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Trudeau on deficit concerns, his 2021 regrets, and what he thinks will define 2022


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down with Evan Solomon, host of CTV’s Power Play and Question Period, for a year-end interview, reflecting on the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emerging concerns over inflation. The prime minister discussed deficit concerns, the timeline for getting boosters into Canada, why he went to Tofino, the state of Canada’s international relationships, and what he thinks will define 2022.

Here’s a full transcript of that conversation, it has been edited for grammar and clarity.


Evan Solomon: Here we are at the end of 2021, and the number one issue is inflation. It's at an [eighteen] year high. You get questions about this every day, people are deeply concerned about the cost of living every day. The answer the government, and you provided a lot is ‘look, we've got this national childcare strategy,’… and affordable housing. Those are long term solutions. What in the short term will your government do to alleviate the pain of inflation?

Justin Trudeau: Well first of all, inflation is a direct consequence of the global COVID crisis. I mean, COVID remains the number one issue people are dealing with. We don't want it to be the number one issue anymore, everyone's tired of it, but we're dealing with supply chain disruptions and price disruptions related to COVID. And therefore, the number one thing we can do to support people right now in the economy, is get done with COVID. And that means continuing vaccinations, getting people to get their boosters as well. The boosters are strongly effective against Omicron even as they are right now. We need to keep doing the things we do to get through this crisis. So that we can get our economy back to normal, so people can get back to the things they love to do and we can move forward.

Solomon: I appreciate that, although—and we’ll get at the causes of inflation in a minute— but are there other short-term levers that the government has? [U.S. President] Joe Biden said ‘you know what we're going to do? We're going to do ports in Los Angeles, we're going to go 24 hours a day to alleviate supply chain issues.’ What will your government do?

Trudeau: We've been doing those sorts of things, money directly for ports to minimize the disruptions in supply chains… There are lots of things we're continuing to do to support people who are affected by COVID, to support families, to support individuals. Yes, childcare and housing are a big part that are going to help it, but there's always more to do and we're looking at it.

Solomon: One thing you could do, one question is: Is stimulus a part of the inflation? Not the cause, we know there's a global cause because we see inflation all over the world. But, your government also says, ‘look, we've recovered more jobs than we've lost… The economy is growing, it's roaring back.’ So if it’s roaring back, is it time to rein in the spending? Maybe it's time to say: ‘Okay, if we're roaring back, let's stop that stimulative effect,’ and maybe that eases the inflation?

Trudeau: That's an argument that's being made by Conservatives right now. One of the things that we all remember in the 2008 recession, Conservatives pulled back the support too quickly, and that recession lingered longer than it needed to. We promised to be there to support people through COVID and all its impacts, and that's what we're doing. So the support for small businesses, the supports for families, the supports for vulnerable people, we're going to continue to do them, even as we make fiscally-responsible investments in things that will make a difference in the long-term.

Solomon: Again, you're talking about three years here, of stimulus. What's your projection for how long this inflation situation lasts? The Governor of the Bank [of Canada] says it's not short-lived, transitory, but not short-lived… How long is this going to last for? That's what people want to know.

Trudeau: We want to minimize it, and what you're calling stimulus over the next few years, we're calling indispensable supports for the tourism sector, supports for hard hit cultural industries that are still affected by the pandemic. We're not going to start pulling away those supports because we know Canada came into this COVID challenge with one of the best fiscal situations of the G7, and we still have one of the healthiest balance books of all our peer countries.

Solomon: There's a cost to that you know… Since 2015 the debt has almost doubled. By 2026, the number will be $1.6 trillion... So you say you have Canadians backs now, what about the backs of the kids who have to pay for it in the next generation?

Trudeau: The cost of servicing that debt is lower now than it was a few years ago, before COVID. We are doing this in a fiscally-responsible way. And there was a decision to make in the beginning of the pandemic of, do we massively support people through this? Or do we hold back our firepower to help people out of it? Conservatives said we needed to show restraint, not help people so much now because we need it more later. We said no, no, we're going to help them right now, and actually what that has shown in countries that did like Canada, is the recovery is quicker and better and people are better off. The choice of helping people more, of having their backs was the right one, regardless of what critics say.

