The prime minister’s supporters can be as thin skinned as his detractors when it comes to criticism of their boy but if anyone is to blame for the questions and critiques emerging about Trudeau’s trip to India and it surely Trudeau and his team.
So far we have been treated to photos of the Trudeau family yucking it up at the Taj Mahal, an elephant sanctuary, one of the homes of the late Mahatma Ghandi, the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple and soon a whole pile of other cultural and religious sites that have little to do with official government business.
No doubt these are great sites to visit and doubly no doubt these sites can all be played up for targeted politicking back home to get the vote out in 2019. But that isn’t what Canadian taxpayers should be footing the bill for on a week long trip to India.
Sure, Trudeau is not the first Canadian politician, provincial or federal, to go to India and use these sites for political gain back home. Stephen Harper, Christy Clark, Patrick Brown, Kathleen Wynne, Jean Chretien, the list is long.
But all of those politicians fit the cultural visits into a busy round of meetings with business and political leaders. Trudeau is doing the opposite, he is squeezing in some time for India’s leaders in between his family vacation photos.
Not that India’s leaders are lining up to meet with PM Trudeau, as columnist and author Candice Malcolm pointed out, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has personally greeted many world leaders but did not greet Trudeau.
On official state visits to India, PM Modi personally greets and welcomes the Israeli PM, UAE Crown Prince and US President. For PM Trudeau, he sends a low-ranking official. “Canada is back” pic.twitter.com/ezsMtFTPzr
— Candice Malcolm (@CandiceMalcolm) February 17, 2018
So who did greet Trudeau? Turns out it is India’s equivalent of sending a parliamentary secretary.
The message is clear at the airport : India sent minister of state for agriculture to invite Trudeau . That’s like a parl sec in Canada ! Don’t think anyone so junior ever been sent to ANY foreign leader ! Wow. That’s how bad Canada -India relations are now . pic.twitter.com/kIOQILcRNk
— Vijay Sappani (@VJsapps) February 17, 2018
It’s not just folks on Twitter that are noticing, The Times of India – the world’s largest English language newspaper with 2.7 million readers – pointed out that Trudeau is getting the cold shoulder elsewhere.
Then, Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and their three children visited the Taj Mahal yesterday while Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath was nowhere in sight. A scant month ago, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Taj, the UP CM personally showed him around. But all the Trudeaus got were the Agra district magistrate and some other local administrators.
And Trudeau, used to getting glowing coverage from foreign media, is also having his visit questioned by other outlets – be it The Daily Mail pointing to his vacation snaps – or The Hindustan Times pointing out that the PM is high on tourist spots and low on official business.
As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues his eight-day visit to India, the fact that his schedule includes just half-a-day of official engagements in New Delhi is being described as “unusual” by veteran diplomats and criticised by a Canadian watchdog.
A veteran Indian diplomat said in his long experience with bilateral visits, he had never experienced a trip of this nature, where the visiting dignitary spent so little time in official engagements with counterparts in the Indian government.
Then there is the other issue, one the Canadian media do seem to report on although mostly from a defensive point of view where Canadian reporters run block for the Trudeau government on the issue of Sikh separatism in Canada.
The Indian Express chimed in on that controversy in a less than favourable manner for Trudeau, essentially putting it down to collecting blocs of ethnic votes back in Canada.
It is a pity that Canada’s vote-bank politics have grounded a relationship that was ready for take-off just before Trudeau’s election. Modi and Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, had unveiled in 2015 a vision for strategic partnership that was to build on the many shared interests between the two countries. One can only hope that Trudeau and his team have the political will to put the partnership with India back on track and skill to navigate this difficult moment.
At the announcement of that 2015 strategic partnership the only provincial leader to show up at the announcement in Ottawa was Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall. When I asked Wall why he was there he told me that his province has everything India needs trade wise – food, fertilizer and fuel. Wall was right but you could add to that expertise in mining, banking, insurance and other service industry expertise that Canada could be exporting to India a country of more than 1 billion people with a growing middle class.
Instead, Trudeau is putting all his economic hopes on a deal with China and simply using India for pretty photos that will deliver votes back home.
If that wasn’t the case there would be more emphasis on high level meetings.