India is back on the front burner in Canadian politics.
Remember the disastrous Trudeau trip in February of 2018? Well, noted Canadian journalist and commentator John Ivison interviewed Gerald Butts for a new book, ‘Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister,” which will be released in just a couple of days. In his own column, in the National Post, Mr Ivison quotes Mr Butts as saying ““We walked into a buzzsaw — (Narendra) Modi and his government were out to screw us and were throwing tacks under our tires to help Canadian conservatives, who did a good job of embarrassing us … [but, he (Butts) added] … none of that is the core issue …. Nobody would remember any of that had it not been for the photographs. We should have known this better than anybody — in many ways we’d used this to get elected. The picture will overwhelm words. We did the count — we did forty-eight meetings and he was dressed in a suit for forty-five of them. But give people that picture and it’s the only one they’ll remember.”“
In the influential Hindustan Times, Toronto based journalist Anirudh Bhattacharya writes, quoting the same bit of text, that “in an astonishing attack that will not help heal fraught ties between India and Canada, the former top advisor to the North American nation’s Prime Minister has accused the Indian Government of sabotaging Justin Trudeau’s visit to India in February 2018 to favour his political opponents … [and] … This scathing statement is in the forthcoming book, Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister, written by senior Canadian journalist John Ivison. The author [Ivison] confirmed to the Hindustan Times that Butts’ comment came during an interview.” The article adds that “Indian diplomats didn’t comment on the matter because it is so politically charged and the Canadian Government has yet to respond to questions from HT on its stand on the incendiary remark from Butts.“
So, while some pundits forecast that the return of Gerald Butts would reignite the whole SNC-Lavalin/JanePhilpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould scandal, it appears that the damage will be deeper and we will get a chance to revisit the disaster that Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland visited upon Canadian foreign policy in 2018. India is a rising great power; it helps to contain China in new ‘Western Approaches:’ the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. India is a growing trading power; it is a HUGE potential market for Canadian goods and services. India is one of the top three providers of new Canadians ~ and that’s where our problems with India originated. Someone in the Trudeau PMO thought (since thinking was the problem that probably lets Justin Trudeau off the hook) that it would be a good idea for Prime Minister Trudeau to attend a Khalsa Day parade in Toronto back in April 2017. I explained, back at the time of the India trip fiasco, why that was a mistake and how Jason Kenney had already set the example of doing it right. Now Khalsa Day, also known as Vaisakhi, is an important festival for Sikhs, it marks their New Year. But the festivities, especially in Toronto where 300,000 Sikhs live, are, sometimes, taken over or interrupted by Sikh separatists who advocate violent revolution in India. Jason Kenney saw that in 2012 and he stormed off a stage and berated his hosts, in public for trying to use him to undermine Canadian foreign policy, which valued, as it should, good relations with India. But, in 2017 all the Trudeau PMO (headed by Gerald Butts and Katie Telford) could see were all those Sikh voters. Neither the PMO team nor new Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland was able to prevent Trudeau from being used as a photo-op prop by avowed Sikh separatists … there is no indication that anyone tried although, even though, given the bureaucracy’s corporate memory of events in 2012, I would be amazed in alarms were not sounded.
Let me be clear, not all Sikhs are separatists, but some are; not all Québec nationalists are separatists, either, but some are, and the leaders of nations that are friendly towards Canada stay well clear of events that might be seen to condone or even encourage Québec separatism; that’s called good diplomacy. Caution should have been the order of the day in 2017. It wasn’t. Jason Kenney should have been the example the Trudeau PMO followed. India was, predictably, upset by the appearance that the Trudeau Liberals were sympathetic towards the Khalistan separatist movement, that all four of Trudeau’s Sikh-Canadian ministers are thought, by some, to be closet separatists and that the Trudeau Liberals were playing fast and loose with India’s vital national unity and internal security interests for purely domestic, Canadian, partisan political reasons. Whether that is or was true or not is irrelevant: India believed that some of it was and still is true and it is inconceivable that India did not make its views known to very senior Canadian officials.
Somehow Gerald Butts, Chrystia Freeland, Katie Telford and Justin Trudeau managed to put our long-standing, going all the way back to St Laurent and Nehru in the 1940s, friendly relations with India into the toilet. That goes beyond making poor policy choices, it is stupidity at the very top, all over the very top, in the PMO and in the cabinet.
I’m not suggesting that Canadian political leaders will or even should stop courting the “ethnic vote.” Even if I think that’s a good idea, I know it’s not going to happen. But it has to be done with just a modicum of common sense … that’s what seems to be totally lacking in the Trudeau regime. And now, with the return of Gerald Butts, I’m afraid there will be less. As they say on social media: #TrudeauMustGo.