Pedestrians make their way past the front entrance to the newly-renovated Bank of Canada Museum in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick)

Solomon: You're looking in the rearview mirror, let's just look out the windshield because I want to look ahead, someone's got to pay for that. The underlying assumption about interest rates for you and I think it's a risky one prime minister, is that interest rates will always remain lower than growth. Historically, that's not the case, growth could be significantly less than interest rates. If interest rates go up, then we are in a structural deficit. Are you worried about structural deficits?

Trudeau: I think it's always a mistake to try and bet against Canadians. What we're making is investments now. Talk about childcare, talk about renewables, talk about the digital economy.

Solomon: You can’t call spending always betting for Canadians, you also have to be responsible with your spending.

Trudeau: Absolutely, so let's talk about childcare. That's $30 billion, that's a big part of the investments we've talked about. Not only is it good for families and moms specifically, not only is it good for kids and giving them an opportunity, it's also something that allows for growth in the workforce and significant growth of our economy. So yes, that's a big upfront number that we're spending and quite frankly, Erin O'Toole said ‘don't do it.’ He would rip up those programs, he doesn't think that's worthwhile spending. I believe it is because it ends up returning more to the economy by having childcare affordable for Canadians.

Solomon: I'll just give you an example. You've also promised to increase health care transfers to the province by five or six per cent. Growth is not going to be five or six per cent. So you know, you're talking about spending from discretionary money, $397 billion.

Trudeau: Okay, then let’s talk about health.

Solomon: But the question is, where is the money coming from? If you can increase transfers five to six per cent, but growth is two and a half per cent, you're running deficits forever.

Trudeau: What we've committed to is investing in mental health supports, better mental health care across the country. We know that yes, that's an investment that we're going to have to make up front to make sure there's a capacity to handle the health care needs and the mental health needs in the coming years. But we also know Canada will be much better off if people are healthier, more productive, and able to handle the challenges and anxiety not just of this pandemic, of so many things that are coming at us down the pipe. So it's about making smart, fiscally-responsible investments that are there for people.


Solomon: But you need revenue. You can't just keep spending. Politics is about choices, where's the revenue coming from? Will there be new taxes to pay for that? And if so—we assume there will be—where will they come from?

Trudeau: We have been consistent on not raising taxes on the middle class, not raising taxes on Canadians. And the first thing we did was raise taxes on the wealthiest 1 per cent so we could lower them for the middle class. We've brought in, or are bringing in new revenue tools by asking the wealthiest banks to pay a little bit more because they did well during this pandemic, while small businesses were struggling.

Solomon: Critics will say a payroll tax is a tax on small business, which is a tax on the middle class.

Trudeau: You're talking about EI investments? Well, we know that adjusting for the gig economy, adjusting for the way people actually work now, particularly coming out of this pandemic, people deserve to have supports they need. And these are the kinds of investments that support Canadians, that allow them to be more productive, more prosperous.

Solomon: Do you worry about the deficit?

Trudeau: Yes, of course I do.

Solomon: Okay, you've been prime minister for six years. You once promised you'd balance it [the budget]. Those promises have never come to you. In fact, it's gone the other way. Now, there are circumstances, let's be fair, we understand the pandemic, but there's no fiscal guardrail. Do you ever have a plan to get back to balance that's realistic?

Trudeau: Absolutely. We need to continue shrinking our debt as a size of our GDP. We need to make sure that the amount we owe as a proportion of the economy continues to decline. And that's exactly what we're doing, even with all the extra investments and spending we've made now, our fiscally-responsible track remains. You know, politicians always have debates… Let's look at the third party experts. Look at the credit rating agencies. Canada has kept a triple-A rating from some of the largest agencies because our track is sustainable.

Solomon: Still, record high deficits, record high debt levels, and that does not count subnational debt, like the provinces, and household debt. I mean, prime minister I understand the rating agencies… but it is fair to say people are living on borrowed money, and one day someone's going to have to pay for this. What's the answer to who does that?

