Harper meets Canadian business leaders in Davos
Published Wednesday, January 25, 2012 8:17PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:15AM EDT
Though European debt and trade are high on the agenda, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has kicked off the World Economic Forum in Switzerland by speaking with business leaders from his own country.
Harper is in the Swiss resort town of Davos where top powerbrokers are gathering to talk about the world's most pressing financial issues.
He arrived Wednesday morning alongside about 40 staff members and a fleet of 20 vehicles.
This year, the theme of the annual retreat is "great transformation" and the discussions will touch on how nations can prosper financially without being irresponsible.
More than 2,600 big thinkers from world's top and emerging markets are on hand at the meet. Harper, however, decided to start things off by meeting with businesspeople from his home and native land.
He spoke with Jim Leech of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, CIBC chairman Charles Sirois and the CEOs of Desjardins Group and Barrick Gold on Wednesday morning.
Calling the group "the biggest job creators in the country," Harper told the leaders that he wants to know and understand the challenges they face.
"As you know, the economy is our No. 1 focus," he told the group.
The meeting echoes speeches Harper has made in the past which have aimed to stir the confidence of corporate investors and stimulate growth.
However, Harper's biggest contribution to the conference is expected to centre on a global issue, specifically, Europe and its sovereign debt crisis.
In a phone call from Zurich, CTV News' Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said Harper will call on Europeans to act quickly to dodge both a domestic and global recession.
He'll likely advise them to devote more money to a rescue package, noted Fife.
Harper's clarion call would be coming just days after the International Monetary Fund warned that Europe is a global recession risk, or in the very least, can potentially slow world markets.
The IMF has also reduced its expectations for global growth, projecting 3.25 per cent expansion compared to last year's four per cent.
It's not yet clear, however, if the Davos meeting can succeed in setting Europe on the path to positive change.
"There is a lot of pressure to stop talking and get on with it," IHS chief economist Nariman Behravesh told the Canadian Press. "The hope is that they will make progress."
Not only will the Prime Minister use the forum to address debt, but international trade is also expected to be high on the agenda.
"He's also going to be talking about the importance of Canadian trade, the need to diversify our trade, talk about Canadian oil," said Fife.
It's been a rollercoaster month for Canada and its trading partners.
Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama rejected the proposed Alberta to Texas Keystone XL pipeline citing domestic politics as the reason. In the same vein, there's been much debate about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would see Alberta bitumen sent to Asia, a growing market.
There's also word that Harper will use his speech to highlight the budget Canadians will be seeing next spring, added Fife.
Apt, considering there's a notable Canadian contingent at the meet.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who wants to nix the nation's deficit in four to five years, is at the conference. Also on hand is International Trade Minister Ed Fast who helped extend the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement just days ago.
They're joined by the Bank of Canada's Mark Carney, who is settling into his role as head of the international Financial Stability Board.
Harper will also participate in a question-and-answer with Klaus Schwab, the German economist who founded the World Economic Forum discussions.
With files from The Canadian Press