PRIME Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday proudly declared at India’s National Day Gala in Brampton, Ontario: “The bottom line is that the friendship between Canada and India is stronger, it is stronger than it has ever been and that is something that we all, in both of our countries, should be very proud of.”
Harper’s positive speech in Brampton just days after horrible racist flyers showing the face of a Sikh man with a turban with a red cross through it and carrying the words: “Say ‘NO’ to the Massive Third World Invasion of Canada!” comes as a welcome morale booster for Indo-Canadians. The flyers also showed a group of multicultural people and stated that government policy has ruined the country.
But Harper snubbed those racists when he declared loud and clear: “Look we all know that immigration enriches this country, and our Government’s ongoing reforms mean that more immigrants will be able to contribute to their maximum of their capacity, and that is good for everyone.
“Today, India is Canada’s top source country for immigrants.
“And of course, this explains why Canada’s Indo-Canadian community is more than 1.2 million strong and continuing to grow.
“The Indo-Canadian community has a proud and rich history in our country.
“This community – the Indo-Canadian community – is comprised of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in business and in finance, in academia and medicine, in technology and agriculture, to list just a few areas.”
Harper said that in his travels across Canada he meets “men and women relentlessly pursuing their goals to build a better, more prosperous life for themselves and their families, and helping this country immensely in the process.”
He added: “In my travels, I have also observed that wherever Indian immigrants settle, wherever they choose to put down roots, to start businesses, to raise families, be it Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Toronto or right here in Brampton, not by coincidence, those places thrive.
“I believe this is because Indo-Canadians possess a strong ethic of work and education, and an unwavering commitment to faith and to family.
“And these are the things that underlie not only the Indo-Canadian community’s success, but Canada’s success as a country as well.”
HARPER in a long address showed how he has cemented relations between the two countries and reached out to Indians in every way, ending with the emotional words:
“Let me just conclude by taking this opportunity to thank each one of you. To thank all of you for choosing Canada. Thank you for contributing to Canada. Thank you for loving Canada. Because whether you’ve been here for one, 10 or 50 years, Canada is your country.”
He pointedly observed at the start: “Our Government has, in fact we’re proud to have, eight Canadians of Indian descent serving in our caucus.
“In fact, there are today more men and women who were born in India serving in Canada’s Parliament than at any other time in our country’s history.”
Thanking Dr. Senator Asha Seth and other members of the Canada India Friendship Group and the Advisory Board who had organized the gala and wishing all Indo-Canadians “a very happy India Independence Day,” Harper said: “In a matter of days, Prime Minister Modi will do, for the first time, what each of his predecessors have done: raise the deep saffron, white and green flag of India above the Red Fort in New Delhi.
“So, on behalf of the Government of Canada and indeed, I know, all of the people of Canada, let’s extend our best to Prime Minister Modi and the Indian people as they mark 67 years of independence.”
HARPER said: “Canada’s relationship with India is special because despite the great differences between our two countries, we have growing economic ties, we have vast people-to-people ties, and all of these things are cemented together by common values: democracy, justice, pluralism, peace, human rights, the rule of law.”
He added: “We can rightly say that the chill that characterized relations between Canada and India for decades is a thing of the past.
“Before our Conservative Government came to office, Canada’s relationship with India had been essentially frozen for most of the period since the 1970s.
“Since taking office our Government has worked hard to revitalize and strengthen Canada-India relations.
“We have concluded a Social Security Agreement, an historic Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, and we have launched our own bilateral Canada-India free trade negotiations.
“Know that our Government will continue to work to break down barriers that hinder bilateral trade and investment, and that senior members of our Government will continue to visit India.
“Just a couple of years ago I had the great fortune, as the Senator mentioned, of returning to India.
“Because one trip was obviously not near enough to even to scratch the surface of that large, ancient and fascinating civilisation.
“In fact, my second trip to India was the longest bilateral visit any Canadian Prime Minister has ever made to any country in the world.
“And we have been following up on that – we now have eight Canadian consular and trade promotion offices operating across the Republic of India, a number we are looking to add to.
“These offices are helping to facilitate visa and immigration applications, and they’re helping to create more opportunities for Canadian businesses in places such as New Delhi and Bangalore, Chandigarh in Punjab, and Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
“The state of Gujarat in particular – the state where Prime Minister Modi served as chief minister for more than a decade – is home to some of the brightest and best entrepreneurial minds in the world.
“Our Government sees tremendous potential for growth in collaboration with this regional economic powerhouse and we have been working hard to make this a priority for several years.
“Canada was pleased to serve as an official partner for Vibrant Gujarat 2011.
“And two years later, at Vibrant Gujarat 2013, not only did Canada serve as an official partner, but Minister Jason Kenney travelled all the way to Gujarat to represent Canada at the summit and to address all of its attendees.”
HARPER said: “You should also know that our Government’s efforts to strengthen Canada-India relations go beyond expanding bilateral trade and investment, for example, through immigration reform.
“Canada’s past has been shaped by the millions who came from elsewhere and Canada’s future will depend on the millions yet to come.
“Yet, for far too long, previous governments, as you know, chose to ignore problems in Canada’s immigration system as if they would just fix themselves.
“Instead, the problems only intensified and the wait times got longer.
“Back then, if you had applied to become a permanent resident from India you could expect to wait five or six years for your application to be processed.
“It was that bad.
“As the immigration backlog grew, so too did the irritation of those patiently waiting their turn.
“Worse still, economic opportunities were denied not just to individuals from India, to immigrants, but to Canada itself.
“When our Government took office, we immediately got to work and tackled those problems head on.
“And I should tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that our Government’s reforms have been working and they have been working well.
“Today, the permanent residency approval rate for applicants from India is more than 85 per cent.
“I should add that these men and women don’t have to wait another four or five or six years for their residency because our Government has reduced processing times for recent applicants down to just one year.
“In 2005, fewer than 2,500 student visas were granted to Indian students.
“Last year, our Government granted more than 14,000 such visas.
“More Indian students than ever before are studying at Canadian universities, and because our Government has made it easier for these bright young minds to qualify for permanent residency and to work, we hope these students, many of them, will stay and put their Canadian degrees to use right here in Canada.
“Our Government has also made the CAN+ program in India a permanent feature of our immigration system, meaning that persons who have travelled to Canada or the United States in the recent past can be fast-tracked for a visitor visa.
“Our CAN+ program has a 95 per cent approval rate, making more Indians able to visit Canada as tourists or to do business.”
Harper noted that this newest change to the immigration program was just announced by Chris Alexander last month in New Delhi, during his first trip to India as Canada’s new Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and congratulated him.
PMO photo by Jason Ransom