NEW DELHI, India—Ontario is open for business.
That was the key message in the capital Monday as the province formally launched one of the largest trade missions in its history.
But amid the usual sunny platitudes about the cozy relations between Ontario — home to 700,000 people of Indian descent — and this booming nation of almost 1.3 billion, provincial officials candidly admitted Queen’s Park had dropped the proverbial cricket ball in recent years.
“The last time Ontario had a delegation to india was 2009 — that’s almost seven years past. to me, this is unacceptable,” Ontario Immigration and International Trade Minister Michael Chan told about 200 Indians and Canadians gathered for the start of the mission.
“This is a good start . . . we need to restart the engine,” said Chan.
“We can and we must do better,” agreed Economic Development, Trade, and Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid, lamenting that two-way trade between the province and India is less than $2 billion a year.
“We’re not where we need to be,” added Duguid, who along with his ministerial counterparts will be meeting with representatives from Indian companies to encourage them to invest in Ontario while also helping Canadian firms expand operations here.
Premier Kathleen Wynne conceded that “we have to be a bit patient” to allow corporate and academic relations to flourish.
“This whole exercise is about connecting people. It’s about opening doors and helping them walk through them so they can find those partnerships,” said Wynne, as the first of dozens of memorandums of understanding were signed between Indian authorities and Ontario universities and colleges. In total, $98 million of agreements were signed.
“Some of the agreements that we’re signing today will have immediate impact, immediate job creation; some of the agreements we’re signing will have an impact down the road,” the premier said.
“You cannot underestimate the importance of being patient and understanding that there will be more to come from these relationships.”
That’s music to the ears of Manish Sisodia, the powerful deputy chief minister of the national capital territory of Delhi, which has a population of more than 16.3 million.
“Canada has what India needs and India has what Canada needs,” said Sisodia, stressing the Ontario mission “is an opportunity for all of us to work together.”
Senior Delhi government official Kambhampati Rama Mohana Rao said India is striving to make it easier to do business here by cutting its notorious bureaucratic red tape and boosting relations abroad.
“I’m happy to welcome the first woman premier of Ontario . . . we’re all welcoming you,” Mohana Rao told Wynne.
“You must visit frequently. Our economy is growing. Please come and invest and be happy,” he said, pointing out India is the fastest-growing economy in the world with a torrid 7 per cent annual growth rate.
Kasi Rao, vice-president and director or the Toronto office of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, said Wynne’s visit — along with one planned by Toronto Mayor John Tory and possibly Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — underscores that 2017 could be a banner year for Canada-India relations.
Rao said last spring’s landmark agreement between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper to supply uranium from Canada for India’s Candu nuclear reactors triggered a new era of co-operation.
“The Canada-India relationship is at a very exciting juncture. The Canada-India civilian nuclear co-operation agreement was a major a moment in the breakthrough in the relationship,” he said.
“The first shipment (of uranium) arrived in December of last year from Canada to India and the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Canada last year . . . was the first bilateral visit in over four decades,” said Rao.
“Premier Wynne met Prime Minister Modi in Toronto and they’re meeting here, so this sets off contact that we’re having at the highest levels of government. It could be a very special year in the Canada-India relationship.”
Trudeau assumed office in November last year and had made waves by including four Sikh-Canadians in his Cabinet.