Canada’s local leaders help drive ties with India

The engagement between India and Canada has been kept robust by a series of visits by local leaders, who have added fresh layers that allowed the relationship to sidestep changes in government in both nations.

While the focus has been on high-profile contacts such as the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, visits by premiers of Canadian provinces and mayors of key cities too have played a key role.

The latest in the line of local leaders to go to India will be the mayor of Canada’s capital Ottawa, Jim Watson. He will arrive in New Delhi on Sunday to kick off a five-day visit that will also cover Mumbai and Bengaluru.

While Watson has led two similar Team Ottawa Missions to Beijing, this will be his first India-focused delegation.

“The purpose is to sign agreements that we have in place but, in addition to that, to really plant the Ottawa flag in India which is a new market for us. It shouldn’t be, but it is,” he said in an interview.

The focus will be on three broad areas: technology, especially clean energy, tourism, and education. Nearly 30 business leaders and officials of agencies such as Invest Ottawa and Ottawa Tourism will accompany Watson.

He hopes to sign MoUs and contracts while in India, describing it as a “win-win” partnership.

Over the past 18 months, premiers of the provinces of British Columbia (BC), Saskatchewan, Ontario and Prince Edward Island have travelled to India. This year, BC’s premier Christy Clark is expected to make another trip, while the mayor of Toronto and the premier of Quebec too are planning visits.

India’s high commissioner Vishnu Prakash said, “One thing we’re very pleased about is the relationship is quite bipartisan on both sides. I do see a consensus across the spectrum. Visibility is important and high-level visits are welcome on both sides.”

Watson added, “If you think back 40 or 50 years, it was really only the federal government that would be engaged in these kinds of foreign relationships. Over the years, more and more provinces have established offices.

“Subsequently, we have also seen many more municipalities and mayors engaged in these kinds of delegations because cities are the economic engine of the country.”

While Ottawa is in Ontario province, Watson said he wasn’t part of premier Kathleen Wynne’s visit in February this year (which included two other mayors) for fear of his city being “overshadowed”. He felt “it would make sense to do something on our own”.

These new layers in the bilateral relationship should keep the business of regional and urban heads of government taking their sales pitch to India booming.


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