India's media takes a dim view of Canadian coverage of PM visit here

Apparently, we — the Canadian media travelling with Prime Minister Stephen Harper this week — ruffled a few feathers during our three days here. Here is a review of our coverage written by Sarabjit Jagirdar and distributed by the Indo-Asian News Service:

Even as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resolved to deepen bilateral ties, the Canadian media says a nuclear deal could be risky because of terrorist threats to India's sites. They cite the recent alert at India's nuclear facilities as a warning to the Canadian government that is keen to clinch the deal. In their reports, the Canadian journalists, who even spell the name of one of the most known faces of the 20th century as Ghandi (for Mahatma Gandhi), have also raked up the past – that India cannot be trusted because it appropriated their nuclear technology to make nuclear bombs.

Before embarking on this assignment, perhaps these journalists were briefed by biased Canadian bureaucrats for whom “terrorist violence, such as bombings in public areas and on public transportation, occurs throughout India….attacks can take place anywhere and at any time in India…' Opposing the proposed civil nuclear deal between the two countries, John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail, who is perhaps visiting India for the first time, says: “But India's nuclear facilities have been placed on high alert, as evidence emerges that two men, one of them Canadian, might have scouted sites for the terrorist attack on Mumbai last year…' Carrying his ridiculous argument further, he writes: “Does Canada really want to help sell nuclear technology to a country that is the midst of such a volatile region, a country that in the 1970s appropriated our first foray into building Indian nuclear reactors to help fashion nuclear weapons, a country whose nuclear reactors would be an ideal ground zero for jihadists?' Writing in the left-wing Toronto Star, Rick Westhead says: “For Harper, the visit may have to do less with new trade deals or warmed relations than with building ties to Indo-Canadian voters before the next election. “So rather than strategizing on new bilateral investment with India's Ambani brothers, the prime minister will travel to the Golden Temple in Amritsar – the holiest shrine in the Sikh faith – and meet with Hindi film star Akshay Kumar, a torchbearer for the Vancouver Olympics.' Not surprisingly, the current Canadian prime minister has always had prickly relations with his nation's media.

For the record, the briefing we had with “Canadian bureaucrats” was a briefing mostly with the prime minister's deputy press secretary Dimitri Soudas and he was hardly biased against India. Indeed, he reflected, if anything, the Canadian bias towards a warming of relations with India.

And as for my friend John Ibbitson of the Globe: Though it lifts a quote from one of John's pieces, it was also the question that John put to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday night. At that press conference, the Canadian media were allowed to ask just one question and the Indian media were allowed to ask just one question. This was a big deal for the Indian media here for they almost never get to ask their prime minister any questions.

As we usually do when we're allowed one or two questions, the Canadian media huddled together and decided, by consensus, what the question ought to be and who should do the asking. So, though John was the interrogator, it was a question we collectively decided upon (and one which I strongly pushed for, in fact.)

In other news: India continues to be ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world.

India puts nuclear facilities on alert over suspected terror threat

The front pages of all of India's major newspapers are full of this story this morning — and there's a Canadian connection to the terror threat, just as Prime Minister Stephen Harper begins his second day of visits here:

Nuclear power facilities in India have been put on high alert here after security forces determined that terrorists may target one of them.

Intelligence agencies beefed up security after analysing new information, some of which may have come from Tahawwur Rana, a Pakistani-born Canadian citizen who is in FBI custody in Chicago.

The threat to India's nuclear installations comes as Prime Minister Stephen Harper began a series of meetings Tuesday with high-level Indian political leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

Discussions about a Canada-India nuclear co-operation agreement and about about combatting terrorism are widely expected to be among the topics at those meetings. [Read the rest]

MP Bob Dechert explains why Harper is in India

In the House of Commons earlier today, MP Bob Dechert (Mississauga-Erindale) had this to say about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's trip to India:

Mr. Speaker, before the Liberal leader decided to return to Canada to be crowned, the Liberal government pursued an ideological policy of isolation toward India, slapping it with sanctions and marginalizing Canada's influence with India well into this decade.

Our government has been working to repair this long-term damage to our relationship. That is why the Prime Minister is in India this week, rebuilding relationships and deepening our economic ties with an emerging economic power.

I am happy to point out that under our government, Canada-India relations are at an all-time high. Canada's exports to India have more than doubled since our government was elected and exports are still on the rise. We recently expanded our trade network in India to eight offices, making it one of Canada's largest networks worldwide.

