New Canadian Media

By: Kasi Rao in Toronto, ON

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s arrival in New Delhi on February 17 for a week-long state visit marks the 12th visit by a member of his cabinet to India, and given his position, the most important one.

The significance of Trudeau’s visit is clear — India matters to Canada, as a friend and a trading partner with still-unrealized potential at a time when Canada seeks to broaden and deepen its international markets.

"The building blocks are there. Two-way trade between Canada and India was nearly $8 billion in 2016, even though there have been setbacks and slow progress in formal trade talks."

Canada and India have been talking for a while about reaching more comprehensive trade and investment agreements. But the real significance of this visit is already comprehensive — there’s a positive shift in our relationship that we’re ready to build on together.

The building blocks are there. Two-way trade between Canada and India was nearly $8 billion in 2016, even though there have been setbacks and slow progress in formal trade talks.

We do that amount of two-way trade with the United States every four days. But when it comes to Canada-India trade, the modesty of the numbers is a reflection of the past, not the promise of the future.

The obstacles are obvious too. Late last year, Indian government officials slapped an increased tariff on pulses — the little yellow peas that are a staple in South Asia, which Canadian farmers export to India.

Yet we have common ground. Canada is the biggest contributor of pulses to India, and India benefits when our supply is not constricted by tariffs.

There’s no substitute for a meeting between two leaders to reach a better understanding and make it easier to trade commodities.

Canada and India have been negotiating those free trade and investments agreements for some time now — and they may well take longer. That doesn’t negate the need for a sustained engagement with India across multiple sectors.

This visit is an opportunity — to find more common ground. The elements for stronger trade, business and investment relationships between Canada and India are apparent in the number of sectors that are robust and growing yet still relatively untapped.

There are huge opportunities to expand in tourism, research and skills, medical science, technology and innovation.

Some trading partners in the world lament a brain drain, where talented people leave. Between Canada and India it’s a brain chain, where the best and brightest in both countries complement and bolster each others’ achievements.

For example, Canada is one of the most welcoming countries, reflected in our increased immigration targets at a time when others in the G7 are cutting back.

More than a million Canadians trace their roots to India; they provide a natural bridge to newcomers. Canada has increasing potential as a magnet for higher education among promising Indian students, which contributes to research and innovation in both countries.

Canadians and Indians also share many similar attitudes and values in their outlook to solving global problems. On the economic front, Indian states now embrace cooperative and competitive federalism, marketing themselves internationally the way our provinces do.

Canadians and Indians also share many values when it comes to pluralism and diversity, and both countries are in sync on combatting climate change and the Paris Accord.

Public institutions in both countries have legitimacy in ways that either don’t exist in other places or are under severe strain.

Global studies such as the Pew Global Survey and 2018 Edelman Public Trust Barometer show that Canada and India rank consistently high in the public’s trust of institutions.

The strong Canadian team led by Prime Minister Trudeau, who is accompanied by senior Cabinet ministers, demonstrates Canada’s commitment to a wider and deeper relationship with India.

The Canadian brand is a compelling one that resonates with India.  There is nothing like a prime ministerial visit — it provides an extraordinary platform to demonstrate the breadth and depth of our engagement. 


Kasi Rao is President and CEO of the Canada-India Business Council (C-IBC). Republished under arrangement with iPolitics.

Published in Politics

Commentary by: Muhammad Ali in Toronto, ON

I’m the child of Indian immigrants and, for my family, ‘Indian Standard Time’ is a term used to determine that even when we are running late, we are arriving with the party in full-swing. In the case of trade negotiations between Canada and India, we have reached Indian Standard Time.

Our two countries have long had a ‘complex’ bilateral relationship. While the previous Canadian government was able to successfully end a long-simmering nuclear dispute, allowing for the sale of Canadian uranium to India, it was unable to complete the free trade negotiations started back in 2010. Several cabinet ministers have visited India over the past two years, in addition to visits by various provincial premiers and big-city mayors to encourage more bilateral trade and investment between their respected jurisdictions.

But progress remains slow on a formal trade agreement.

