Wednesday, 26 October 2016 19:08

Impatient India Riding a Treadmill: Editor

by Our National Correspondent in Ottawa

INDIA’s galloping national economy has made its people so impatient that growth under seven per cent a year could have a deeply de-stabilizing impact for the country, a well-respected Indian editor, Shekhar Gupta, told an audience of academics and South Asia watchers in Ottawa Tuesday.

Comparing such a slow-growth scenario to “falling off a treadmill,” Gupta noted that consistent progress over the last 25 years of economic reform (since 1991) has raised expectations and created high aspirations among the country’s 1.2 billion people.

“For Indians to be really happy, 8.5 to 9 per cent growth would be ideal,” he suggested.

Based on his extensive travels for a variety of news organizations, the veteran journalist said Indians are “leapfrogging” across social and wealth divides in both villages and cities.

He senses a “churn” in his country, driven by three realities – a smartphone in the hands of all Indians, widespread use of motorbikes to travel and cheap college education.

Argumentative democracy

This has resulted in social and economic mobility, but most importantly, widespread literacy programs have empowered the people to make India “an argumentative democracy”.

“Democratic politics is meant to be competitive. The voters can throw you out if you don’t perform,” he pointed out, adding that this is exactly what’s happening in most of India today.

In both states (similar to provinces in Canada) and at the federal level, leaders who deliver on economic growth have won re-election, sometimes several times over. The reverse is also true. Over the last quarter-century, politics has become “meritocratic,” accompanied by the rather unusual trend of rising voter participation – unlike most other democracies.  

Continuing his decidedly optimistic take on Indian affairs, the television host and newspaper columnist sees the media business also being a growth industry – again, unlike most other democracies. He pointed to his own start-up enterprise, The Print, as indicative of an industry that is still hiring journalists.

He repeatedly referred to a “value chain” along which Indian citizens climb the rungs, including in the area of language. Typically, in his view, it begins with a vernacular mother tongue, then learning Hindi and then eventually, English.

Modi phenomenon

Gupta was delivering the annual Dhahan lecture organized by the Canada – India Centre for Excellence at Carleton University, on the theme “India in transition”.

He generally gave high marks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for instilling pride in Indians and his ability to impress audiences wherever he goes – both at home and abroad. “Modi has made India the most selfie crazed nation in the world.”

The Modi government suffers from "an intellectual deficit," in Gupta's opinion, but has proven good at project implementation. "It's a government in a hurry."

However, Modi has also swung India to the socio-religious right – not the economic right – and harped on nationalism. This nationalism combined with national pride could prove to be a “double-edged sword,” Gupta warned, pointing out that politics in India is not divided over economic policy differences, but rather over what it means to be a secular country.

The last 25 years has seen a move away from an almost-agnostic national ethos to a muscular nationalism that appeals to the Hindu majority population. “This will be the ideological and philosophical point of argument in the years to come,” Gupta forecast.

Dangerous cocktail

Anil Varughese, a South Asia expert at Carleton, who was among those who heard Gupta, offered this assessment: “Gupta’s lecture was a splendid testament to his wide-ranging knowledge of India and the remarkable complexity and richness of Indian democracy. In a tour de force, he captured the chief drivers of fast-paced change in contemporary India.

“His basic premise was that consistent high economic growth combined with easier access to information has spawned far-reaching transformations to India’s politics, society and culture, making its people impatient for change.

“His most valuable insight, I thought, was his remark that to understand changing India, one needs to ‘read the wall’ (the billboards). While his optimism for a more aspirational and assertive India was palpable, his caution against the dangerous cocktail of high economic growth and brazen peddling of nationalistic pride was prescient.”

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 01 October 2015 14:57

Foreign Policy Debate Ignores Diaspora Nation

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

Rightly or wrongly, foreign policy is not high on the list of issues that Canadians would like to know about during a federal election campaign. 

That said, this week’s Munk Debate, while holding a mirror to Canada’s role in the world, tended to reflect Canadian values and how we choose to see ourselves on the global stage.

While Canadian voters’ perceived lack of interest in foreign affairs can be questioned, there need be no such ambivalence when it comes to immigrant voters. With ties to countries of birth or origin still strong, they are likely keen to know policy directions the next government in Ottawa plans to take in their spheres of interest.

Currently, one in five – or 6.8 million – Canadians are foreign-born. This is the highest share of any G7 country and the Harper government has encouraged social, cultural and economic ties between new Canadians and their birth countries as part of its trade agenda.

The government has said that if re-elected, it will establish a new “Maple Leaf” designation to recognize new Canadians who work to build cultural, economic and social links between Canada and their birth country. The Minister of Foreign Affairs would be among those making the decision to award five to seven designations per year.

Scant mention of China and India

This enthusiasm for trade with countries that have big diaspora populations in Canada did not come through during the debate.

China and India, two of the world’s largest economies that also happen to be two of the largest immigrant source countries, were hardly mentioned during the bilingual debate.

To be precise, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau mentioned both once.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]hile China may soon pass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, Canada might have already missed its opportunity for greater trade with the Asian giant.[/quote]

Trudeau said the Harper government did not seem to understand how important it is to be engaged in global trade particularly with the growing economies of Asia.

“That’s why we applauded the Canada-Europe agreement. But Mr. Harper is yet to deliver on [many other agreements],” Trudeau said. “He is nowhere with China, even though Australia has just signed [an agreement with China]. We made a beginning with India after the rapprochement Mr. Harper tried to do recently with the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi).”

