TORONTO: Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty came in for praise for his role in promoting India-Ontario relations and being one of the `closest friends and supporters’ of India at the Diwali celebrations at Queen’s Park (the name for the provincial assembly of Ontario) here on Thursday.
Joining in the festivities, McGuinty – who helped bring the Panorama India-organized event to Queen’s Park four years ago – said Diwali is a celebration of accomplishments of the 600,000-strong Indo-Canadian community in Ontario.
The premier recalled his two missions to India and said under him since 2003, the trade between India and Ontario has grown by 390 percent.
Laughing at his sort of `celebrity status’ during the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards that he was instrumental in bringing to Toronto in June last year, McGuinty laughed that he enjoyed rubbing shoulders with Bollywood stars, including Anil Kapoor, at the hugely popular event.
Over 40,000 visitors poured into the city to see North America’s biggest-ever Bollywood event that was watched by over a billion viewers around the world, the premier said.
Thanking the Indo-Canadian community for its role in building bridges between the two countries, McGuinty said Canada was the best place to live among 34 OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. And “the icing on the cake’’ was Canada’s diversity of its population, he added in his witty style.
Welcoming the guests, Indian consul general Preeti Saran thanked Premier McGuinty for being present at every Diwali celebration over the past four occasions.
“Over the years, Panorama India’s Queen’s Park Diwali has become its signature event, with the presence of so many dignitaries and distinguished members of the Indian diaspora. The presence today of Hon’ble Premier Dalton McGuinty, his cabinet colleagues and members of the provincial parliament makes this occasion very special for us. I have always acknowledged that Premier McGuinty is one of our closest friends and supporters,’’ the consul general said.
Thanking the premier for his leadership and “personal contribution in strengthening India-Ontario relations,’’ the consul general recalled McGuinty’s two trade missions to India to deepen bilateral trade relations.
Saran also praised the premier for bringing the IIFA awards to Toronto. “Ontario was showcased repeatedly in Indian homes through (these) telecasts, reminding us all of this beautiful city Toronto as an important tourist destination, a place where Indian students can come for higher studies and the immense potential for doing business here.’’
Briefly touching upon the recent visits of a high-powered committee of state finance ministers and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to Canada and Canadian ministers John Baird and Joe Oliver to India, the consul general said, “We now look forward to Prime Minister Harper’s state visit to India next week.’’
Harper’s visit, she said, will be another opportunity for “both sides to further deepen the bilateral relationship, especially after a very successful celebration of our relationship through the Year of India in Canada last year.’’
Harinder Takhar, Ontario minister for government services, thanked the premier for being a friend of the Indo-Canadian community.
Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne, who is a regular at Indian events in Toronto, called the Diwali celebrations a `joyful event.’’
Praising the lights and colours that are a feature of Diwali, Wynne said humorously that she felt like a sparrow at a peacocks’ party at Indian events.
Ajit Khanna, former chief of the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce and Panorama India, received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award from the premier.
Ajit “deserves it absolutely. He is an amazing consensus builder….and a great representative of the Indo-Canadian community,’’ Saran said.