le Pen, the National Front leader, sat stone-faced as Trudeau sang the praises of values like openness and diversity.
Trudeau began his address with a now-familiar message, sermonizing about the fear and anxiety that's at work around the globe, pushing the disenfranchised further away from what he considers the shared progressive goals the world ought to be working toward.
As causes, he cited stagnant wages and job insecurity, against a backdrop of growing income inequality between the rich and the poor; divisive political discourse that breed populism and threatens democracies; and the ever-present threat of climate change.
"It is at this time that we have to admit that change does not always amount to progress," Trudeau said in French.
"Confronted with the great challenges of our time, liberal democracies bear the responsibility of articulating a clear and compelling vision of the future they aspire to. The world they hope to build."
He sought to tie Canada and France together as allies in an axis of progressivism, two countries with the ideals and the willingness to fight back against such dark forces.
Gender equality was one weapon that the two allies could brandish together, the prime minister said as he noted that France has made more progress than Canada in growing its proportion of female parliamentarians.
Canada and France have also committed themselves to defending the environment, he added. The two countries signed a new partnership Monday that they hope will add momentum to the Paris climate agreement, which the U.S. abandoned last year.
"If there is one thing that France and Canada know, the fight against climate change must be conducted by the whole world because the consequences of global warming do not have any borders," he said.
"The unprecedented number of countries that have signed the Paris agreements bears witness to the international consensus about the impact of human activity on the climate."
The speech was, for the most part, a hit — large sections of the assembly applauded lustily at various points, including the entire chamber when he mentioned Canada's role in the two world wars.
But beyond that, Le Pen and other members of the National Front, which criticizes immigration to France and pushes for protectionism over free trade, offered only tepid applause, or sat on their hands entirely.
That included when Trudeau once again voiced his support for the airstrikes that France launched with the U.S. and Britain against Syria last week, which have been criticized by some segments of the French population and political class.
On trade, Trudeau recited a laundry list of French businesses that are expanding operations and opportunities in Canada, where he said French investment increased by 23 per cent last year. There have been concerns in France that investor-protection clauses within CETA would lead to weakened environmental or labour rules.
"It preserves the right of states to legislate and regulate in the public interest, to implement policies to support their cultural industries, in addition to protecting labour standards and promoting greater environmental co-operation."
French MP Daniele Obono called Trudeau's sales pitch on CETA "unbecoming."
"He insisted on this agreement and played the salesman on this trade agreement and maybe didn't realize that our Parliament hasn't even debated about this yet," Obono said in English.
"We reacted because we think this trade agreement is not in favour of workers or the environment either in France or in Canada.… So it's a shame that he felt compelled to insist so much on that issue."
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
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