Toronto, Jan. 22: “I have very good relations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and I hope to work very closely with him if I am re-elected,” Canada’s Prime Minister Paul Martin told The Telegraph yesterday.
The Canadian government hopes Singh will travel to Ottawa this year to follow up on Martin’s visit to New Delhi a year ago to lift the cloud on Indo-Canadian relations caused by the 1998 nuclear tests and unveil a diverse range of bilateral initiatives.
Since then, Canada and India have signed a science and technology agreement, Ottawa has pledged $6.75 million for research and innovation and agreed to work together at the UN, among other things.
Ujjal Dosanjh, the Indian-origin health minister in Martin’s government who is seeking re-election from British Columbia, says Canada’s global efforts to be “non-aligned” to Washington in the post-Cold War world order will be immensely strengthened if Ottawa and New Delhi work closely together once again like they did in the 1950s and 1960s.
Martin’s commitment to step up bilateral ties with India and his efforts to tap into the sizeable Indo-Canadian vote bank were obvious at one of his last appearances in the poll campaign which ends today.
The Prime Minister stumped yesterday for Indian- origin candidate Ruby Dhalla in the Brampton-Springdale constituency here, surrounded by Sikhs and other Indo-Canadians.
Harinder Thakkar, the transport minister in Ontario province, told this correspondent that Canada’s current interest in India had more to do with how India is refashioning its economy and its image as an emerging global power than with the Indo-Canadian vote bank.
Thakkar, who has made it to the provincial cabinet after his very first election in 2003 to Ontario legislature from a constituency which has only 2,700 voters of Indian origin, comes from Shankar village in Jalandhar district, which was home to the late foreign minister Sardar Swaran Singh.
He says politics runs in the veins of people in his village: At one time the village of Shankar had set a record of sorts when four cabinet ministers in the Punjab government hailed from the village.
One of the curiosities of Canada’s current election is that in a way it is being fought as much in India as here. Unlike in India, Canada’s provincial politicians largely stay out of federal elections, in part as they owe their seats not to any “high command” in Ottawa, but to their local strength.
Yet, in the final days of the current poll campaign, Ontario’s leader of the opposition John Tory was at the Golden Temple in Amritsar instead of mobilising his supporters here to go to the polling booths tomorrow to elect Conservative candidates.
Tory is visiting India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, all of which have large chunks of voters here who could decide which party rules Canada for the next four years because of a closely-fought mid-term election.
From all his locations in the subcontinent, the Conservative leader has been writing a daily travel blog, which is widely distributed here, in addition to giving interviews that are carefully aired by his flock in Ontario.
Similarly, by Indian yardsticks, Quebec’s Premier Jean Charest would have been expected to campaign in the election to parliament, especially since the French-speaking, separatist-leaning province has a swing role in the outcome of federal elections.
But Charest has spent a week until yesterday in India promoting Quebec as a strategic partner for India.