When it comes to free and open trade with important allies like India, it is this government that is getting the job done.

Conservative MPs, business leaders join Harper for India trip

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in Mumbai this evening for a three-day visit to the country. There are more than 1 million Canadians who have their origins in India including several in the House of Commons. For his visit to India, some MPs, all Conservatives, have joined the the Prime MInister's tour. Though the PMO occasionally invites opposition MPs to travel to foreign countries – Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua, for example, was on the PM's recent trip to Rome — none were invited for this trip.

The MPs meeting up with the PM include;

Patrick Brown, Barrie
Tim Uppal, Edmonton-Sherwood Park
Devinder Shory, Calgary Northeast
Nina Grewal, Fleetwood-Port Kells
Gurmant Grewal, a former MP and Nina Grewal's husband, will also join the tour.

In addition to the MPs, there is a contingent of Indo-Canadian business leaders, including:

Bob Dhillon, CEO, Mainstreet Equity Corp. from Calgary
Hari Varshney, CEO, Varshney Capital Corp., from Vancouver
Lucky Janda, President, TCM Realty Corp., Vancouver
Aditya Jha, National Convenor, Canada-India Foundation, and CEO Karma Candy
Deepak Ruparell, Board member, Canada-India Foundation and BAPS Canada, and CEO, Silver Hotels.
Vikram Khurama, founder and CEO, Prudential Consultin and board member of the Asia-Pacific Foundation
B.S. Ahluwalia, director of imaging and president of BSA Diagnostics

UPDATE: Non-parliamentarians, including Gurmant Grewal, are paying their own way here, says PMO aides.

APEC Leaders dinner: The Menu

The leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries and their spouses, including Prime Minister and Mrs. Harper, gathered for a formal dinner Saturday evening here with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as host. Here is the menu:


Lobster salad


Essence of soto ayam

Main course

Braised beef with edamame puree


Chicken and spinach


Cheng tng terrine

Piña colada parfait

Coconut streusel

The Harpers make the papers, thanks to Laureen

1.jpgAt the annual leaders summits of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, it's mostly all work with leaders sitting around a conference room talking about trade treaties, economics, tax policy and, increasingly, climate change. But the program also includes a social event — an evening of entertainment aimed at showcasing the host country which, this weekend, is Singapore.

That happened Saturday night here, with leaders donning a Peranakan-inspired outfit created by Singaporean designer Wykidd Song. Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose a grey-blue silk shirt with a mandarin-style collar.

For the evening, Harper was accompanied by his wife Laureen who, as she often does at international summits, turned more than a few heads. Mrs. Harper stands out in a crowd not only for her blonde hair and winning smile but also because she is an elegant dresser. Last night, she arrived on the prime minister's arm in a white dress with a South Asian-inspired print in pink and black. It was good enough that the photo of the Harpers arriving for the evening's entertainment made the local paper, albeit on page A6 (left).

Normally, Canada's prime minister – be it Harper, Chretien, or Martin — can slip in and out of international summits with barely a notice. And, at the APEC summit this year, the big stars of the show are U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. They get their pictures in the paper a lot.

But having Mrs. Harper handy seems to be the secret to getting a bit of Canada into the local paper, the first mention (below left) I've seen of our country here all weekend.