Trudeau: On the one hand we have actually seen that because of the supports we put out during the pandemic, people have been saving a little bit more money, but they're facing increasing costs for groceries, they're facing increasing costs at the pump. People are worried about that, and that's why we need to first and foremost get this pandemic back under control, make sure that we're getting through it. And second, continue to be there for the expenses that are significant in people's lives, like housing, and childcare. And it's not just a long-term plan of childcare, prices are already going down in Saskatchewan. In January, prices on childcare will decrease significantly as well and hopefully all across the country.


Solomon: Cost of living and affordability is slightly different than inflation…. But let's talk about inflation in housing, which is the other big issue. Since 2015, when you were elected, the average house price has gone up 77 per cent, and we can talk about who's to blame for that… What will your government do on a material level, to help people buy houses and to stop the housing crisis from inflating?

Trudeau: One of the things we need to do is create more supply, and that's why we put forward a plan in the last election to invest $4 billion to municipalities to help accelerate the creation of supply, of creating more low income and modest income rental housing. Cut down some of the red tape, provide federal lands to build on, move things forward in a way that incentivizes the creation of more housing, not just so housing prices can go down but so that we can continue to bring in immigrants to continue to contribute to our workforce.

Solomon: The problem is I spoke to Evan Siddall, the former CEO of the CMHC [Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation] who you know, and I asked him about this program. The homebuyers incentive, and the $4 billion fund. He said it's a multi trillion dollar housing market, and it's too small to make a difference. That will not truly impact supply, maybe at the margins. He just doesn't believe that's enough. There's too many other factors, especially low interest rates. One thing he said that would really deal with housing inequity is a capital gains tax, not retroactive but going forward on primary residences. Would you ever consider that?

Trudeau: That's not something we're looking at. We are, however, in agreement with both you and Evan, in that there is no one silver bullet that's going to fix housing. We need a range of programs, whether it's eliminating blind bidding and cutting down on predatory practices, whether it's investing in things like the portable housing benefit that we have for low-income families, the Canada Housing Benefit, whether it's incentives for first-time homebuyers that are helping them afford the cost of their mortgage and their down payment. There has to be a range of things both on the demand side and the supply side.

Solomon: That’s interesting, because one of the issues is that economists say that when you do things like reduce the mortgage insurance payment or the first-time homebuyers tax credit, that makes it easier to buy a home, that incentivizes people. The problem is that increases demand, that inflates the house price, and shorts the supply. The very things you're doing are the very things that may be causing the inflationary pressure.

Trudeau: They could, if it weren't for the fact that we're very aware of those challenges. Simply put, if you give everyone an extra $1,000 to buy a house, all the prices go up by an extra $1,000. So you have to be very careful about how you do it, and that's why we're designing programs that aren’t easy, that aren’t explainable in a in a three minute clip, that actually support specific parts and segments of the market to be able to challenge the problems we are facing... There are measures you can put in, that we are putting in, that are going to accelerate the rate at which young people, young couples can buy their first home and start building that equity. But you're right, it's a complex question, and the position we're having is we need to do more to support people and that's exactly what we're focused on.


Solomon: Okay. Let's go to the pandemic. Gosh, we thought we're out of it. And now here we are with Omicron. What's the projection on how long this lasts for? What is the government prepared to cover and I was looking at the books and it looks like you have books that say there's programs to support the pandemic for five years. Is your government preparing COVID programs over the next five years?

Trudeau: We made a simple promise to Canadians at the beginning of pandemic, that we would have their backs as much as it took, for as long as it took. It's not just about doing the nice thing. It's about knowing that when you support people through a crisis like this, you bounce back stronger whenever that ends up happening. So as long as the pandemic lasts, we will be there to support Canadians.

Solomon: But how long? What's your projection? … Are we out of this by next year? What’s your projection?

Trudeau: I remember you asking me that question in mid-2020. You asked me again at the end of 2020… Everyone wants to know. The scientists all have different timelines, different potentials. It depends how bad Omicron is. They're still trying to do the tests on it. We're definitely in it for a while longer, but what I can control and what the government can control, is saying we will be there to support Canadians as long as it takes.