Despite being called a “diaspora nation” because of the diverse nature of immigration to Canada, it seems the country is still not ready to diversify trade and cut its umbilical cord to the United States.

Our share of Asia’s trade has fallen by half over the past decade. And while China may soon pass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, Canada might have already missed its opportunity for greater trade with the Asian giant.

Missed opportunity

The voters too have missed an opportunity to know from the party leaders their foreign trade policy.

As Daniel Muzyka, CEO, and Glen Hodgson, senior vice-president and chief economist, of the Conference Board of Canada, said in a recent article, if Canadians and Canadian firms are to succeed in the global marketplace, there are several questions they should ask.

Questions include what the leaders would do to build and mobilize interest in our global opportunities, what practical alternative would they support if they did not favour free trade, and what they would do differently to capture a fair share of trade with China.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he repeated reference to our glorious UN peacekeeping past would have come as a surprise for many new Canadians whose countries of birth now carry much of that burden.[/quote]

While the reluctance to diversify our trade due to the advantage of having the world’s largest economy south of our border was obvious during the debate, there was another theme that wasn’t.

Call it a collective denial or a national consensus to perpetuate a myth, the repeated reference to our glorious UN peacekeeping past would have come as a surprise for many new Canadians whose countries of birth now carry much of that burden.

Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Rwanda, Nepal, Senegal, Ghana, China and Nigeria are currently the top 10 contributors. Canada ranks 62 out of 126 countries with 88 personnel.

Cold War soldiers

It is true that Canada was often the single biggest contributor to peacekeeping missions between 1956 and 1992, sending about 80,000 soldiers by the time the Blue Berets won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.

But, after these relatively benign observer missions, and two taxing tour of duties in Somalia and the Balkans in the 1990s, Canada seemed to lose its appetite for peacekeeping.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]By design or not, the issue of Israel and Palestine was ignored amid the predictable sound and fury on the havoc caused by the Islamic State.[/quote]

It is also important to understand that what motivated Canada all those years ago was the Cold War. It was to primarily defend western interests and our own strategic ones. Far from being peacekeepers, we were dedicated Cold War soldiers fighting the Soviets.

Fast-forward to the Munk Debate and it seemed the Cold War still looms over us.

Trudeau was asked how he would handle Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It elicited a nervous titter from the audience and a banal answer.

This obviously was not about foreign policy, but about paying lip service to the large Ukrainian diaspora in the same way as Trudeau said Harper had turned Canada’s support for Israel into a “domestic political football.”

By design or not, the issue of Israel and Palestine was ignored amid the predictable sound and fury on the havoc caused by the Islamic State. Several other topics of deep interest to Canadian voters, new and old, were overlooked.

But as the pundits have unanimously ruled that this debate was the best so far, so be it. The freeze is still on and we like to keep our myths alive.

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Published in Politics
Friday, 05 June 2015 12:55

Akali Dal Seeks Sikh Votes in Canada

India’s oldest regional political party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which rules Punjab, is sending special teams to Canada to woo votes from Sikhs who have left their homeland.

For the first time in its 95-year history, the party will send out a large contingent of senior leaders led by state cabinet ministers to woo the so-called Non-Resident Indians or NRIs to set up a structured organization and create a SAD base outside India.

"I am sending teams of my party in June-end to set up our organization in America, Canada and Europe," SAD president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal told the Times of India. 

"We will start a membership drive in these countries with each member getting a digital identity card."

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Akali Dal operates on the political position of far-right, with a political ideology of Sikhism. In other words, the basic claim of existence of the Shiromani Akali Dal is in catering to the demands of the Sikhs across Punjab and all around the world.[/quote]

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) will initially focus on the diaspora in the U.S., Canada and the EU. It will divide each of these regions into four zones and appoint a president in each zone. In the second phase they will head to Australia and New Zealand.

"We will create an entire organization with vice-presidents, general secretaries, working committee members, unit heads," Sukhbir added. "In October, I want to invite my presidents from around the world."

According to his plan over the next 45 days, three teams will visit various countries one after another. 

They will meet community leaders and also arrange some large gatherings. Each team will be led by a Cabinet minister. The teams will also identify people who are ideologically compatible so that they can be given important positions.

The Akali Dal operates on the political position of far-right, with a political ideology of Sikhism. In other words, the basic claim of existence of the Shiromani Akali Dal is in catering to the demands of the Sikhs across Punjab and all around the world.

Presently, the Akali Dal is in alliance with the BJP and forms a majority in the state, with 56 of its own members and 12 members of the BJP in the Punjab Legislative Assembly. The current Chief Minister of the state is Sukhbir Singh Badal’s father and party patron Prakash Singh Badal. 

The Akali Dal controls the various Sikh religious bodies and is highly revered among Sikhs in the country as well as across the world, for its efforts to safeguard religious, cultural and linguistic minorities. 

Following the Prime Minister's Lead

The move to woo the Sikh vote around the world comes at a time when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set new standards in engagement with NRIs during his various trips abroad, including Canada in the past year.

It also follows fears of heightened Sikh militant activities by supporters of the Khalistan movement, which is seeking an independent homeland of Punjab.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The SAD leadership feels that many Punjabi NRIs are tired of being seen as just moneybags that send dollars back home to keep their family and village happy.[/quote]

In 2011, the Canadian Government estimated there to be at least 800,000 Sikhs living in Canada.

Observers said the SAD has a fairly tough task when seeking to secure the support of Sikhs overseas as many of the opinion makers in the diaspora were hardliners who had fled Punjab during the militancy era.