TD: Canada's economic "cruising speed" to slow post-recession

TD Economics released a report Thursday which tackles an issue that's been broached by the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Office and some other private sector forecasters: What will the 'new normal' be for Canada's economy once it and the world emerges from the recession?
This is not an exercise in econometric navel-gazing. It is a crucial question for politicians as they develop public and fiscal policy measures now that will have significant effects on Canada's ability to look after its unemployed, its seniors, and the quality of life of all its citizens in the years to come.
Unfortunately, though there is a growing body of work from the PBO and private sector forecasters on this subject, the federal Department of Finance has been frustratingly silent at best on this issue and horribly wrong at worst. Parliament's Budget Officer Kevin Page, in his assessments of the budgetary 'new normal' has complained that finance officials have not provided him with some of the key data models the government is using when it develops forecasts about our econonomy and the federal budget.
How does the econometric rubber meet the road? Simple: Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said repeatedly that, though we will post the biggest deficit in Canada's history this year, we will, by and large, naturally “grow out” of deficit as our economy improves. Tax revenue — mostly related to corporate profits – will grow while recession-related expenditures such as higher unemployment insurance costs will decrease. Sure, there may have to be some modest spending controls – not spending reductions, mind you, just a slowing of the growth of government spending — but no one need think that the federal government a few years from now will have to make drastic cuts or – gasp – raise taxes.
But the key assumption made by those who believe we will grow out of deficit is that the economy in 2014 will look much like it did in 2004. But that assumption, a growing number of economists now say, could be a fatal one.
“It is critical to recognize that things will not simply return to how they were,” TD warns in its report jointly written by Derek Burleton, the bank's director of economic analysis, and Grant Bishop, a bank economist.
After crunching the numbers they conclude: “This longer-term “cruising speed” of the economy is set to slow from about 3 per cent per year on average over the past two decades to about 2 per cent per year in 2009-19. More specifically, we forecast a slump in Canada’s average annual potential growth to 1.6 per cent over 2009-2012 (the near-term “recovery” phase) with a return to only an average of 2.1 per cent across 2013-2019 (the “long-term”).”
You can read the TD analysis for yourself to test some of their assumptions behind this conclusion but I'm going to skip the economics and cut straight to some of their more important points:
First, the best kind of economic growth is produced by growth in productivity — producing more goods and services with the same number or fewer workers. For Canada, that kind of economic growth is crucial as our labour force ages, retires, and we have proportionately more retirees relative to workers.
“We do not see a compelling case for a major productivity resurgence, given Canada’s poor record on innovation. Slumping expenditures on research and development and low investment in high-tech capital by Canadian businesses appear the prime culprits for Canada’s lack of innovation and overall slowing of productivity growth,” TD says.
Indeed, the 'productivity problem' was the number one public policy issue that the recently retired civil servant mandarin Kevin Lynch identified early on his career, first as deputy minister at Industry, later as deputy minister at Finance, and, finally, as Stephen Harper's Clerk of the Privy Council.
Unfortunately, Lynch and other policy analysts who have ideas about doing something to boost productivity, run into retail politics. Cut the GST by two points? Great for retail politics. Lousy way to waste $15 billion a year of precious government revenue that does nothing to boost productivity and could, in fact, reduce it. How about lowering or eliminating capital gains taxes? Lousy retail politics as its framed by the left as a tax break for the rich. But policy analysts say it encourages capital formation and new investment which, in turn, creates jobs and boosts productivity.
TD doesn't come right out and say it but you can read between the lines of the penultimate paragraph in their report to conclude that tax policy going forward will be crucial, not only to eliminate government deficits, but to sustain Canada's economic growth:
“Governments cannot count on economy-wide, long-term nominal income growth much above 4%. Obviously, aggregate tax revenues can only grow above the pace of nominal income growth by seizing a larger share of nominal income. Current federal and provincial deficits must be addressed: curtailing growth in spending is essential, but, even if governments see no other option than a heightened tax share, they must resist pressure to retreat from those tax reforms that encourage productivity improving investments.”
That, my friends, is economist-speak, for: “Governments will need more tax revenue. But they can't tax capital formation. So that means, cuts on capital gains are important and low income taxes are also important. The best kind of new tax revenue, then, are more consumption taxes. So someone's going to have to bite the bullet and raise the GST.”

