CANADIAN High Commissioner Wendy Gilmour speaks at the event on Monday.—White Star
CANADIAN High Commissioner Wendy Gilmour speaks at the event on Monday.—White Star

KARACHI: “The diplomatic relations between Canada and Pakistan started since [the] early [days of] Pakistan. We have been proud to support Pakistan along these years,” said High Commissioner of Canada Wendy Gilmour during her talk about ‘Commerce, culture and cooperation in the Canada-Pakistan relationship’ organised by the English Speaking Union (ESU) of Pakistan at the Beach Luxury Hotel here on Monday.

“We maintain political relations, trade relations and people-to-people contacts as there are thousands of Canadians connected to Pakistan,” she said, adding that Punjabi was the fourth most spoken language in Canada. “We have people who have migrated from Pakistan, from India and the Sikh community on both sides speaking the language. The Punjabi-speaking community is a big part of the Canadian mosaic,” she said. “Our national dish is as much palak paneer as French fries and cheese,” she added.

“Meanwhile,” she said, “there are some 30,000 to 50,000 Canadians in Pakistan, which is a tremendous base for building partnerships as it gives insight and understanding of what Canada is all about. We share the same vision as Pakistan at many different forums, including the World Trade Organisation. Be it modern economic development, women’s education and their active participation in politics, poverty eradication, working for children’s health or trade, Canada is proud to work collectively to support bilateral relations and engagements.”

Human rights, she said, was another very important area in strengthening bilateral ties with Canada. “Things such as religious freedom, women having the ability to pursue politics, the transition of primary school girls to their becoming secondary school girls are things that are very important for us and we want to lend support to Pakistan in these areas,” she said.

‘We want a business-friendly environment’

“In the beautiful landscape of Pakistan, Canada has also been the original donors to the Aga Khan programme that looks into conservation and development such as digging tunnels under glaciers as well as the education of children in the Northern Areas, especially in Gilgit and Hunza,” she said.

‘Trade is core interest’

“Trade is at the core of our interests here and we are trying to increase trade in Sindh and Karachi with 1.2 billion dollars access. Canada is also the single largest exporter of edible oil seed to Pakistan. Canola is a prized seed here. It is crushed in Pakistan for oil as well as used in poultry feed. Other Canadian exports to Pakistan include pulses, chickpeas and scrap metal. And with the great cotton grown in Pakistan, there is an opportunity of benefiting from its textile industry like Bangladesh already does in Canada,” she said.

About some investments made by Canada in Pakistan, she mentioned companies working for producing clean energy here in the form of wind power generation, solar power-run cellular towers and frozen French fries too. She also said that they had a trade commissioner who was looking into more business opportunities in Pakistan. “Still, there is a challenging situation in Pakistan as far as business is concerned. We want a business-friendly environment,” she said.

She also said that Canada had its federal elections coming up in the fall in which they wanted all the communities in their country involved. “We already have a woman who observes hijab in our federal parliament and we also have a senator who originally hails from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They are all making positive contributions to Canadian politics. And after the elections when the new government comes to power, we hope to have many visits here to Pakistan by government representatives,” she said.

One thing she said that both Canada and Pakistan were affected by was climate change. “Melting glaciers increase challenges for people living downstream. We are also looking to help Pakistan cope better with climate change,” she said.

“Canada’s immigration programme for visitors, students and business people is also quite hassle-free,” she said, adding that Pakistan was the fifth largest source of immigration to Canada and the country supported access to higher education for students all over. “The visa expediting process for students is going to get even easier for the next academic season in September 2020,” she said.

Finally, she said that she was happy to report that she had travelled to several parts of Pakistan such as Karachi, Lahore, Sialkot, Faisalabad and the Northern Areas. “This diplomat is not afraid of travelling here,” she smiled.

In his welcome address, earlier, ESU president Aziz Memon also spoke highly of Canada’s other initiatives, including its contribution to the fight against polio in Pakistan. “They made a 10 million dollar donation for the cause in 1987 and to date the government of Canada’s contribution to Pakistan’s polio eradication programme has been 601 million dollars,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2019