However, the SAD leadership feels that many Punjabi NRIs are tired of being seen as just moneybags that send dollars back home to keep their family and village happy. They now want the influence they wield over their community to translate into some kind of say in the affairs of Punjab.

"Have you ever noticed that all prime ministers from countries where there are Punjabis come and visit the Golden Temple?" Sukhbir told the Indian media recently. "Because they need votes there, they have to be seen at the Darbar Sahib. They have to be seen with us."

Virtually every Canadian politician makes a beeline for Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Punjab, for photo ops when in India.
Canada’s relationship with India’s central government in New Delhi and the state government of Punjab has been testy.

In August 2013, Sukhbir had cancelled his 10-day visit to Canada after the Canadian government said it would not provide immunity against any civil suit that may be filed against him there. 

Sikh groups in Canada had tried to file a case against him and Punjab police chief Sumedh Singh Saini for "crimes against humanity."

Meanwhile, seeking an independent Sikh country, “Ontario Gurdwaras Committee” (OGC) a Canadian umbrella Sikh organization passed a historic resolution in support of holding a referendum in the state of Punjab in the year 2020.

Since the military invasion of Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, in June 1984 in the operation code named “Blue Star”, Canadian Sikhs have been supporting the movement for creation of “Khalistan”, a sovereign Sikh country. 

The OGC said that on May 3, a gathering of more than 150,000 Canadian Sikhs unanimously passed the Punjab Referendum Resolution during annual Khalsa Day parade in Toronto.

Chanting slogans in favour of Independent Sikh country, participants walked over 11 kilometres from Malton to Sikh Spiritual Centre Toronto carrying placards demanding referendum in the state of Punjab.


Published in Partnership with South Asian Post

 

Published in South Asia

by Peter Sutherland in Toronto

After a hesitant start, Canada has picked up its game and appears committed to play a larger role in Asia, the world’s fastest growing economy and most dynamic region. This is clear from the recent visits by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Philippine President Benigno Aquino.

Although the two countries differ in scale and influence, the visits shared much in common. Both had a strong trade and investment orientation and both played to large, politically active Diasporas.

Narendra Modi’s visit was the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 42 years and was prompted in part by his appreciation for Canada’s early engagement in Gujarat during his tenure as Chief Minister.

It was equally motivated by the prospect of attracting Canadian investment in two priority sectors – infrastructure and manufacturing. Infrastructure is the biggest single bottleneck to faster economic growth, and significant expansion in manufacturing jobs is needed to absorb the 11-12 million young people entering the workforce every year.

The most tangible result of the visit was the signing of a $350 million agreement with Cameco for the long-term supply of uranium. This is the first concrete manifestation of the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement signed in 2013, which removed a major bilateral irritant, and is intended to encourage further collaboration in nuclear and other forms of energy.

Although there was commitment by both Prime Ministers to accelerate finalization of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership (CEPA) and Foreign Investment Protection (FIPPA) agreements, there was no significant movement and the opportunity for a breakthrough was missed.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The foreign leaders see the approximately 1.2 million Indo-Canadians and 800,000 Filipino-Canadians as bridge-builders between the two countries, an important source of remittances, investment and support back home.[/quote]

The Philippine President’s visit was also a long time coming, the last being in 1997 when former President Fidel Ramos visited. The country is one of the top three fastest growing economies in Asia and, like India, Canada has designated it a trade priority.

Although a smaller market than India ($1.8 billion versus $6.3 billion in merchandise trade), the Philippines is a gateway to Southeast Asia and a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) group, which has a collective GDP over $2.3 trillion. It is also chairs the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) this year.

Similar to the Indian Prime Minister, President Aquino was keen to talk up Canadian investment in infrastructure and other sectors of the Philippine economy and had the opportunity to do so in Ottawa, and with a select group of CEOs in Toronto, as did Modi. There was also an unexpected agreement to begin exploratory discussions about a free trade agreement.

The Philippines has recently been designated as a focus country for Canada’s development assistance program and the visit saw the signing of a framework agreement outlining the specifics of this assistance. Canada’s bilateral assistance program in India ended in 2002.

Security was a common theme in both visits. Prominent on the agenda were the growing assertiveness of China in the region and ongoing terrorist threats in South and Southeast Asia. Canada has an annual Security Dialogue in place with India and signed an agreement for cooperation in security and defence with the Philippines in 2012.

Indian, Philippine Diasporas Underutilized Assets

The highlight, and some say the point of both visits was relations with the large Indian and Filipino Diasporas.

The foreign leaders see the approximately 1.2 million Indo-Canadians and 800,000 Filipino-Canadians as bridge-builders between the two countries, an important source of remittances, investment and support back home. With a federal election six months away, the timing of the visits was felicitous for the Harper government.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For companies, finding a Canadian who is familiar with local business practice in these markets and has ready access to a network of reliable contacts on the ground can be a substantial competitive advantage.[/quote]

Apart from the political mileage to be gained by courting the two Diasporas, they are underutilized assets. Not in the sense of influencing an ethnic-oriented foreign policy, which is in nobody’s best interest, but as informed stakeholders who can contribute to the policy debate and sometimes play a back-channel role in its implementation.

For companies, finding a Canadian who is familiar with local business practice in these markets and has ready access to a network of reliable contacts on the ground can be a substantial competitive advantage.

Notwithstanding the agreements reached, documents signed and the photo-ops, the most important result of the two visits was reaffirmation that Canada is ready to play a larger role in Asia.

We have been slower than many to recognize and act on the gravitational shift from west to east. Sustained and active engagement is therefore needed to prove our bona fides and secure a place at the table.