Dining with the PM: What's for dinner on his plane and at leaders' summits

The organizers of the leaders summit for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit are promising “a gastronomical adventure of Singapore” when we get there after our 27 hour plane ride from Ottawa. I, for one, welcome this attention to the gustatory needs of political leaders, delegates, NGOs, and journalists.
APEC, like G8, G20 or other international summits are, from an organizational standpoint, much like any large conference you've ever been to and that includes feeding the participants. For summits, the leaders' meals are usually highly stylized, formal sit-down affairs while everyone else queues up for buffet or cafeteria style servings in various conference fora.
APEC was in Lima, Peru last year and there, while it was pleasing that Peruvian organizers, too, tried to showcase the local epicure, there was often not enough food at the buffet — they seemed to have nothing but yogurt after I'd spent 30 minutes or more standing in line — and not of all it was, erm, tasty. At my first international summit, a G8 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, the menu for journalists and delegates was monotonous. Every meal consisted of strange-looking sausages and luncheon meats served platters of smoked salmon and cheese. Happily, I'm nuts for smoked salmon and, even after three days and nine meals of nothing but smoked salmon I was keen to have more.
In Singapore, Mr. Soo Siew Keong, Programme Chair, APEC Accommodation, Hospitality and Singapore Experience Subcommittee, APEC Singapore 2009 Organising Committee says in the briefing materials I've been provided with that, “APEC delegates will be presented with a compelling buffet of culinary delights that is Uniquely Singapore.” Hurrah. Singapore cuisine, I'm informed, is derived from Chinese, Indian, Malay and Peranakan cultures.
As for the victuals until we get there, we are dining on good, old Canadian-prepared airplane food. Airplane caterer Caras stocks the Canadian Forces Polaris CC-150 (A modified Airbus 310) that ferries the prime minister around the world. The bill in Ottawa was just over $11,000 from Caras. (News organizations like Canwest, I should point out, always pay their way on these trips on a pro-rated cost-recovery basis. The Prime Minister's Office decides on the price. For this trip, which includes round-trip airfare to Singapore, Mumbai and New Delhi between now and next Thursday, news organizations are paying $7,000 per person for the flights, hotel, and filing facilities.) At lunch, served while we were high over Western Canada en route to a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska, we had a salad plate with a prosciutto and chedder cheese sandwich.
The meals on board CF 001 — the flight number of any plane the PM is on — are served by Canadian Forces personnel from Transport Squadron 437, based at CFB Trenton, Ont. I've been on several trips with the PM and I've always found the CF folks to be a pleasant and patient lot, though 27 hours in the air on this one may test all of us.
In any event, here was the menu for dinner served on our flight between Anchorage and our next refueling stop in Tokyo:
Lobster Appetizer
Choice of:
Grilled Atlantic Salmon
Black Truffle Butter
French Lentil Ragout
Green Beans and White Asparagus
Penne Pasta
Peppercorn Carbonara Sauce
Sun Dried Julienne Tomato and Roasted Yellow Peppers
Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Coffee, Tea
Peller Estates Okanagan Heritage Select Pinot Blanc 2007
Stratus Vineyards Red 2005

Revised citizenship guide, Remembrance Day, and recession in Regina: Listen to top newspaper headlines and the Parliamentary daybook

A new citizenship guide, Remembrance Day, and recession in Regina: Listen to my three-minute audio summary of these leading front page headlines plus highlights from Thursday's Parliamentary daybook by clicking on the link below. You can also get these audio summaries via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at Look under my picture on the left hand side of the page.

Mr. Harper goes to Amritsar: The PM's Asia itinerary

I will be off on a very long plane ride beginning at 11 a.m. Thursday morning to cover Prime Minister Harper's visit to Singapore, Mumbai, New Delhi and Amritsar. If you'd like to play along — and I hope to be tweeting (follow @davidakin or click here to get my Twitter RSS feed ) , blogging, and writing as often as I can — here's our rough itinerary. More details coming shortly:

***All times Eastern***


1100 – DEP Ottawa

— Flying all day with refueling stops in Anchorage, Alaska and Tokyo..


1400 ARR Singapore at 1400
2300 APEC Summit begins at 2300


0100 – APEC Leaders Retreat
0230 – APEC Business council meets with leaders
0500 – APEC cultural performance (2 Cdn reporters to provide pool coverage)
0700 – APEC leaders working dinner
2100 – APEC leaders retreat
2315 – APEC Communique released
TBD – DEP Singapore
TBD – ARR Mumbai, India
2300 – Harper does roundtable with Indian investors group
TBD – Harper has even with Canadian Tourism Convention
TBD – Harper tours set of Premier Dance League  


0130 – Harper speech to business group
0845 – DEP Mumbai
1020 – ARR New Delhi
2230 – Harper meets Indian foreign affairs minister


0030 – Harper meets Indian president
0330 – Harper visits Gandhi memorial
0500 – Harper meets Indian vice-president
0600 – Harper meets Sonia Gandhi
0830 – Harper meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
0900 – Harper-Singh joint press conference


0000 – DEP New Delhi
0115 – ARR Amritsar
0200 – Harper visits Golden Temple
TBD – DEP Amritsar
TBD – ARR – New Delhi
0645 – Harper participates infrastructure roundtable
1050 – DEP New Delhi
— Flying all day with one refueling stop in Croatia


ARR Ottawa at approx 0700