Solomon: One way out is boosters, and we're behind the U.K. and the U.S. in getting our boosters. Isn't one of the lessons learned we should have done this faster? Why aren't our boosters being rolled out faster?

Trudeau: We have procured enough supply for everyone to get boosters. The delivery of those boosters, is on the provinces and they are setting up their timelines in terms of that. What we are learning from the U.K. and others, is get people those boosters as quickly as possible because even the current formulation is effective against Omicron. So, people should be getting their boosters as soon as they can.

Solomon: When are they coming?

Trudeau: They're coming as soon as we need them.

Solomon: Is there a schedule?

Trudeau: There is a schedule, well there are commitments to have the boosters in Canada as soon as we need them. We have enough boosters for everyone.

Solomon: But we don't have them here in Canada, and like if all 26 million people said we want them now.

Trudeau: If we want them tomorrow we wouldn't be able to deliver them into 26 million arms tomorrow. But, as soon as we can roll them out, we have enough boosters secured for everyone.

Solomon: Will we need an annual shot? Is the government planning for an annual booster?

Trudeau: We don't know how this this pandemic is going to unfold, which is why we have secured deals for the coming years and years on access to boosters and to shots, if necessary.

Solomon: The vaccine equity issue is interesting. I spoke to Dr. [Peter] Singer from the WHO [World Health Organization] and the WHO is saying don't give rich countries like Canada the third shot when only seven per cent of Africa has had one shot, maybe less. What’s your view on the morality of that? Taking a third shot for a Canadian when we know the virus mutates in unvaccinated places and it then boomerangs back to us? Should we be getting a third shot before some get a first?

Trudeau: That's an interesting moral question that we have gotten around by being one of the most active countries from the beginning on initiatives like COVAX and the ACT Accelerator, to make commitments to donate not just vaccines, but money and capacity to the world to be able to do it. We don't produce vaccines in Canada. But my responsibility as the prime minister of Canada is to make sure that we get enough vaccines to keep Canadians safe as the same time as we're investing in the world, and that's what we're doing.

Solomon: Would you cancel your plans for the Christmas holidays now, because people want to know. People want to travel, it's been two years. Is it time to cancel Christmas again? Time to cancel holiday travel? What's your take?

Trudeau: I think people need to make the right choices for themselves and based on public health information. I'm going to be spending Christmas at the cottage. I'm not going anywhere. Other families will make the decisions that are right for them.


Solomon: China. We now have a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics. The two Michaels, the crackdown on Hong Kong, the U.S. and U.K. think there's a genocide going on against the Uyghurs, the Muslim minority, as do the opposition parties.

Trudeau: As does the Parliament of Canada.

Solomon: Do you believe there's a genocide?

Trudeau: I believe there needs to be a full investigation into it and I believe there are human rights violations that need to be exposed and accounted for.

Solomon: Is that a dodge though?

Trudeau: No, it’s not.

Solomon: I only ask you that because it means that we need an investigation. China says, ‘sorry, no one's getting an investigation,’ so it's a paralysis.

Trudeau: We've already laid out very clearly the consequences for the human rights violations that are going on in China right now, and we're going to continue to act strongly on that. But, the word genocide is such a significantly loaded word. We know there needs to be a proper investigation into these allegations of genocide. That's something that China needs to accept and we're going to continue to increase pressure on them until they do.

Solomon: The U.S. ambassador to Canada David Cohen told me the other day that the biggest threat right now to the U.S. is China… What's your answer to that question? What's the biggest threat on the horizon? Is it China?

Trudeau: China's a significant challenge, but so is the rise of authoritarian states. So are cyber attacks, so is Russia in the Ukraine. There are many, many international challenges to democracies like Canada, to our open trading system in the world that is affected by the supply chain challenges. There are many, many challenges out there. China's certainly one of them.

Solomon: Will we do more business with China or less business?

Trudeau: I think China is growing and continuing to have a significant impact on the world stage. We will continue to do business with China. We need to make sure that we are at the same time, challenging and contesting China on human rights and on its behaviors.

