When Justin Trudeau stepped out the door of his plane Saturday to greet the people of India, the picture said it all.
Trudeau, his wife and three children, all folded their hands. Trudeau had his head up as he waved, while his family had their heads bowed.
Was this a state visit? Or was it just another acting job?
And better questions: Was this a business trip? Or was this another family vacation?
It looked like the latter in both cases.
Trudeau, with his wife and three children, are all in India while their country at home gets ready to pay another bill for a Trudeau family trip.
Meanwhile, media outlets have been reporting Canada’s History Magazine (formerly called The Beaver) has named Trudeau the Worst Canadian in History.
“When we asked our readers to weigh in with their choice for the Worst Canadian in history, we didn’t expect Trudeau to top the list,” the magazine said on its website.
“But top it he did, beating out an obscure punk rocker by a couple hundred votes — a result that perhaps speaks as much about the perils of online polling as it does about the love-hate relationship Canadians have had with this paradoxical prime minister, who could wear a flower in his lapel while giving critics the finger.”
The seven-day Indian state visit is a mix of business meetings, round tables on education, women’s rights and human rights, tours of popular Indian sites and a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi later in the week, The Toronto Star reports.
“Wheels up for India and a busy visit, focused on creating good jobs and strengthening the deep connection between the people of our two countries,” Trudeau posted on his official Twitter account, along with a photo of the family boarding the plane in Ottawa.
The Trudeaus were greeted in Delhi by Nadir Patel, Canada’s high commissioner in India, his wife, Jennifer Graham, and their two-year-old daughter, Nylah.
Vikas Swaraup, the Indian high commissioner to Canada was also on the red carpet for the arrival, live tweeting shots waiting for the plane to land and once it was on the ground, saying that “a long wait is finally over.”
But a long wait for what? Are we talking another free-trade deal here?
The Star noted Indian Minister of State for agriculture Gajendra Singh Shekhawat was the first to shake hands with the Trudeau family.
Shekhawat’s presence is notable, The Star said, because among the concerns Trudeau is being asked to raise with the Indian government on this visit is recent Indian import taxes applied to chickpeas and other pulse crops.
A duty of 30 per cent was applied to chickpeas and lentils just before Christmas and was raised to 40 per cent on Feb. 6, with the Indian government citing falling international market prices for the crops, abundant production elsewhere and a negative impact on Indian producers and domestic Indian prices of cheap imports.
A 50 per cent import duty was applied to yellow peas in November.
Conservative International Trade Critic Dean Allison was critical of Trudeau Friday for not including Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay on this trip to try and address the import duties.
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi all travelled with Trudeau to India. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will meet him in the country. That looks expensive.
But trade between India and China has more than doubled to $8.4 billion in the last decade. India is also the second largest source of immigrants to Canada and is a significant source of international students enrolling in Canadian universities.
There’s little doubt the market in India is an important market to tap. But how far can Canada go?
Kasi Rao, a contributor to The Globe and Mail, wrote in a column last November: “It’s a fitting and significant time to recognize the growing partnerships between Canada and India, as Canadian officials navigate through tricky, turbulent and shifting global trade relationships. We are at a moment in time in the Canada-India relationship: A strategic window has emerged and we should capitalize on it.
“There’s a lot at stake as we renegotiate NAFTA with an increasingly protectionist United States, tread carefully in Europe as Brexit negotiations unfold and seek to diversify and expand new markets, particularly in Asia” Rao went on.
“This just underscores why it’s an opportune moment for Canada and India to do more. For several years, Canada and India have been negotiating two important agreements that would make trade easier – a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA).”
So, it appears there’s little question there could be some important business for Trudeau to conduct while he’s in India. But did he need to bring his wife and three children with him?
You can bet the Canadian taxpayers will be paying the whole shot. Do other Canadian businessmen take their families with them on their international business trips and bill their bosses for the entire family?
So is this a vacation or a business trip?
We’ll find out when Trudeau makes one of his rare appearances in the
House of Commons when he returns. The opposition is sure to ask him about his achievements on this trip.
That is, if there are any.
Jeff Wilkinson is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.