Peter Sutherland is the Senior Business Advisor Asia at Aird & Berlis LLP and former Canadian High Commissioner to India and Ambassador to the Philippines.

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Published in Commentary

by Ted Alcuitas (@Ted_Alcuitas) in Vancouver

After a whirlwind of quick stops that took him first to Chicago and then to Ottawa and Toronto, President Benigno Aquino III ended his first North American visit in Vancouver Saturday.

But the small audiences that came to see him on the west coast marred whatever political mileage his host, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was clearly aiming for.

Even more disconcerting were the dogged persistence of a small, but militant, advocacy group, Migrante Canada, which describes itself as "an active defender of the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino migrants" and in some ways was able to distract attention from Aquino during the Toronto and Vancouver visits.

According to a pamphlet the organization gave out during the protest, Migrante B.C. is deploring the President's visit as a, “ploy to create a fictitious image of the Harper government’s harmonious relationship with our community in Canada, which at this very moment is reeling from the recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program and the overhaul of the former Live-in Caregiver Program.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]To be fair to Aquino, his ‘kababayans’ (countrymen) across Canada were more than eager to meet him – the legacy of his mother and father’s assassination still lingering in their minds.[/quote]

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced the changes to the program last year affecting temporary workers and caregivers under the ‘four in and four out’ rule. A worker must work in Canada for fours years and return to the country of origin for fours years before applying again. Those affected by the rule were deported starting April 1 this year.

Vancouver protesters were actually duped by the visit organizers, as they were under the false impression the event would be held at the Pan Pacific Hotel – just a block away from the Vancouver Convention Centre.

When the protesters arrived at the hotel they had to regroup in front of the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Police told them to move their demonstration to a nearby street but they refused, moving just a few metres from the front of the convention centre.

By this time almost all of the people attending were already inside the building and did not notice the demonstration.

Most of the people who stopped to listen to the speeches of the protesters were tourists who were walking around the Coal Harbour seawall, as two cruise ships were at the dock.

Except for the CBC, all of the mainstream media and local Filipino media were inside covering the reception. It is doubtful if Aquino himself knew about the protest, although a couple of TV camera men with the presidential entourage quickly passed the demonstrators and hurried back inside the centre.

Not the Media Frenzy of Modi

To be fair to Aquino, his ‘kababayans’ (countrymen) across Canada were more than eager to meet him – the legacy of his mother and father’s assassination still lingering in their minds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Attendance was far lower than the 10,000 earlier media reports said the Toronto Consulate was initially aiming for. The crowds did not have the same intensity or the media frenzy that greeted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi before Aquino.[/quote]

The Philippine Inquirer put the crowd at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall at 2,000, while Luisa Marshall of Vancouver’s Simply the Best television show estimated that “about 300 to 400 people” were in the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Attendance was far lower than the 10,000 earlier media reports said the Toronto Consulate was initially aiming for. The crowds did not have the same intensity or the media frenzy that greeted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few weeks before the Philippine leader's arrival.

It was the Philippine Embassy officials’ failure to prepare adequately for a state visit that followed such a ‘celebrity visitor’ (Modi).

Perhaps the Philippine planners were tired and weary after the defeat of their icon Manny Pacquaio at the hands of Floyd Mayweather a week before, which resulted in the confusion.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Harper’s strategists underestimated the political strength of the Winnipeg community, which continues to put Filipinos on the political map.[/quote]

Nonetheless for those who did show up, Aquino tried his best to entertain.

According to The Inquirer, the President began his speech in English, but shifted to Tagalog a couple of sentences after.

Aquino talks in ‘Taglish’ (a combination of English and Tagalog), or in straight Tagalog depending on his audience – the first and only Filipino president to do so. 

The Inquirer reported that in Toronto Aquino apologized to the non-Filipino speakers for the shift, saying that there are nuances in the language that get across concepts better to a Filipino than a foreign language can. 

“He then launched full tilt into a very smooth and polished delivery of a progress report on the Philippine economy, peppered here and there with jokes that brought down the house,” stated Inquirer writer Marisa Roque.

Underestimating Winnipeg

If there were kababayans disappointed about this historic visit, it was the Filipinos in Winnipeg who felt betrayed by their city being skipped in the itinerary.

Harper’s strategists underestimated the political strength of the Winnipeg community, which continues to put Filipinos on the political map.

Winnipeg elected the first Filipino Member of Parliament – Dr. Rey Pagtakhan – who was elected in 1988. Dr. Conrad Santos, the first Filipino member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, was elected in 1981 and served non-consecutive terms up until 2007.

There are now two Filipino members of the legislative assembly – Flor Marcelino and Ted Marcelino – as well as City Councillor Mike Pagtakhan. Several Filipinos are also elected school board trustees.

British Columbia is the only other province to elect a Filipino member of the legislative assembly with Mable Elmore of the New Democratic Party first being elected in 2009.


Ted Alcuitas is former senior editor of the Philippine Asian News Today and currently publisher and editor of philippinecanadiannews.com.

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Published in Commentary
Friday, 08 May 2015 00:33

President Aquino Arrives in Ottawa

by Priya Ramanujam (@sincerelypriya) in Toronto

Just days after Filipinos worldwide suffered the blow of boxer Manny Pacquiao’s loss to American Floyd Mayweather, the Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino landed in North America, first in Chicago yesterday, and then in Ottawa today, for a three day Canadian state visit.

