On Monday morning I opened my Inbox looking for a press release about Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne’s 72-member trade mission to India. Nothing like some positive news announcing robust trade deals between our country and India an emerging economic superpower. But I was confused, there were three press releases with numerous photographs of Premier Wynne and other MPPs at the Golden Temple, one with a beaming Premier flanked by none other than the inimitable MPP Vic Dhillon and the radiant MPP Indira Naidoo-Harris who according to her earlier press release was there to encourage business to invest in Halton. Other pictures included our own premier on her haunches rolling out chapatis along with volunteers. There have been a couple of press releases relating to some trade-focused meetings but the emphasis seemed to be on the Golden Temple visit.
While you’d expect to see news headlines in India and Canada dominated by trade-related success stories the headlines seemed to suggest Premier Kathleen Wynne headed out on a religious and cultural mission. The news reports and press releases made me wonder if there was some sort of misunderstanding that led people like me to think this was a trade mission.
South Asians have reason to feel cynical
Over the weekend I spoke to some cynical South Asian seniors who seemed to believe that trade was an excuse to justify a trip that was more designed to secure the South Asian vote in the next election. It seemed like a campaign stop.
Instead of the details about trade, Indian news outlets focused on Premier Kathleen Wynne’s visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the fact that she would not be given the ceremonial robe of honour given her views on same-sex marriage. Frankly I don’t understand why any elected leader should be receiving an honour for simply doing what they were elected to do. An honour should really be bestowed upon exceptional leaders and principled visionaries who would risk their political careers if not their lives to uphold a worthy principle.
Regardless of how I feel about honours, Premier Kathleen Wynne was given the Siropa (ceremonial robe of honour) during her visit to the Golden Temple, amid controversy in the Indian press that suggested she would be denied the honour because of her views on same-sex marriage. Infact the temple’s president Avtar Singh Makkar went on record saying that giving her a Siropa would violate Sikh ethics.
In an earlier column in May last year, I wrote about the unease many including myself feel when Canadian politicians visit places of worship in order to prove their secular credentials because everybody knows it is nothing but a blatantly obvious attempt to court the ethnic vote. I would welcome politicians to visit all places of worship as private individuals as long as they don’t have the paparazzi trailing them. Turning what should essentially be a somber and reflective experience into a media spectacle makes a mockery of the visit.
Visiting places of worship is now an expectation
The Ontario Premier isn’t the first politician to set foot in a place of worship and won’t be the last. The problem is that if ever a noted Canadian politician goes to India on a trade mission and doesn’t visit the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple it would seem almost sacrilegious as it has now come to be expected.
Mississauga’s Mayor Bonnie Crombie who was also on the same Trade Mission has been photographed on a visit to Lidran a village in Punjab. Besides meeting important business leaders, she also visited the Golden Temple. Before this Trade Mission, Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown also took along a team and visited places of worship.
One person in particular who is peeved with all this is NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh who unfortunately is possibly the only Canadian politician who won’t be visiting the Golden Temple anytime soon as he has been denied a visit visa. In an Op-Ed penned by him, he hoped one of his colleagues would put in a good word with Indian PM Narendra Modi. He wondered if they could instead of ‘using South Asian culture and heritage as a photo-op, could talk about issues like ‘improving the quality of life for those living in India and discuss the abysmal human rights record that exists for minorities, particularly women’. That would be nice but I don’t think any practical world leader would dare discuss human rights violations when trying to close trade deals. If that was the case, our own charismatic PM Justin Trudeau would put on hold or cancel arms deals to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Canadian politicians have penchant for visiting places of worship
Politicians cutting across all party lines are guilty of using such visits to further their political careers and bolster their electoral fortunes. In a mature democracy such as Canada there is a separation of Church and State but what there really needs to be is a separation of politicians from places of worship. No one needs to know whether a politician visits his own place of worship let alone someone elses’. Demonstrating their unwavering support for multiculturalism can be done so by visiting homes, businesses and restaurants belonging to ethnic minorities and ofcourse ensuring new immigrants and ethnic communities are made to feel part of the mainstream and not part OFF it. If you really want to get a better understanding about Sikhism or Islam, start by getting some study material and then slip into those places of worship incognito. Canadian politicians are staunch supporters of multiculturalism, we get it, I don’t think any sophisticated South Asian would be overly impressed with Canadian politicians posing against the backdrop of a temple, church or mosque. If anything, the disgraceful conduct of many politicians in their quest for power should automatically be grounds to have them banned from getting anywhere close to a place of worship.
The cynical South Asian seniors I spoke with wondered if Canadian politicians would make a beeline for the Golden Temple if most Canadians of South Asian descent happened to be South Indian or Muslim. Do American politicians drift toward Gujarat given the clout and the number of influential Gujaratis living in the US?
I really hope that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Trade Mission is very successful given the dismal economic outlook for Ontario. We could really benefit from some notable trade deals and to give our politicians on this Trade Mission the benefit of doubt, I would like to believe that the only reason they visited the Golden Temple or any other place of worship they stumbled into was to pray for the success of the mission and ofcourse for better ties between the two nations.