Solomon: How many more countries will join this diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics?

Trudeau: That's up to them, but I'm expecting quite a few.

Solomon: Will you take other actions against China? Would you do different kinds of sanctions against China now because clearly they don't care. They've said they're going to take countermeasures against Canada. They've also warned you, don't ban Huawei. Three years we've been waiting for that decision. Some are saying that it looks like we're scared of China. When are you going to stand up to China?

Trudeau: What we have done every step of the way is work as part of a global community because you're absolutely right, Canada's voice alone isn't significant. But the way we were able to bring home the Michaels was to see countries around the world, bringing up the case of the arbitrarily detained Canadians in bilateral conversations with Chinese leadership. That did make an impact and that's where pulling together as a world to be united in our values, in our approach, makes a big difference.

U.S. President Joe Biden shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Solomon: U.S. protectionism is the other big threat. They have a $12,500 tax credit they've proposed for electric vehicles made in the U.S. that would absolutely cripple the Canadian industry. I know there's a threat of a trade war now, that we're going to sanction. How soon could tariffs on U.S. goods happen? And are you prepared for a trade war with the U.S.?

Trudeau: We've seen over the past years that Canadians are ready to stand up for themselves. We stood up successfully on steel and aluminum tariffs. We renegotiated NAFTA under very difficult situations. We will always stand up for our workers. At the same time, we know that Canadians and Americans have been building cars together for over 50 years, and it's not just in our interest, it's in their interest as well. So we're looking for a solution.

Solomon: Did you tell Joe Biden?

Trudeau: Absolutely, those are the exact words that I used.

Solomon: Did you tell him that if they put in the tax credit, we’ll put tariffs on your goods?

Trudeau: Nobody wants a trade war between Canada and the United States. There's so many other things going on, that we are looking to find a solution to it, but we will always stand up for Canadian workers.


Solomon: Across the river from where we are today there's a young grade three teacher who was fired from her job because she wore hijab, because the controversial Bill 21, the secularism issue. None of the federal leaders have done much to stand up for it. I know you’ve threatened to join the federal court case, but everyone said this is in Quebec. Why if you believe this is discriminatory, and you've said it.

Trudeau: I've said it. I've been clear from the very beginning on how much I disagree with it.

Solomon: If you believe it's discrimination, why let it go?

Trudeau: Because the best place to be fighting this as a first step is for Quebecers themselves to be challenging this unjust law in their courts, that their provincial government put forward.

Solomon: What stops the federal government—what's the moratorium on fighting discrimination?

Trudeau: What is a better outcome, to have a Quebec government fighting a federal government? Or a Quebec government having to defend its unjust law against its own citizens?

Solomon: There's a young teacher that lost her job and if you believe that's discrimination, isn't it incumbent on you as the federal government to protect the Charter of Rights, not let them use the notwithstanding clause and take a stand and say ‘we're with you’?

Trudeau: We have taken very clear stance that this bill is… wrong. We have also said that we are not putting aside the possibility of challenging it at the Supreme Court. But right now, Quebecers are using their full powers to challenge this unfair law in court and it is better that the Legault government have to defend itself against its fellow citizens then have a distraction of a fight against Ottawa.

Solomon: I want to talk about reconciliation, which you've said is the key issue. Is your government prepared to make a $40-billion settlement for the Indigenous kids who were put in child services?

Trudeau: Part of it is compensation for kids who've been harmed in it, but part of that needs to be about how we put an end to the system that continues to harm kids by taking them out of their communities. It's yes about compensating for harms past, but it's also about ensuring that going forward, we're not continuing.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bows his head as he listens to chief Rosanne Casimir at Tk’emlups the Sewepemc in Kamloops, B.C. Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Solomon: Can you just explain this Tofino trip? I mean that, because you had said ‘you know, look, everyone in the world has lapses of judgment.’ When you did when you had those issues of Blackface in the [2019] election. You said ‘I've got to examine myself, I've got to look at into my privilege and reflect.’ Then on the first to talk about truth and reconciliation, you took the family trip to Tofino, you flew over Kamloops. You apologized for it, you recognize it was an insulting thing to do. Why did you do it?