Though the visit didn’t generate quite the media frenzy as last month’s visit from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Aquino was met with a warm, but fairly private, welcome in the nation’s capital.

The visit, which sparked mixed reactions from the Filipino-Canadian community, is aimed at strengthening the relationship between both countries and their respective leaders.

The Philippines is Canada’s third largest source of immigrants from Asia, right after India and China respectively. And while Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver have large Filipino Diasporas, the growing community of 700,000 plus extends as far as up north in the Whitehorse, Yukon and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Canada aims to support the Philippines through a variety of programs and responses. We are good friends and partners, working together to provide humanitarian assistance, development aid, sustainable economic growth, improved investment climate, and more opportunities for underprivileged men and women." - Governor General David Johnston[/quote]

For Aquino, he left his home country making vows that this visit is about establishing closer ties between Canada and the Philippines when it comes to trade and investment, and hopefully increasing tourism to the Asian-Pacific nation.

And while Stephen Harper expressed a similar interest in improving bilateral relations in the weeks leading up to today’s visit, some think both Modi and Aquino’s visits are well-timed attempts to increase support for the Conservatives in the Indo- and Filipino-Canadian communities.

“Canada and the Philippines enjoy a close friendship based on shared democratic values and strong people-to-people ties,” said Harper in an official statement leading up to Aquino’s arrival. “I look forward to meeting with President Aquino to further strengthen the bonds between our two countries, including in the areas of trade, investment, development and security, benefitting the citizens of both nations.”

Aquino’s Stay

It wasn’t all handshakes and trade talk for Aquino today, who met with Governor General Dave Johnston upon arrival.

Following the meeting Aquino took part in a tree planting ceremony – 26 years after his mother, Corazon Aquino, planed a red maple on Rideau Hall, he continued the tradition planting seeds for a red spruce.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The Philippines is an important member of ASEAN, a dynamic and growing region with a GDP of almost $2.5 trillion that offers a wealth of opportunities for Canadian businesses.” - Stewart Beck, President and CEO of Asian Pacific Foundation of Canada[/quote]

"As you know, President Aquino, our two countries have so much in common," said Johnston in his welcoming speech. "Yours is one of the most vibrant and rapidly developing regions in the world, with great opportunities to achieve success and some new challenges to overcome. Canada, in turn, is pleased to support the Philippines’ long-term commitments in areas of security, disaster management, development and humanitarian aid." 

In the evening, a special dinner at Rideau Hall was arranged for President Aquino by Johnston and his wife.

"Canada aims to support the Philippines through a variety of programs and responses," Johnston said at dinner. "We are good friends and partners, working together to provide humanitarian assistance, development aid, sustainable economic growth, improved investment climate, and more opportunities for underprivileged men and women."

Johnston pointed out that the steady growth in commercial ties, with bilateral trade reaching an impressive $1.8 billion in 2014, a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year, adds to already strong "people-to-people ties".

"Your visit goes a long way toward advancing the relationship between Canada and the Philippines. Thank you and the members of your delegation once again for coming. Now, let us raise a glass to the many ties that bind our two countries in friendship."

On tap for Aquino tomorrow is a roundtable in Toronto with prominent members of the Canadian business community hosted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APF Canada), with support from Sun Life Financial and in association with the Canadian ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Business Council. Its purpose is to explore opportunities for trade and investment with the Philippines.

“The Philippines is an important member of ASEAN, a dynamic and growing region with a GDP of almost $2.5 trillion that offers a wealth of opportunities for Canadian businesses,” said Stewart Beck, President and CEO of APF Canada.

On Saturday, Aquino will close out his Canadian visit on the west coast where he is expected to hold a reception at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver.


 

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Published in Top Stories

by Anita Singh (@tjsgroupca) in Toronto

Following Indian Prime Minister Modi’s successful tour of Canada, President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines is due to visit this week.

Modi’s trip was a landmark visit – four decades since the last visit to Canada of a sitting Indian Prime Minister. With a deal on nuclear trade, renewal of bilateral trade relations and promises made on counter-terrorism, this trip can be hailed a massive domestic and international success for Stephen Harper. 

Harper could only hope for the same type of success with President Aquino.

Yet, with visits from these two leaders – who represent countries with high levels of immigration to Canada – an important counter-narrative has also emerged. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]With Prime Minister Modi’s visit, speculation has been rife about the ­“Modi-effect” on Conservative electoral chances in Indo-Canadian populated regions in the country, arguably some of the most heavily contested ridings in Canada.[/quote]

For example, Tim Harper at the Toronto Star has suggested that the “real payoff for Harper might come when Indo-Canadian voters go to the polls in October.” 

Others have wondered if Harper’s overtures may also have an electoral motive with the large diaspora groups settled in Canada from these two countries.

With Prime Minister Modi’s visit, speculation has been rife about the ­“Modi-effect” on Conservative electoral chances in Indo-Canadian populated regions in the country, arguably some of the most heavily contested ridings in Canada.   

Modi’s trip to Canada certainly was diaspora-focused.

Speaking in Toronto, he commanded a 10,000-strong audience of largely Indo-Canadians keen to get a glimpse of India’s new “Rockstar” PM. This event marked the halfway point in a four-day Canadian tour, which included a whirlwind of photo ops at Parliament Hill, Rideau Hall and the Air India Memorial in Toronto.

This was followed by visits to Vancouver and a trip to a Hindu temple and Sikh gurudwara in Surrey, BC – one of the most densely Indo-Canadian populated cities in the country. 

Yet, we should be wary of making tall claims about electoral gains. If Conservatives see electoral gains in these ridings, it won’t be because of Modi or Aquino necessarily. 

