OTTAWA: New documents suggest the bills for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s troubled trip to India in February exceed $1.5 million.
The latest figures released by the government include $323,000 for hotel stays, $485,070 to fly and staff the VIP Airbus for 43.7 hours over the nine-day trip, $5,235 for cell phone fees, $5,100 to buy Canadian wines for use at official events and $17,044.21 to fly Vancouver Chef Vikram Vij to India, where he cooked a dinner for a meeting and an official reception at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi.
Conservative MPs say the lavish trip was a huge waste of money, produced virtually no return on the investment other than the embarrassment of the Prime Minister’s Office accidentally inviting to a reception a man convicted of attempting to murder an Indian politician more than 30 years ago.
Trudeau says the trip helped secure $1 billion in two-way business deals between Canadian and Indian companies that will help create 5,800 jobs in Canada. He also says he spent less to go to India for nine days than Prime Minister Stephen Harper did to travel there for six days in 2012 or three days in 2009.
Trudeau’s office says the 2009 India trip cost $1.4 million and the 2012 trip $2.5 million. The latter bill included $1.2 million to fly two armoured Cadillacs and a bullet-proof SUV when the RCMP deemed them necessary for security purposes. Trudeau used cars provided by the Indian government and Canada spent about $58,800 on cars and drivers for the trip.
Conservative MP Alex Nuttall, however, says the trip cost a lot with nothing to show for it but an “international embarrassment.”
“At this point, the evidence is that it was a complete and utter failure,” Nuttall said.
Trudeau’s Indian excursion was supposed to improve ties between Canada and India, a country of more than 1.3 billion people with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. On Harper’s 2012 trip, a goal was set to increase two-way trade between Canada and India to $15 billion by 2015. It has grown substantially, more than doubling to $8.4 billion in 2016, but is still far shy of the goal.
Indian concerns about Sikh separatist sympathizers dogged Trudeau throughout the trip and it appeared Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi purposely gave Trudeau the cold shoulder for the first several days. Some argued Modi’s decision not to meet Trudeau’s plane at the airport was not a snub, only a matter of protocol, but just a few weeks later, Modi did show up to shake hands on the tarmac with French President Emmanuel Macron when he arrived in Delhi.
The wheels really came off the bus however with the invitation to two receptions with Trudeau issued to Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted of the 1986 attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister on Vancouver Island in a plot organized by a Sikh separatist extremist group. Atwal attended a reception in Mumbai and posed for photos with Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, but his invitation to a second reception was rescinded when officials were told of his identity.