Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer landed a one-on-one with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the second day of a business trip to India on Tuesday, a much quicker meeting than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received during a controversial trade visit in February.
It was only near the end of Mr. Trudeau’s six-day trip to India that Mr. Modi set time aside for his Canadian counterpart, a trip that garnered international criticism on everything from the Trudeau family’s lavish outfits to the scarcity of official meetings, as well as the revelation that an alleged Sikh extremist was rubbing shoulders with Liberal cabinet ministers.
Mr. Scheer, who said he will only wear business attire during his trip, met Mr. Modi at the Prime Minister’s official residence for more than 40 minutes to talk trade, including the proposed new trade deal with the United States and Mexico. Mr. Scheer promised to make it easier to ship oil and gas to India if he is elected prime minister in next fall’s general election.
"We talked about increased trade ties behind our two countries,” Mr. Scheer said in a telephone interview from New Delhi. “I expressed my desire to solve the regulatory issues in Canada, to remove those roadblocks in Canada, to get major pipelines so that Canada can supply India with its energy needs .... of course, India is a huge importer of oil and gas.”
Mr. Scheer said while he opposes a free-trade pact with Beijing, he expressed concern to Mr. Modi about the loss of Canadian sovereignty in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that gives the United States or Mexico a veto over free trade with non-market economies such as China.
"[Indian officials] were asking for our perspective on it … trying to understand what it might mean to Canada, to how a Conservative government might handle it,” he said. "I don’t believe the time is right for a full free-trade agreement with China .... but there are a few components in the USMCA deal where Canada has granted oversight to the U.S. and … what did Canada gain from that?”
Mr. Scheer described his talks with Mr. Modi as well as meetings on Monday with India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and the Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri as “very personal conversations."
The Opposition Leader said Sikh extremism did come up in a couple of conversations but he did not say who raised the issue.
Nor would Mr. Scheer discuss whether the Indians expressed criticism about how the Trudeau government handled the invitation of one-time Sikh extremist, Jaspal Atwal, to two official events during the Prime Minister’s tour of India. Mr. Atwal was convicted of attempting to murder an Indian cabinet minister in British Columbia in 1986, and was charged but never convicted in the 1985 brutal beating of Ujjal Dosanjh, an opponent of the Sikh separatist movement who went on to serve as NDP Premier of B.C. as well as a federal Liberal cabinet minister.
In India, Mr. Trudeau blamed Liberal MP Randeep Sarai – one of 14 MPs on the trip to India – for inviting Mr. Atwal to a reception at the Canadian high commissioner’s residence. Mr. Atwal had also attended another event where he was photographed with Mr. Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, and several Liberal cabinet ministers and MPs.
Back in Canada, a senior government official – later identified by the opposition parties in the House of Commons as Mr. Trudeau’s then-national security adviser Daniel Jean – suggested that factions within the Indian government may have been behind the presence of a convicted would-be assassin.
The Indian government responded, at the time, that such an accusation was baseless and unacceptable.