Part of the reason for this slow progress is the lack of high-level discussions between Prime Minister Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With Trudeau visiting China twice and hosting President Xi Jinping in Canada, Indian officials may wonder how high of a priority trade with India is for the Canadian government. China and India are regional rivals economically, militarily and politically. They want assurances Canada cares and understands India.

Trudeau experiences a high degree of popularity amongst India’s population and within the Indo-Canadian community, an important political force in Canadian politics. To appease his key voter base and the interests of Canadian businesses, Trudeau will need to maximize his impact during his trip to India.

The purpose of this trip will be threefold: First, to quell any concerns Prime Minister Modi may have with the priority Canada has assigned to its relationship with China; second, to address any issues arising from the differences between the Indian and Indo-Canadian diasporas; and lastly, on issues impacting trade negotiations.

It will be part of Trudeau’s task to get Modi’s focus on the urgency and benefits of stronger trade ties with a trade agreement and use his popularity and charisma to show Modi that his commitment to improving our bilateral relationship is real and not calculated to only shore up domestic support.

South Asians in Canada hold tremendous political influence reflected by the appointment of four Sikh-Canadian ministers in important portfolios, and nearly two dozen MPs and Senators currently serving our country. Indo-Canadians have become engaged citizens who are shaping industry, culture and policy for Canadians. Addressing the delicate relationship between the Indian and Indo-Canadian diasporas will aide Trudeau to move negotiations forward.

Finally, Trudeau will be looking to address core economic issues such as agricultural exports to India, access to natural resources and migrant skilled workers coming to Canada. At the moment, India has raised tariffs on pulse seed imports, the majority of which comes from Saskatchewan. Canada produces a third of the worlds pulse crops (ex. lentils, peas, chickpeas) and this will have a ripple effect throughout the Canadian agricultural industry.

India and Canada can benefit from greater mobility of technology-trained workers, such as software engineers, between both countries. With the Waterloo-Toronto corridor and Bangalore-Hyderabad tech-centres hosting a thriving technology sector, a trade agreement would be able to enhance a bilateral ecosystem for companies to further develop.

Of most importance for Trudeau will be securing environmental and labour standards that have become core negotiating principles for this government. Canada’s leverage to securing these standards is giving India its first free-trade access to a Western market, including Canadian businesses that have access to North America, the EU, several countries in South America and potentially 10 Pacific-coast nations. Amidst the populist rhetoric to protectionism and anti-trade, Trudeau is positioning Canada as a beacon of economic opportunity that India would benefit from tremendously.

This trip to India, if successful, may cement Trudeau’s ability to deliver on his promise to diversify Canadian market access and reduce our dependence on the Americans, who continue to play Russian roulette with NAFTA discussions. Given the NAFTA risks, Canada needs this trade deal more than India does — to which Trudeau must move quickly before he loses any leverage in these talks.


This piece was republished under arrangement with iPolitics.

Published in Politics

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Monday, 26 October 2015 10:56

“Diversity a Given” in Trudeau Cabinet

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

One of prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau’s first orders of business will be to form a cabinet. It is one of the most difficult tasks facing any prime minister, as there is a need to strike geographic, linguistic, ethnic and gender balance.

While a mix of experienced legislators and fresh blood is expected, the diversity Trudeau will bring to his front bench will be revealed on November 4.

Other known priorities for Trudeau: gender parity and “small” in size. While gender parity was on the Liberal platform, Trudeau indicated reducing the cabinet size at his first press conference without being specific.

Though committing to gender balance is likely to make Trudeau’s task harder, keeping it small gives him an escape route to placate disappointed MPs.

Under Stephen Harper, the Conservative cabinet had swollen to 40 ministers by January 2015, matching the size of Brian Mulroney’s 1984 Progressive Conservative cabinet.

When Harper first became prime minister in 2006 he appointed just 26 people to contrast his fiscal conservatism with the policies of former Liberal PM Paul Martin, whose cabinet had ballooned to 39.

