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Sask. premier back in India for trade mission

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Premier Scott Moe has travelled to India on a trade mission almost exactly a year since the province’s last trip to the subcontinent became mired in questions over travel expenses.

In a news release on Tuesday, the provincial government says the mission is meant to maintain and grow trade opportunities, increase investment attraction and showcase Saskatchewan’s food and energy sectors.

The province says that its agri-food exports to India were valued at more than $700 million in 2023.

Total Canadian exports to India were valued at $5.1 billion in 2023 with Saskatchewan accounting for 26 per cent of that, according to the province.

"We have built strong relationships over a number of decades which has been crucial to building opportunities and protecting communities and jobs back home," Moe said in a news release.

According to the province, Moe will participate as a guest speaker at Raisina Dialogue, an annual conference held in New Delhi where global issues are discussed.

“Premier Moe will be speaking about Saskatchewan’s sustainable agriculture practices and reliable supply chain,” the province said in the release.

Moe will also be joined by members of the University of Saskatchewan where the province says a memorandum of understanding will be signed with QPiAI, a tech company from India.

“Premier Moe will sign another MOU on behalf of the Ministry of Advanced Education with the Shastri Indo Canadian Institute to promote educational collaboration,” the province said.

In 2023, Moe faced criticism for a trade trip to India after it became known that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined the delegation as a private consultant.

When faced with questions over the cost of bringing a former prime minister on the trade mission, the government revealed that it has maintained a contract with Harper’s firm, Harper and Associates, since 2019.

The contract pays $240,000 annually, while Harper remained responsible for his own travel expenses.

Moe also made headlines last fall for attending the COP28 conference in Dubai when it became common knowledge the province was set to spend around $765,000 on its pavilion at the climate conference.

The decision to spend a further $238,000 on metro and airport ads in Dubai for the conference was also criticized by the official opposition.

The premier has defended his attendance at trade missions in the past, saying the costs are justified due to increased investment and additional jobs for the province.

"My job as premier is to ensure we maintain and expand those markets and protect the thousands of [Saskatchewan] jobs that rely on exports," Moe said in a statement to CTV News.

"That's why I'm in India this week."

Moe and his delegation left for India on Feb. 18. The mission is expected to run until Feb. 24.

'Sends the wrong message'

According to the Saskatchewan NDP, Moe's previous two trips to India cost taxpayers more than $59,000 in 2023 and over $56,000 in 2018.

This time around, the official opposition is accusing Moe of leaving a province dealing with a cost of living and healthcare crisis behind.

“This government has already spent a million dollars on a trade office in India this year alone, supposedly to cut down on expensive trips like this. It looks like Premier Moe is flying away from his problems and taxpayers are footing the bill,” NDP MLA and Trade Critic Aleana Young said in a release.

NDP MLA and trade critic Aleana Young speaks to reporters at the Saskatchewan Legislative building on Feb. 20, 2024.

According to the NDP, Moe and Sask. Party ministers have spent a total of $231,341 on trips to India since 2018.

Aside from Moe’s first two trips to India, the NDP claims that the Sask. Party’s David Marit spent $27,743 in February 2020 and $32,323 in February 2023 on trips to India.

The NDP also said that Sask. Party minister Jeremy Harrison spent a combined total of $55,854 on two trips to India in November 2019 and April 2022.

“Families are breaking the bank just to put gas in the tank because of Moe’s gas tax,” Young said in the release. “A third trip to India sends the wrong message when we have so many problems in our own backyard.”

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