A former advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the timing of Canada’s rift with India “couldn’t be worse,” as a federal cabinet minister made a plea for de-escalation.

Gerry Butts, vice chair of Eurasia Group and Trudeau’s former Principle Secretary, said Friday that the allegations that India was involved in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in B.C. come at a time when many of Canada’s allies are strengthening their ties to New Delhi.

“The United States and its allies are trying to establish an alternative pole of influence in Asia other than China, so the timing couldn't be worse for this from a geopolitical perspective,” Butts said in a television interview with BNN Bloomberg Friday.

Butts, who was a friend of Trudeau’s from their university days before working with him in government, added that he believes Canada’s NATO allies will ultimately “stand together’ against alleged foreign interference.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry told BNN Bloomberg that it’s every government’s first responsibility to protect the health and safety of its citizens, but now is the time for de-escalation.

“I think it's a time to de-escalate, I don't think it's in anyone's interest to escalate any of that,” François-Philippe Champagne said in a Friday television interview.

“What needed to be said was said, and now it’s for the authorities to continue to work, but I would say at this point of time, this is where we should be with respect to this very serious matter.”

Champagne dismissed the notion that ongoing tensions with India as well as China are limiting economic opportunities for Canada in Asia, noting that a new battery supply chain agreement was signed with Japan on Thursday. 

“Canada is on the lips of about everyone these days,” he said.


The economic relationship between Canada and India had been moving in a positive direction before tensions ratcheted up, according to the president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Underlying tensions have existed between Ottawa and New Delhi for a number of years, Jeff Nankivell says, but the two sides had been making early progress towards a trade agreement in recent months.

“The relationship seemed to be on a sharp upward trajectory and the two countries were working together on an early progress trade agreement,” he said in a television interview with BNN Bloomberg on Thursday.

“There was every signal that something might have been announce when Prime Minister Trudeau came to Delhi last week for the G20, but, of course, we're in a very different place now.”

The Trudeau government had previously pinpointed India as an important element of their Indo-Pacific Strategy, but Nankivell said Canada may now have to shift their focus to Southeast Asia, where there are a number of “promising markets.”

“We're talking every day with Canadian businesses, universities, and institutions who are engaged in Asia, and there was already strong enthusiasm for doing more in Southeast Asia,” he said. “I think one result of this week's developments is you'll see that focus on Southeast Asia becoming even sharper.”