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Obhrai wants free trade pact

Indo-Canadian MP Deepak Obhrai vows to push for a India-Canada free trade agreement.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2006 11:04 IST

Indo-Canadian MP Deepak Obhrai, newly named parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, has said he will push for a free trade agreement between India and Canada.

As parliamentary secretary for Asia-Pacific and Africa, which would include India, Obhrai said he would carry on pushing the agenda he had espoused when in the opposition. He will work with Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Mackay.

"(I will) call for a Free Trade Agreement with India; now that I am on the government side, I will be able to influence that decision. I was the original guy who set up the Canada-India Parliamentary Friendship Group in 2002. So I will now be strengthening that body so that we have far greater ties in the Indian parliament.

"And in general I will be working with Peter Mackay, my personal friend, to deal with Asia and Africa and we see India as one of our key partners," said Obhrai, a Conservative from Calgary in Alberta province.

"This is a powerful ministerial position due to the fact that the government has been reduced and the ministers for state have been eliminated," said Obhrai who was appointed Tuesday following a party caucus meeting.

"So parliamentary secretaries take a very important role now. Before that, under the Liberals, parliamentary secretary was the third level. This is now directly working with the minister," said Obhrai.

No Indo-Canadian MPs found place in the cabinet of the Conservative minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper that was sworn in Monday. But on Tuesday, Harper made amends and named Obhrai to a second-tier position.

He also named Rahim Jaffer, of Edmonton in Alberta province, as the National Caucus chair of the Conservative Party.

"I am very pleased to name Rahim Jaffer as national caucus chair. He will be an enthusiastic and able member of our team," said Harper. "The position of caucus chair is an important one and I am satisfied that I have made a good choice."

Jaffer will apprise the prime minister on matters pertaining to the party and the government and bringing and channelling information and guidance from the rank and file and vice versa.

In anointing Obhrai and Jaffer, Harper is meeting some of the criticism levelled against his smaller cabinet of ministers among whom hardly any minorities and not enough women were included.

Both Jaffer and Obhrai have been in the opposition since being elected to parliament in 1997. They were re-elected in the Jan 23 general election called when former Liberal Party minority government of Paul Martin suffered a defeat.

The Conservatives are heading a minority government, which will have to build alliances with other parties such as the Bloc Quebecois, the New Democratic Party and some Liberals who might move out of the party to join ranks with Harper.

Harper also made some changes in the top ranks of the civil service. He named Munir Sheikh, of Pakistani origin, as deputy minister of labour and associate deputy minister of human resources and social development.

Ontario, where a large number of Indo-Canadians live, sent back mostly Liberals to parliament as did parts of British Columbia such as Vancouver, where Liberal MP and former health minister Ujjal Dosanjh was re-elected to be in the opposition.