Trudeau: We had an event the night before on Parliament Hill to raise the reconciliation flag, and that morning, I made phone calls all morning to survivors of residential schools to hear from them. I should have done more. I should have gone to Kamloops. So when I went there a couple of weeks later, I apologized and I was glad to be there for that but it was a mistake to have gone.


Solomon: Being prime minister you live in a bubble, maybe people don't speak truth to power? They're scared to say to you: ‘Hey, PM, this is a very bad call.’ What does it tell you, maybe a gut check, about your judgment?

Trudeau: We're all going to make mistakes, and the important thing is to recognize them and try to rectify them. But I think throughout the years of working on reconciliation, throughout the years of working on progressive policies for Canadians, we've had far more successes than we've had mistakes, but of course there have been mistakes.

Solomon: Here's some rapid fire questions. Three elections, is Justin Trudeau going to run again?

Trudeau: Yes.

Solomon: You are going to run again? No walks in the snow?

Trudeau: Coming out of this pandemic, we have an opportunity to go even further and even faster on things like climate change, reconciliation, growing the economy in ways that support the middle class. We've come through a difficult time, there is a an energy even though everyone's exhausted, there is a capacity to do really big things in the coming years. I'm really excited about serving Canadians.

Solomon. So you're running again?

Trudeau: Yes.

Solomon: Will you make a promise not to call another snap election?

Trudeau: I think people can understand that we're going to be focused on governing for many more years.

Solomon: Was it a mistake to call it? [The 2021 election]

Trudeau: No.

Solomon: Why did you lose the majority, what was it? Was it one thing?

Trudeau: I lost the majority in 2019.

Solomon: No, but you lost the opportunity to re-win it back.

Trudeau: Listen, Canadians get to decide… What we came out of this election with was a clear consensus on climate change, on vaccinations, on support for Canadians. This direction we have and what we've seen in Parliament over the past weeks is getting things done for Canadians and that's what we're focused on.

Solomon: I just have to ask about Afghanistan. In July, the government received letters from top generals as you know, that special visas were going to be needed. Nothing was done, as you know. The election happened, you were blamed for that as a crisis. But you've promised to take in 40,000 Afghans. They're trickling in. It's been a nightmare to get them. We've spoken to them. What will you do to expedite getting Afghans through?

Trudeau: We are accelerating our processes. We've made one of the most generous commitments of any country in the world to welcome in 40,000 Afghan refugees in the coming times, that's exactly what we're going to do.

Solomon: But how long? Like you got 35,000 Syrians here in 100 days.

Trudeau: Yes, well that was different from bringing people out of Afghanistan under control by the Taliban. But we have lots of tools, we're working with our allies, and Canadians are going to be as generous as they always are in welcoming people fleeing from difficulty.

Solomon: What will define 2022?

Trudeau: I think hopefully getting out of this pandemic, leaving it behind us. Being able to start accelerating on the fight against climate change even more than we already are, accelerate on reconciliation, accelerate on developing an economy that works for everyone in the 21st century with all the lessons we learned through this pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is joined on stage by wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, left, and children Xavier and Ella-Grace, during his victory speech at Party campaign headquarters in Montreal, early Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

Solomon: Finally, lowest point of 2021? Highest point in 2021?

Trudeau: Bringing the Michaels home was probably one of the one of the high points, getting the highest vaccination rate of any country in the world for a stretch there in Canada was definitely one of the high points. Lots of low points, you guys can talk about those all you like.

Solomon: The Chinese say by the way the two Michaels were spies. Let's just get this on the record. They say ‘they're spies, we have the proof.’ Were they involved in any espionage?

Trudeau: No, they were arbitrarily detained as a political consequence for us living up to a treaty with the United States. But, we stuck to the rule of law, we stuck to our values, we stuck to our principles, and we got them.

Solomon: Last question. Who is the most dangerous leader right now?

Trudeau: Take your pick, there's a lot them.

Solomon: Prime minister, good to see you. Thank you.

Trudeau: Thanks Evan.




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