Too often, the relationship between Canada and India has been about our past. It’s become about how, through the years, we have failed to connect with each other. Some stories, like the Komagata Maru or Air India, are profound tragedies that we must never forget.
I firmly believe that the key to a secure future for both of our countries lies in unleashing the full potential of what we can build together. We are free, market democracies. We are separated by oceans but bound by the ties of family and history. That shared history may be what makes us Commonwealth cousins, but our fierce commitment to a democratic and prosperous future should be what makes us partners.
Canada needs an economic future that reduces our dependence on China’s industry and marketplace. We can only accomplish that by deepening ties with the world’s largest democracy, India.
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From 2005-2015, under the Conservative government, Canadian exports to India grew by nearly 300 per cent, or 30 per cent per year. Our imports from India grew as well, by 120 per cent over that same period, or about 12 per cent per year. Under the Trudeau Liberals, however, the growth in our trade with India has stagnated. From 2015-2019, our export growth has fallen from 30 per cent to just three per cent per year. That doesn’t even keep pace with India’s inflation.
Tremendous opportunity awaits Canada in the Indo-Pacific, but Trudeau has failed to nurture those relationships, grow those trade partnerships, and enhance our security alliances. This missed opportunity requires an urgent course correction. India has already demonstrated its strategic bench strength in pharmaceuticals. Unlike Canada, India has invested deeply in expanding its domestic manufacturing of vaccines and medical supplies. In a world gripped by vaccine nationalism, India has been a beacon of hope for countries like ours who need to import vaccines and medical supplies.
And while India has expressed generosity in its willingness to work with Canada on the distribution of vaccines, one must wonder if we would have been better positioned with India had our government been nurturing that vital trade relationship from the onset of the pandemic.
Let us remember that Indians and Canadians fought alongside each other in the First and Second world wars. Our fallen are buried together in Commonwealth cemeteries across Europe. We can bring those long-standing military ties into the 21st century and expand our security efforts within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). Yet, to date, Canada has not been involved in the talks. The alliance includes India, Japan, Australia and the United States. Canada should be at that table renewing relationships with our democratic allies, and being a serious voice on the world stage again.
We need to kickstart the relationship. India is Canada’s tenth largest trading partner, but it has the potential to become our second. India’s economic transformation is underway, and it is one that should not only be applauded but supported.
Our current priorities for cooperation include supporting Indian energy security ambitions through increased exports of conventional and nuclear energy, as well as clean and renewable energy technology. I would propose a long-term strategic energy partnership to build off that.
Extensive Canadian experience in designing and engineering infrastructure should be harnessed to help India meet substantial urban and transportation infrastructure needs. And we could increase our exports of food products and fertilizers to support India’s food security goals by leveraging the innovation of Canadian farmers to establish a world-class agriculture partnership.
We could be launching bold initiatives across technology, medicine, energy and infrastructure to strengthen security and scale innovation, generating jobs, investment and strategic partnerships. Our students and university research initiatives can drive the future of this relationship.
With the Indo-Pacific as the centre of gravity for global growth, there are many mutually beneficial opportunities for our two governments to better enable businesses to develop new markets, find new investment opportunities, and create jobs for both Indians and Canadians.
But we can’t do any of that with a relationship on the backburner. While democracies in Australia, India, Japan, and the United States are forging alliances in the Indo-Pacific region to counter Beijing’s influence, Justin Trudeau is out of step with our allies.
Historic accomplishments were achieved by Canada’s previous Conservative government in our relations with India. These will be a foundation upon which we can rebuild strong ties. The Republic of India is a great democracy, and an emerging power. Now is the time to find ways to partner for the betterment of our citizens and the world.
Erin O’Toole is the Leader of the Opposition and Canada’s Conservatives.