Though committing to gender balance is likely to make Trudeau’s task harder, keeping it small gives him an escape route to placate disappointed MPs. He can blame it on the imperative of having a compact cabinet. With 184 MPs to choose from, Trudeau has his work cut out.

“Bring together the best of our 20 MPs and inevitably it would be a diverse group.”

But as one Liberal MP who spoke to New Canadian Media said, ensuring diversity will be the least of his problems. “Bring together the best of our 20 MPs and inevitably it would be a diverse group.”    

Given the limitations imposed by gender parity and size, expect to see MPs who score on more than one criterion make it to the cabinet. Here’s our shortlist of likely minority candidates.

Harjit Sajjan: A former Vancouver police detective, Sajjan is a highly decorated lieutenant colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces who served three tours in Afghanistan and is the first Sikh to command a Canadian military regiment. Sajjan is a member of Trudeau’s economic team.

This Vancouver South MP ticks the following boxes: Vancouver area representative, veteran, Sikh minority.

Dr. Hedy Fry: An incumbent MP, Dr. Fry has experience on her side as she earned her reputation as a leader in medical politics at the local, provincial and federal levels. In 1993, she was first elected as an MP by defeating then-Prime Minister Kim Campbell.

This Vancouver Centre MP ticks the following boxes: Legislative experience, medical doctor, woman, Black.

Navdeep Bains: A key organizer for the Liberals in the immigrant community around Toronto, Bains has been the party’s critic for trade and natural resources. An accountant and former MP from 2004 to 2011, Bains is a member of Trudeau’s economic team and among the most experienced legislators of the large number of visible minority MPs from the “905” belt of the GTA.

This Mississauga–Malton MP ticks the following boxes: Legislative experience, GTA representative, Sikh minority.

Omar Alghabra: Having served as an MP from 2006 to 2008, Alghabra has been the Liberal critic for natural resources, as well as citizenship and immigration. An engineer by training, he is a prominent voice in the Arab and Muslim community in the GTA.

This Mississauga Centre MP ticks the following boxes: Legislative experience, Arab and Muslim minority.

Yasmin Ratansi: Yasmin Ratansi was an MP from 2004 to 2011. She was Deputy Whip of the Liberal Caucus, and served as Chair of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and as Chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Her roots are in the Ismaili Muslim community.

This Don Valley East MP ticks the following boxes: Legislative experience, Muslim and South Asian minority, woman.

[E]xpect to see MPs who score on more than one criterion make it to the cabinet.

Emmanuel Dubourg: An incumbent MP, Dubourg was previously involved in Quebec provincial politics as a Liberal Member of the National Assembly for six years. Before entering politics, Emmanuel worked in the federal public service for nearly 20 years. He is a member of Trudeau’s economic team.

This Bourassa MP ticks the following boxes: Legislative experience, Quebec representative, Black.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes: A successful entrepreneur and the recipient of the Toronto Board of Trade’s Business Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012, as well as the 2007 Black Business and Professional Association’s Harry Jerome Young Entrepreneur Award, Caesar-Chavannes is also a research consultant and member of Trudeau’s economic team.

This Whitby MP ticks the following boxes: Young entrepreneur, woman, Black.

Peter Fonseca: An Olympian who represented Canada as a marathon runner, Fonseca sat in the Ontario Legislature between 2003 and 2011 and served as Cabinet Minister, taking on the labour and tourism & recreation portfolios.

This Mississauga East–Cooksville MP ticks the following boxes: Sports person, legislative experience.

Arnold Chan: An incumbent MP, Chan was first elected in a by-election in 2013. His career has included roles in both the public and private sectors as a lawyer, political aide and senior corporate manager. He is also the most senior among the three MPs of Chinese heritage in the Liberal caucus.

This Scarborough–Agincourt MP ticks the following boxes: Chinese minority, legislative experience.

Ali Ehsassi: A lawyer by trade, Ehsassi has extensive experience working in government at both the provincial and federal levels of government, as well as in the private sector. He brings to the table his specialization in international trade and arbitration.

This Willowdale MP ticks the following boxes: Iranian and Muslim minority, government experience.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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