CANADA-INDIA: Herb Dhaliwal’s letter to Indian PM claims opportunity awaits in closer ties

Former MP Herb Dhaliwal was once minister in charge of nuclear energy. Les Bazso/PNG

HERB DHALIWAL
SPECIAL TO POSTMEDIA NEWS

My Dear Friend, Prime Minister:

I am delighted to know of your talks this week with Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, as you host him in Delhi for an official visit designed to both signify and reinforce greater ties between India and Canada. Your signing joint agreements pivoted on energy would be very timely.

I am, of course, reminded of the welcome, official as well as personal, connection that you and I forged over the years which presaged the current developments. It started while you were finance minister when I recall the steady, but admittedly slow, steps we attempted while I was in the Canadian Cabinet — flowing especially from the 1996 Team Canada mission headed by our then prime minister Jean Chretien. As is true in present circumstances, it sought to advance the India-Canada connection at an unprecedented level, and thereby to facilitate greater economic gains mutually, mostly through trade.

There is much to reap, from what I understand, this bilateral meeting looks to be marking — including a genuinely historic turning point in India’s often-contentious relationship with Canada regarding nuclear matters especially (which commenced in 1963 when India purchased its first CANDU reactor). This current development, heralding what is a huge opportunity for both sides, is overdue.

As a former minister responsible for nuclear energy, I foresee that your overcoming the sticking point over nuclear safety measures will provide increased inventory for nuclear power to boost the fulfilment of India’s insatiable energy demands. Having a nuclear safety agreement between Canada and India is a no-brainer. Both countries, and the global nuclear community overall, can benefit considerably from the extensive shared knowledge and experience both India and Canada have in CANDU technology.

A broader nuclear agreement is sure to kickstart a flourishing, unparalleled link with Canada’s abundance in uranium and world-leading nuclear technology capability. Centred upon deliveries of a uranium supply that I know many Canadian specialist corporations are poised to provide India, your improving the conditions for trade with these providers according to verifiably peaceful purposes can make a valuable difference to the fuelling of India’s underutilized existing nuclear power facilities.

Consider me to be among the many Canadians, of Indian origin and otherwise, who have high hopes that this economic summit between you and your Canadian counterpart will be more than a photo-op.

Canada can be counted upon as a reliable energy source, not only for nuclear fuel to meet your growing needs.

Potentially, the importation of oil in addition to natural gas bountifully available from Western Canada can be a part of the solution, as India advisedly seeks to pin down substantial, and secure, other energy supplies. This is the only way you can overcome the looming energy deficiencies which threaten your country’s future prosperity, at the risk of fomenting social unrest among your populace.

India also can, and should, look to Canada for our globally-recognized excellence in natural gas exploration, development and infrastructure. Furthermore, another related area of contemporary energy advancement in which Canada is on the leading edge, “shale gas,” could contribute toward India’s reducing your energy shortage.

Sir, in all honesty, to date the biggest impediment to the kind of success that Canada-India business cooperation is capable of achieving has been the heavy hand of bureaucracy and, in particular, the lack of transparency. Until and unless your government takes concrete, lasting action to overhaul India’s Byzantine bureaucratic culture, and thus to reverse its characteristic inertia, very little will change. The ardour of Canadians to invest and to partner will recede, and the results of many worthwhile initiatives for which expectations are now high will be depleted. I have heard many well-intentioned Canadian entrepreneurs/investors express frustration at dealing with officialdom in India. They abandon their plans when stultified by an operating environment which openly sustains bribery as a cost of transacting commerce.

So many of the efforts in which I participated with you did fall short of the targets which we aimed to reach by this juncture. Regrettably, most of those barriers indigenous to India still remain today. They therefore need to be seriously and comprehensively addressed in the short term. Thereby, the strides you and Prime Minister Harper are attempting to take now will have a better chance of gaining lasting traction, for the exploitation of what undoubtedly are tremendous existing possibilities — particularly in the energy sector.

With sincere regards,

Herb Dhaliwal

Herb Dhaliwal was the Member of Parliament for Vancouver South-Burnaby from 1993-2004. He was the first India-born South Asian, and first Sikh, ever appointed to a cabinet portfolio.





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