More Required to Sway Votes

As shown by Prime Minister Modi’s trip, these visits do not do enough to differentiate Stephen Harper’s foreign policy from other candidates to be an election issue, particularly the Liberals' Justin Trudeau. 

Trudeau’s sit down with Modi also articulated the importance of India for his party, suggesting Canada-India relations would not be damaged by a Liberal victory this fall. 

Similar to Harper’s army of ministers traveling to India in droves, Trudeau’s Liberal party has also made its presence known in India. There is precedent for this – it was, after all, Liberal Prime Ministers Chretien and Martin that led Team Canada delegations to India in the late 1990s.

On the other hand, Tom Mulcair didn’t seem to think Modi’s visit would change his electoral fortunes. He did not take an opportunity to meet with Modi, citing scheduling challenges.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Harper seems to assume that immigrant voters are not particularly complex. He appears to believe that a few photo ops and press conferences with foreign leaders will sway ethnic Canadians to the Conservative party.[/quote]

Meeting with Modi might not be electorally important to Mulcair – two large Indo-Canadian communities in Canada, Brampton East and Surrey North, are already held by NDP MPs, despite the party’s limited stance on Canada-India relations.

Further, Harper seems to assume that immigrant voters are not particularly complex. He appears to believe that a few photo ops and press conferences with foreign leaders will sway ethnic Canadians to the Conservative party. 

However, like all other voters in the country, immigrant communities have complex reasons for how they vote – there is no electoral proof that ridings with large ethnic populations will elect one party over another on the basis of foreign policy. 

MPs from all parties are elected in ridings in Brampton, Mississauga, Scarborough, Abbotsford, Surrey and Richmond – all highly diverse communities across Canada.

Immigrant Vote is Complex Terrain

My research rejects this developing narrative. It has found that Canada’s immigrant communities are driven by all of the same factors as other voters, including quality of social services, investments, health care, education and economic benefits such as tax relief.  

They may vote Conservative because of their social values, NDP for their environmental policies, or Liberal because of their social policies, but explanations should not be isolated to one set of beliefs.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]hese communities are composed of second- and third-generation immigrants, women, linguistic and religious minorities, none of whom necessarily vote for or identify with homeland politics. [/quote] 

In a review of electoral outcomes, my research found that votes are often split between parties in largely ethnic ridings, regardless if opposing candidates are from the same or different immigrant groups. This research is supported by significant scholarship in Canadian Foreign Policy that has acknowledged that foreign policy has little salience in electoral politics. 

Similarly, this narrative does not account for differences and complexities within immigrant communities. It ignores the idea that these communities are composed of second- and third-generation immigrants, women, linguistic and religious minorities, none of whom necessarily vote for or identify with homeland politics. 

Prominent India-watchers in Canada, such as Kasi Rao have noted that the “Indo-Canadian community has made strides in all parties in Canada, federally and provincially and I think the community has now deepened in Canada.” 

Given the religious, ethnic and nationalist divisions within the Indian diaspora, it cannot be assumed that they vote as a unified entity. 

With President Aquino’s visit upon us, expect numerous photo opportunities, important speeches and a number of well-timed handshakes. But if Prime Minister Harper believes that this will have a positive effect on the upcoming election, he may have another thing coming.


Anita Singh is a founding partner of Tahlan, Jorden & Singh Consulting Group and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.

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Published in Commentary

by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17)

The Canadian urge to do better than folks south of the border seems to have rubbed off on the country’s more recent immigrants. Indo-Canadians set out to outdo the reception Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi got at New York’s Madison Square Gardens during his visit to the United States and looks like they came very close to it at the smaller Ricoh Coliseum venue in Toronto this Wednesday.
 
The lavish cultural show put up at the event set the tone for the evening with its unabashed patriotic celebration of India and its diversity. It was India condensed for the initiated and Bollywood live for the rest. The organizers wanted to put up a befitting welcome for their “rock-star” and they did a fairly good job working up the crowd, which had a large group of partisan supporters of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, of which Modi is a leader.  
 
Looking to channel that support for his own party was Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who flew in with his wife Laureen in Modi’s Air India plane from Ottawa.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We extended to Modi a hand of friendship long before others did.” - Stephen Harper[/quote]
 
In the nation's capital the two leaders had finalized a slew of initiatives, including a deal to supply over seven million pounds of uranium concentrate to India over the next five years for nuclear power generation.
 
“Canada and India have a longstanding and mutual interest in expanding our trade relationship, particularly in the area of energy cooperation,” said Harper in an official press statement. “This contract is a clear signal that our countries are open for expanding business partnerships together.”
 
What was also signalled at the Toronto event was the “special relationship” the Conservative Party leadership has forged over the last decade with Modi. “We extended to Modi a hand of friendship long before others did,” said Harper, who was also enthusiastically cheered by the crowd.
 
Canada Ahead of the Pack   
 
True, at a time when Modi was shunned by much of the West over his alleged culpability in the 2002 inter-communal riots in Gujarat state when he was its new chief minister, Canada was among the few countries that did not ignore him.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Canada is that country which had the foresight to partner with Gujarat when I was an unknown man.” - Narendra Modi[/quote]
 
While the fact that Modi was eventually cleared of wrongdoing by India's Supreme Court and the Gujarat High Court, was useful for the rest of the Western world to court him once he became the prime minister in 2014, Canada was way ahead in the race.
 
