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NAFTA must include gender equality protection, Trudeau says

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Tina Brown, left , founder and CEO of the Women in the World Summit 2017 at the AGO in Toronto, Ont. on Monday, September 11, 2017. (J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail)

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it is crucial to include protections for women in the renegotiated North American free-trade agreement because gender equality is an economic issue.

In remarks at a conference on women's rights in Toronto on Monday – organized by Tina Brown, former editor of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair – Mr. Trudeau said Canada negotiated protections for women's rights in a recently concluded free-trade agreement with Chile and hopes it will be able to persuade the United States and Mexico to add a similar chapter to NAFTA.

Mr. Trudeau said he has heard criticisms of his government's plan – not from U.S. trade negotiators but from conservatives in Canada, who argue that proposals to address issues such as gender equality, environmental protections and Indigenous rights in NAFTA talks are just "rhetorical flourishes" and that he should be focusing on jobs and economic issues. He said the failure to understand that equality is an economic issue "highlights that we still have a lot of work to do, even in Canada."

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Ms. Brown has been convening feminist Women in the World Summits such as Monday's event – which was held in Toronto to coincide with the Toronto International Film Festival – since 2010. The events bring together activists, dissidents, artists, business executives and politicians to discuss issues facing women around the world. The Globe and Mail was the media partner for the event, the first of its kind to be held in Canada.

In her remarks, Ms. Brown complained about an emerging "global horror show of toxic testosterone," arguing that rights many have taken for granted are now under attack in the United States and other countries. When she looks at Canada, however, she sees "such an invigorating view of the future."

But Mr. Trudeau cautioned that Canada "is not a magical place" and that attitudes about women still need to change here and around the world.

"There's still so much to do, and we can't stop for a second to say we've done enough – there's so much more to do."

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who also spoke at the summit, said she is "moderately optimistic" about reaching an agreement with the United States and Mexico to include chapters on progressive issues such as gender equality in NAFTA.

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She said Canada is seeking to add similar provisions in all its free-trade agreements, including one with Israel that is being renegotiated.

Mr. Trudeau also spoke about his marriage and his family, acknowledging that his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, "had to give up dreams" about her career and about how they would raise their children when he became Prime Minister. For example, he said, she had always wanted to home school the children while travelling the world on a sailboat. "Except you can't do it when you're Prime Minister and family," he said.

Asked if he would give up his career for hers, Mr. Trudeau replied, "Probably not this job," but "I would love in another life or another step of my life to be able to raise the kids and stay home."

Ms. Brown asked Mr. Trudeau about the role his father played in shaping his feminism. He replied that many people probably would not consider his father a feminist – including his father. He said Pierre Trudeau had some "old school" views and was a product of his time, but he taught his children fundamental values about standing up for everyone's rights and never discriminating against anyone.

Ms. Grégoire Trudeau also spoke at the summit on a panel discussing the representation of women in media and advertising, saying she suffered from eating disorders when she was younger. She said girls today are facing more pressure through social media and are exposed to too much "subtle violence" on television and other media.

"It's kind of what has become normal sometimes, and normal is the hardest thing to change in a society," she said. "I say let's redefine what normal is."

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Video: Gender inequality means we need a new "normal," says Sophie Grégoire Trudeau
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Real Estate Reporter

Janet McFarland is the real estate reporter for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, with a focus on residential real estate trends. She joined Report on Business in 1995, and has specialized in reporting on corporate governance, executive compensation, pension policy, business law, securities regulation and enforcement of white-collar crime. More

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