February 20, 2018 5:21 pm
Updated: February 20, 2018 6:36 pm

Reality check: Is Trudeau’s India trip more photo opportunity than business venture?

ABOVE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is navigating some complicated ground on his official visit to India.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is continuing his seven-day trip to India with his family after a visit to the famed Taj Mahal, exploring an elephant sanctuary and meeting with business leaders.

The state visit is being billed as a chance to make business connections and expand trade, but some officials are criticizing the prime minister for wasting taxpayer money on the trip and taking a lot of time for “photo opportunities.”

READ MORE: As Canada looks to Indian trade opportunities, Trudeau denies being given cold shoulder

“We usually don’t criticize a government’s foreign trip. But this one seems like there is an issue, as there aren’t a lot of diplomatic meetings compared of the length of the trip,” said Aaron Wudrick, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Association.

“Usually [prime minister] visits are full of meetings with heads of states. But Trudeau hasn’t even met the [Indian] prime minister yet and he’s been there for half a week,”  Wudrick said.

WATCH: Trudeau family welcomed to Agra with traditional Indian dance

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On Tuesday, Trudeau sat down with six of India’s most influential business tycoons, making deals which he says will create more than 5,000 new jobs in Canada.

Kumar Birla, chairman of the Indian conglomerate Aditya Birla Group and, according to Forbes, the country’s eighth-wealthiest person, told Trudeau he finds both the federal and provincial governments in Canada to be very friendly for business.

“We are very happy investors,” he said at the start of his meeting with Trudeau. “I think just the ease of doing business, the business friendliness of the Canadian government across the country I think is something that is a true delight for an investor. Someone who’s tasted that will always want to come back for more.”

However, Wudrick said the investments could have happened without a face-to-face meeting.

READ MORE: India companies to invest millions into Canada, creating 5,800 jobs: Justin Trudeau

“People who run multi-billion dollar companies are not only going to make investments because they meet with the prime minister. That is a photo op,” he added.

Wudrick said it’s not a “big deal” that Trudeau brought his family on the India trip, as many past prime ministers, such as Stephen Harper, have done the same.

“But when the only thing people see is family pictures, … that is a problem for his image,” Wudrick said. “This is a symbol of concern for regular Canadians who say, ‘I pay my taxes and am struggling and the first thing in the morning I see is the prime minister his family in front of Taj Mahal.'”

WATCH: Trudeau family arrives in India for week-long visit

Wudrick recommended the Canadian government convey to the public that they are getting “good value” out of these trips, instead of making it seem like it’s about the photo opportunities.

Goldy Hyder of global public relations consulting company Hill & Knowlton Strategies said the trip is more about setting a good foundation for future relations between the two companies.

“I think the prime minister has done an effective job of setting the foundation, if you will for the future, but let’s be clear, this is not a trade mission,” he told reporters at the event in Mumbai.

“What it is about is what the prime minister stressed, building people-to-people relationships and building relationships will go a long way in the long run.”

Trudeau is scheduled to be in India until Feb. 23, with stops planned in Agra, Amritsar, Mumbai and New Delhi. He is expected to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.

READ MORE: Trudeau, Sajjan ask to meet with Indian politician who criticized Canadian government

Former prime minister Stephen Harper was in India twice, in 2009 and 2012. In 2012, Harper spent six days visiting Agra, Bangalore, Chandigarh and New Delhi to boost trade between the two nations and was accompanied by his wife.

He also visited many Indian sites, such as the Taj Mahal, the Keshgarh Shahib gurdwara, a Sikh temple in the city of Anandpur and the Sikh heritage centre designed by Canadian architect Moshe Safdie.

READ MORE: Harper’s motorcade in India includes two Canadian armoured vehicles

Harper came under fire after his 2012 trip for the RCMP’s decision to ship Canadian armoured cars from Canada to India. In 2009, Harper travelled in vehicles provided by the government of India but, in 2012, the RCMP decided he would be safer in Canadian vehicles and spent over $1 million to ship Canadian armoured cars to India.

Not counting the cost of the armoured cars, Harper’s 2012 trip to India cost $1.3 million but that trip also included stops in Manila and Hong Kong.

The cost of Trudeau’s trip hasn’t yet been released.

*with files from the Canadian Press 

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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