It established a trade office in Gujarat in 2009 and engaged with a business-friendly chief minister who was transforming his state into one of India’s most prosperous. Bombardier and McCain Foods have invested in the state and Canada is a regular partner in the bi-annual Vibrant Gujarat business convention that has been dubbed as a mini-Davos.
 
“Canada is that country which had the foresight to partner with Gujarat when I was an unknown man,” said Modi, in his impromptu speech in Hindi. “It was not an insignificant decision to take at that time. And Canada has stood by me and Gujarat ever since.”
 
This new-found special relationship between India and Canada, “where over 250,000 Indians became new Canadians under Conservative Party rule,” as Jason Kenney, Canada's Minister of National Defence and Minister for Multiculturalism said was evident throughout the event.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For Modi it was a chance to strengthen his party’s connection with the diaspora and give it a much more elevated role in affairs back home. For Harper it was the assurance of support from “one of the largest, successful diasporas anywhere on earth,” as he himself put it.[/quote]
 
Kenney, ever the astute politician, greeted the crowd in multiple Indian languages and kept his Gujarati greetings of “kemchoo” to the very end for a roaring approval only to be supplanted by the visible fervour when the national anthems of India and Canada were sung. Again, as Kenney said it was a confluence of two of the world’s greatest democracies, comfortable with the idea of unity in diversity and pluralism.
 
Acknowledging the cold relations between the two countries for decades, Modi said his is the first bilateral visit by an Indian PM in 42 years. “We cooperate in space [missions], but bicker on earth,” he quipped.
 
Easing of Travel and Visa Restrictions
 
Modi’s speech touched all the right buttons for the diaspora. It was a report card of the changes being brought about in India by his administration and the speed and transparency with which it is being done. He also announced easing of travel and visa restrictions for the diaspora and Canadians.
 
Modi said he has fulfilled the pledge he had made at his Madison Square Gardens appearance to merge the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) travel papers system for the diaspora.
 
The merged OCI system will be valid life-long and holders will not have to report to the police regularly like before. “I don’t see any reason not to trust you,” said Modi, adding that the new papers will hold good for four generations who can trace their links to India. “Moreover, we have created ‘Madad’ e-portal to smoothen things out for you.” Canadians can also apply for online tourist visas that will now be valid for 10 years.   
 
Modi assured his supporters that their dreams for a better India will soon come true and requested the diaspora to lend their might towards that goal. Echoing a quote of Swami Vivekananda used by Harper in his speech: “Stop not until the goal is not reached.”  
 
But for now, both the leaders seemed to have achieved what they wanted from the event. For Modi it was a chance to strengthen his party’s connection with the diaspora and give it a much more elevated role in affairs back home. For Harper it was the assurance of support from “one of the largest, successful diasporas anywhere on earth,” as he himself put it.
 
The symbolism of wife Laureen draping herself in a saree in Tory party colour was not lost on anyone. “Eighty per cent of the estimated crowd of 10,000 are also Conservative supporters,” said Ram Chockalingm, a financial advisor and Tory worker who was there at the invitation of his party. The event indeed was a confluence of two national parties separated by distance, but not ideology.
 
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Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 13:38

Indian PM's Visit a Boon for Canada

by Douglas Goold

Canada should take full advantage of the visit to Canada by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a political rock star who is arguably the most important Indian leader in a generation.

Modi will be visiting Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver from April 14 to 16 for what is, remarkably, the first bilateral visit of an Indian prime minister since Indira Gandhi's trip in 1973. The 8,000 tickets for an event at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto are expected to be heavily oversubscribed.

The 64-year-old Modi is a complex, charismatic and controversial figure. Last spring, 550 million Indian voters went to the polls in the largest free election in history, and handed him and his BJP party — the longtime opposition party — the country's first majority government in 30 years.

Modi came to prominence as the hugely successful Chief Minister of Gujarat, a state of 63 million northwest of Mumbai on the Arabian Sea and the source of many immigrants to Canada. Modi was widely criticized for the role he played in riots in the state in 2002, which led to the deaths of more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslim. Significantly, the United States and Britain have denied Modi a visa, but Canada did not.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]After a series of weak, scandal-ridden minority governments, Modi appears to be on his way to restoring India's credibility as a dynamic, fast-growing emerging economy.[/quote]

The backdrop for the visit is positive. Since the end of the decades-long bilateral chill over the nuclear issue in 2010 with the conclusion of a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, the relationship between the two countries has been strong, bolstered by an influential diaspora of more than a million, largely split between Toronto and Vancouver.

India is a priority market under Canada's Global Markets Action Plan and can look to Canada for much of what it so desperately needs: food security, energy security, infrastructure, and education and skills development. After a series of weak, scandal-ridden minority governments, Modi appears to be on his way to restoring India's credibility as a dynamic, fast-growing emerging economy.

There is no better way to get things done than through the meeting of top leaders, as shown by the example of Modi and President Barack Obama. Last September, Modi visited New York, where he got a rapturous welcome from 18,000 Indo-Americans at Madison Square Garden, and then met the president in Washington.

The Indian PM then boldly invited Obama to be the first president to be the principal guest at the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi in January 2015. As a result of these back-to-back meetings, India and the U.S. are moving ahead on a whole range of issues, including regional security, defence, nuclear power, smart cities, and even climate change.

Time for Harper to Move Things Forward

What can Prime Minister Stephen Harper hope to gain from Narendra Modi? Canada and India have been negotiating a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) since 2010, and the 2013 deadline has long passed.

This writer was told in January by a senior official in India's Commerce Ministry that two more sessions — on services and on the troublesome issue of temporary visas for professionals — would probably be enough to lead to an agreement.

