It is the world’s largest democracy with a population 100 times that of Ontario.
It boasts the fastest-growing economy on the planet.
And it will be the centre of Ontario’s political universe for the next fortnight.
India — where Premier Kathleen Wynne and a throng of ministers, MPPs, aides, academics, municipal and business leaders are headed this week — is top of mind at Queen’s Park.
The Toronto Star has learned Wynne will meet popular Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi in a bid to boost trade relations with Ontario.
Modi, a long-time friend of Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who met with him in India two weeks ago, has launched the Smart Cities Mission to create dozens of new planned satellite cities around major urban centres and rejuvenate larger towns.
The Indian prime minister hopes these “smart cities” will deliver modern waterworks, sanitation, electricity, health and education, public transit, internet connectivity, and good local governance in safe, secure and sustainable communities.
His mantra is music to Wynne’s ears because Ontario companies, colleges, and universities have expertise — in all those areas — that they are eager to share.
The premier leaves for India on Wednesday, leading a delegation that hopes to build mutually beneficial bridges between a province of 13,000,000 and a nation of almost 1.3 billion.
“I really believe that 2016 can be a huge year for Ontario and India,” Wynne said recently.
“(That’s) because of what is going on in India and the plan that Prime Minister Modi has put in place, the smart cities, the clean tech that is going be needed, the smart technology that’s going to be needed for his initiatives, and because of our potential here to provide capacity in all of those areas,” she said.
“We have worked for decades in Ontario to establish partnerships between India and Ontario, and our economies . . . are arguably more aligned than ever right now.”
Joining Wynne’s Team Ontario mission will be officials from the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Western University, the University of Waterloo, Seneca College, Sheridan College, and other higher learning institutions.
“India’s focus on infrastructure development and clean-tech are areas where Ontario has a lot to offer,” said the premier, who will also travel to Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Amritsar, and Agra.
“We’re Canada’s clean-tech leaders and we’re making the biggest infrastructure investment in our province in our history,” she said.
“Our top priority as a government is jobs and growth, so now is absolutely the right time for us to double down on our global trade strategy and that’s what this mission is about.”
India is a natural partner for Ontario, noted Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who will be on the trip along with other municipal officials.
“Mississauga is home to a significant Indian diaspora and we have the potential to open our city to a great deal of Indian investment,” Crombie said in a statement, noting almost 15 per cent of her city’s newest residents were born in India and many Indian-based companies now have offices there.
Indeed, some 700,000 Ontarians are of Indian descent so the ties between the province and India are already strong.
But two-way trade between the jurisdictions has much room for improvement. In 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available, Ontario exported only $307 million in goods to India and imported $1.62 billion from there.
“By growing our presence in India, which is the world’s second-biggest country and one of the fastest growing economies on the planet, we’re diversifying our trade and investment partners and we’re building a more resilient Ontario economy,” insisted Wynne.
R.K. Perindia, India’s acting consul general in Toronto, said his country’s economy should grow by a blistering 7.5 per cent this year and is eager for “foreign investment in India and foreign partnerships.”
“We feel that the time is right for Canadian businesses to look at India. This is the best moment, we feel,” said Perindia, emphasizing “India wants to enhance its trade relations with Ontario” — especially in areas of urban planning, higher education, green energy, health care, and transit.
“There are many more sectors where Canada can help India.”