The Government of Canada flew Vancouver celebrity chef Vikram Vij to India at taxpayer expense so that he could cook for a series of events that would be attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other ministers.
And a communications strategist with a major consulting firm called it a “small, small investment” to stir trade activity.
Vij, the co-founder of Vancouver’s popular Vij’s restaurant, was flown to India as Trudeau conducted a weeklong trip in the country in an effort to foster business connections and grow trade.
Coverage of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to India on Globalnews.ca:
Vij was thanked for dinner at a meeting between the Canadian High Commissioner and a delegation to India that also included Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.
Kamal Khera, parliamentary secretary for national revenue, tweeted about that meeting on Monday.
Vij also cooked for a reception hosted by the Canadian High Commissioner on Thursday.
“The Feb. 22 reception at the reception of Canada’s High Commissioner is a prime opportunity to showcase Canada to India’s economic, political, cultural, academic and communities leadership,” said a statement from Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Elizabeth Reid.
“Where appropriate, it is accepted practice for Canadian missions to invite chefs from Canada to showcase Canadian food products and cuisine.”
Vij offered a week of his time to help with the menu and food preparation for the reception, she added.
Global Affairs Canada covered his airfare and accommodation, Reid said. She did not disclose how much his trip cost taxpayers.
“Mr. Vij’s involvement will contribute to make the event a memorable celebration of the Canada-India friendship,” her statement said.
Goldy Hyder, a communications strategist and CEO of Hill and Knowlton Strategies, said it was a “wise investment” to bring Vij to India during Trudeau’s trip.
“I think it’s an opportunity for us to showcase our food, showcase our agricultural industry which is in great demand here in India,” he said.
“It’s a small, small investment to bring a world class chef that Vikram Vij is. He’s donating his time, he’s showcasing his menu, and I think it’s an opportunity to showcase the talent that we have.”
Carleton University economics professor Vivek Dehejia took another view.
“It may be a ‘small investment,’ but it’s also about the poor optics,” he told Global News via email.
“At a time when belts are being tightened back home, when we have classrooms bursting at the rafters at Carleton because of shrinking funding, is someone going to tell me with a straight face that my tax dollars were needed to fly a Vancouver chef to India to cook fusion Indian food for Indian and Canadian guests?”
Vij cooked for an event that was mired in controversy after Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted of attempted murder in the shooting of an Indian politician in B.C. in 1986, was invited to attend.
Surrey Centre Liberal MP Randeep Sarai admitted to facilitating the invitation. He said he should have exercised “better judgment” and apologized “without reservation for my role in this situation.”
Trudeau said Sarai “has and will” take responsibility for the invitation, but he won’t be removed from the party caucus.
- With files from Abigail Bimman and Katie Dangerfield