A CEPA would send a message to Canadian business that India is a market worth taking seriously. With the ninth round of negotiations recently completed, Harper should press for a rapid conclusion. A CEPA would deliver economic benefits and would have symbolic appeal, and send a message to Canadian business that India is a market worth taking seriously.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]India and the U.S. made progress on nuclear co-operation for peaceful purposes, despite the thorny issue of liability, so there is no reason Canada can't do the same.[/quote]

Ottawa should also press India to ratify the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement the two countries signed in 2009.
Canada would gain from further agreement on energy, given that Canada has so much to offer right across the energy spectrum, from smart grid, to oilfield services to clean energy.

India and the U.S. made progress on nuclear co-operation for peaceful purposes, despite the thorny issue of liability, so there is no reason Canada can't do the same.

For the first time in more than 40 years, Canada is poised to host not only an Indian Prime Minister, but one who is favourably disposed toward Canada and famous for making things happen. Canada should take full advantage of this rare and timely opportunity.


 

 

Douglas Goold is a research consultant for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. He recently conducted more than 30 interviews in India and Canada for a study on Canadian companies in India, which will soon be published by the Foundation.

Published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.

Published in Commentary
Friday, 10 April 2015 14:14

Security Ramped Up for Indian PM's Visit

By A Special Correspondent

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks set for a major outreach towards the powerful Sikh community in Canada but that is not going to stop certain groups with strident agendas to stage rallies and protests next week.

The RCMP’s Protective Policing Services is also planning to deploy a high-level security plan akin to those reserved for the president of the United States, the Queen of England or the Pope.

This will include air support, alternative motorcade routes and last minute unannounced changes.

Modi’s Special Protection Group (SPG) and India’s spy agency commonly known as RAW or Research and Analysis Wing have been in Canada working with the Mounties and the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office on security details.

Modi’s itinerary includes visits to Ottawa, Toronto And Vancouver, where he is expected to go to the Ross Street Sikh Gurdwara, a Hindu temple in Surrey and attend a State Banquet hosted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Observers feel the Modi government’s outreach towards the Sikh community in Canada will significantly strengthen the moderates and will also seek to reassure the Sikh community abroad that India will always stand with it to protect its interests.[/quote]

So far, Canadian Sikhs under the banners of Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and Canada unit of Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar (Mann) are reportedly gearing-up to protest against Modi’s upcoming visit to Canada. 

Protests planned

The organizers of proposed protests say that Modi has a track record of severe human rights violation and he is leading a government run by Hindu extremist organizations, which indulge in attacks on religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims.

Before he became Prime Minister of India and as chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi was denied a visa to Canada as a suspected human rights abusers. In 2002, Modi was in power in Gujarat during religious riots in which 1,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims. He was eventually cleared of any wrong doing by the Supreme but his fervent Hindu nationalism had poisoned his foreign relations and several other Western countries shunned him, including the United States.

In a recent update, Sikhs For Justice alleged that “Indian diplomats in Canada led by High Commissioner Vishnu Prakash have embarked upon a fierce campaign of intimidation and coercion against the members of the Sikh community, particularly media, to ensure their silence on the issue of PM Modi's involvement in the 2002 massacre of Muslims in the state of Gujarat.”

The group criticized Indian diplomats in Canada for exceeding their legitimate limits and claimed the activities of the Indian diplomatic officials posted in Canada violate provisions of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961.

“The Indian High Commission in Canada has set up a 'state within a state' and is openly challenging the sovereignty of Canada, violating Canadian and international law and thus defying the autonomy of the host Government,” said Sikhs for Justice.

Tussle within community

Indian media reporting on the upcoming visit said Canada has been witness to a fierce intra-community tussle between the moderate Sikhs, who are soft on India, and the pro-Khalistani hardliners who leave no stone unturned to target India on its human rights record.

In fact, in the decade that followed Operation Bluestar in 1984, when Punjab was wracked by militancy, pro-Khalistan Sikhs in Canada were at the forefront of fund mobilization for the secessionist movement, said the Deccan Herald.

Observers feel the Modi government’s outreach towards the Sikh community in Canada will significantly strengthen the moderates and will also seek to reassure the Sikh community abroad that India will always stand with it to protect its interests. Hate-crimes against Sikhs have increased in the West, and India has taken up the issue strongly with the concerned governments.

The Prime Minister will visit Canada from April 14, on the third and final leg of his forthcoming foreign tour after visiting France and Germany. He is also expected to visit a Hindu temple in Canada, which could be the Laxmi Narayan Temple in Surrey.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The organizers of proposed protests say that Modi has a track record of severe human rights violation and he is leading a government run by Hindu extremist organizations, which indulge in attacks on religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims.[/quote]

Apart from the capital city of Ottawa, the Prime Minister will also travel to Toronto where a New York Madison Square-like event is planned by the Indian diaspora at the Ricoh Coliseum in the city.

The Madison Square event during Modi’s US visit last September had been a huge success and the Indian diaspora in Canada is aiming to make it a bigger event than the one in New York.

Modi’s foreign visit starts on April 9 and he will hold talks with French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian PM Stephen Harper during his eight-day tour, which is part of India’s “Link-West” policy.

Next month, Modi will visit China. He is also likely to visit Mongolia and South Korea after that as part of India’s “Act East” policy. During his China visit, Mr Modi is likely to visit Xian, the hometown of President Xi Jinping.


Republished in partnership with South Asian Post

Published in National
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