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Canadian PMO in damage control mode, brings Justin Trudeau’s trip back on track

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s original itinerary was decided with the advice of Indo-Canadian cabinet minister Navdeep Bains.

world Updated: Feb 22, 2018 20:15 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,Prime Minister’s Office,Navdeep Bains
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie Grégoire, daughter Ella-Grace Margaret, and sons Xavier James and Hadrien pose for a photograph at Jama Masjid.(PTI)

As the initial phase of the eight-day visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attracted wonder and even ridicule in his country, the Prime Minister’s Office has taken control of the remaining engagements to bring the trip back on track.

The original itinerary was decided with the advice of Indo-Canadian cabinet minister Navdeep Bains, who is Trudeau’s point person for the Indo-Canadian community and relations with India, and implemented by Canada’s high commissioner to New Delhi, Nadir Patel, people familiar with the developments said.

However, they pointed out, the itinerary left just half-a-day for official engagements in New Delhi, and that too on the penultimate day of the visit. In fact, it would have been the final day if the trip had not been extended to February 24.

With the Prime Minister’s Office driving the agenda now, Trudeau was personally responsible for the formulation “one united India”, the term he has used to mollify the Indian government, which has been concerned with his Liberal Party’s pandering to Khalistani elements in Canada.

That phrase could also figure in the joint statement that is expected following Trudeau’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 23.

The messaging also extended to the issue of the 1985 terrorist bombing of an Air India flight that claimed 329 lives, including 268 Canadian citizens. He was asked during a news conference on Wednesday about the practice in some gurdwaras in Canada to have posters glorifying Talwinder Singh Parmar, considered the mastermind of that terror attack.

In response, Trudeau said, “I do not think that we should ever be glorifying mass murderers and I am happy to condemn that.”

This was in sharp contrast to the evasion of the issue by New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh, after he was asked the same question during a televised interview soon after as he was elected to the post last October.

It also led to Trudeau’s amicable meeting with Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and his “categorical assurance” that Canada does not support separatists.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh in Amritsar on February 21, 2018.. ( AFP )

Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland met external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday. Freeland said the “discussion was very constructive and useful”. She was speaking at an event organised by the Observer Research Foundation.

She also said the Canadian government has an “unambiguous” policy of support for a strong and united India.

The Trudeau team has had to scramble for damage control after plenty of criticism from Canada’s opposition over the expansive visit.

The visit has been hit by the perceived snub by the Indian government over the Canadian leader’s soft stance on pro-Khalistan elements in Canada, and then the invitation extended to convicted Khalistani terrorist Jaspal Atwal for an official dinner reception being hosted by the Canadian high commissioner. The invitation was rescinded following reports in the Indian and Canadian media.

One Conservative Party MP sarcastically wished Trudeau and his family “another wonderful vacation”, while the party’s leader Andrew Scheer said in an interview that it was “hard to see what the point, what the objective was on this trip”.

That has ensured the Trudeau team has to deal with the fallout of the “poor scheduling”, as one Indian official described it, on two fronts – in India and domestically.

First Published: Feb 22, 2018 17:17 IST