Canada is open to immigrants and refugees, says Bardish Chagger

At a time when the US government is planning to reduce the number of foreigners, the Canadian government says it will continue to welcome immigrants and refugees. Bardish Chagger, the Canadian minister for small business and tourism who is of Indian origin, tells Sahil Makkar in an interview that there are a lot of opportunities for Indian businesses in Canada.

Edited excerpts:

What brings you to India?

As a minister of for small business and tourism, I would like to ensure the Indian community knows Canada as a travel destination and our businesses grow together. Both countries have vision, we need our small businesses to grow to innovation and trade. We need to open up export markets. We are looking at high-impact, high-growth firms. We know that small businesses are job creators in Canada. Around 9 per cent are small businesses and it is very similar here in India. 

Another area where we focusing is under-represented groups such as women entrepreneurship. It is interesting that in India 14 per cent businesses are majority owned by women and the number for Canada is 15.75 per cent.

How many small scale companies want to set up businesses in India?

There are now over 1,000 Canadian companies doing business in or with India, and some 690 Canadian companies and educational institutions have a physical presence here. On the other hand, nearly 100 Indian companies are invested in Canada. Our trade continues to grow in the double digits. This year is the 150th birthday of Canada, so the Canadian High Commissioner in India is taking 150 Indian companies to Canada.

How are you promoting tourism in India?

Over 280,000 Canadians visited India in 2015. Last year, Canada welcomed over 215,000 travellers from India. This represented an increase of 13 per cent over 2015 arrivals. We also want to target the business community and people who are coming in for conferences and conventions so that they not only come for business but also for leisure. On Canada Day (July 1) there will be a new direct flight offered by Air Canada between Toronto and Mumbai. This will be the third direct flight.

How is Canada addressing the concerns of the Indian government of the “radicalized Sikh” diaspora living in Canada?

We work closely with the Indian government. We take action when we receive information about Canadian citizens breaking Canadian laws. We discuss this with the Indian government frequently. There have been a number of high-profile visits to Canada on this issue.

We often hear of racist attacks against Indians in other countries. What is the situation in Canada?

It does not matter what country we live in, the reality is there are those kinds of challenges everywhere. I had a great conversation with people working here in the High Commission. Each of us has a role to play to ensure that we are not part of the problem but are a part of the solution. We have to provide more information so that people concerns are addressed. There have been no recent reports of attacks on Canadians of Indian origin in Canada. We have laws in place to ensure all Canadians are protected against discrimination and violence.  

The US government is planning to reduce the number of H1-B visas. Do you see in this an opportunity to open doors for Indian IT firms?

Canada is a country of immigrants. There are ample opportunities. Therefore, we welcome people to visit, study and work in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it clear that we will continue to welcome immigrants and refugees because diversity is our strength.

Is there a rise in the number of Indian students travelling to Canada?

The number is rising every year. It is encouraging. Canadian schools are not only world-class institutions, but we also offer incentives to make them a more attractive place of study. We have a population of 1.2 million Canadians of Indian origin and this makes it more attractive for Indian students.

The visit of the Canadian prime minister has been on cards, when can we expect him here?

We are working on dates. The PM is taking a whole government approach. There is no one minister who is working on his own. All ministers work together. We all share suggestions and comments. The PM has empowered all ministers to take a leadership role.

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