Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family are on the tail end of a visit to India meant to develop economic ties and enhance Canada’s profile abroad that has instead generated widespread ridicule of the leftist head of government and outrage at his ties to a convicted terrorist.
Between his use of public funds to bring a celebrity chef with him on the trip, to his administration inviting a convicted Sikh terrorist to an official dinner, and a wardrobe variously described as “cultural appropriation,” “tacky,” and “a bit much,” Trudeau appears to have done little to improve public opinion of his nation in India.
While this may have devastating repercussions for Canadian foreign policy, it may also damage Trudeau’s standing at home, where his Liberal Party relied on Indian-Canadian voters to take power in 2015 and may soon need them again in a year.
Trudeau entered 2018 on a downswing. By the end of 2016, he was defending his presence at pay-to-play fundraisers with Chinese billionaires as indispensable “to create economic growth for the middle class.” Marijuana legalization supporters were deriding Trudeau for not making any moves on the issue, instead ordering police to arrest individuals who partake in the drug. His New Year’s Eve holiday jaunt to the Bahamas on the Aga Khan’s private jet triggered an unprecedented ethics investigation.
His approval rating dropped below 50 percent for the first time in his term.
Instead of taking the ratings plunge—and the open booing of the Canadian people—as a sign to change policy directions, Trudeau doubled down in 2017. He urged for trusting Cuba with negotiating the denuclearization of North Korea, then hosted an international meeting on the situation that resulted in nothing. He called Islamic State terrorists “an extraordinarily powerful voice for preventing radicalization.” He attempted to lecture Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on human rights, which resulted in the foul-mouthed leader dismissing Trudeau’s remarks as “bullshit” and “a personal and official insult.”
2018 is looking worse than 2017. As of December, 37 percent of Canadians say Trudeau is doing a “very good” or “somewhat good” job running the country. That number was 60 percent in 2015 and 43 percent at the end of 2016, according to the Globe and Mail.
A poll conducted in late January found only 38 percent would support Trudeau’s party in the 2019 elections (43 percent would support the conservatives).
Against this backdrop, Trudeau flew to India, the motherland of many Canadian voters, with the burden of improving his image.
Early this month, before Trudeau flew across the planet, the Toronto Star described a successful visit to the Indian subcontinent as a “re-election boon for Trudeau, who already enjoys a high degree of popularity among Canada’s 1.2 million Indo-Canadians.” CBC remarked that visiting New Delhi was, in part, “about shoring up his party’s support with Indo-Canadians—a constituency that helped the Liberals win a majority government in 2015 and could play a decisive role in next year’s federal election.”
The CBC noted that Trudeau went out of his way to visit a Sikh site in India, signaling closeness with an Indian minority that “represents a powerful political constituency in Canada” and a notable percentage of Trudeau’s cabinet.
The move did little to appease Indians in India concerned that Trudeau may harbor sympathizes for Sikh separatist groups promoting the establishment of an independent Sikh state called “Khalistan.” As the Star reported, Indian publications began warning that Khalistani separatism “assumes proportions of official policy status in Ottawa” before Trudeau even landed.
When he did, the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave him a frigid welcome. Modi himself did not greet Trudeau, as he traditionally has done with other world leaders. Indian and Canadian media speculated that the Khalistan issue was at the forefront of the Indian government’s mind as Trudeau landed. The Indian government denied snubbing Trudeau, and Modi met and hugged Trudeau in New Delhi on Friday.
But the damage had been done, and Trudeau was not finished alarming Hindus with his ties to suspect Sikh groups yet.
On Thursday, Trudeau’s office confirmed reports that they had invited Jaspal Atwal, a convicted terrorist tied to the Khalistani movement, to dine with him in New Delhi. First Lady Sophie Trudeau took a photo with Atwal before the invitation was rescinded. “This individual should never have been invited to any event on the program, and his invitation has been rescinded. We are in the process of looking into how this occurred,” Trudeau’s office said in a statement.
Atwal was convicted of the attempted murder of Punjabi minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu and independently charged with (but acquitted) attempting to beat to death Ujjal Dosanjh, a Canadian Liberal Party politician, who expressed outrage that his party leader would be open to dining with his alleged would-be killer.
The use of taxpayers’ dollars to fly celebrity chef Vikram Vij out to India with the Trudeau family has largely taken a backseat to the Atwal controversy.
Following the uproar, Trudeau attempted a bhangra dance in front of guests to a state dinner in New Delhi. Reports indicate that the dance did not succeed in making up for his ties to an anti-Indian terrorist in the hearts and minds of the Indian people.
Trudeau will come home on February 25, arguably a much weaker leader than when he left Canada with a 37 percent approval rating. He has a year to make up his losses, but Trudeau policy in 2017 gave Canadians little hope to expect the leftist leader to reverse his course and better serve the people he was elected to serve.