South Asian strength

Print edition : July 30, 2004

IT has been a watershed election for South Asians, who have doubled their number in the Canadian Parliament from five to 10. Nine of the new members are of Indian origin, while one is from Pakistan. Of the five incumbent MPs, four have been returned; the fifth, Harbans (Herb) Dhaliwal, a federal Minister in the outgoing government, did not contest.

The redoubtable former Premier of British Columbia, Ujjal Dossanjh, has been elected from Dhaliwal's Vancouver South riding. One of the few candidates handpicked by Liberal chief Paul Martin, Dossanjh is tipped to occupy a ministerial seat. Dossanjh had created history when he became the first South Asian Premier of a province (British Columbia) in 2000.

The number of candidates of South Asian origin this time, 42, is a record. In the 2000 election, there were at least 30. The recent election also saw the victory of three South Asian women and of a husband-and-wife duo, the latter a first in the history of Canadian elections.

Predictably, Liberal MP Gurbax Singh Malhi and Conservative MPs Gurmant Grewal, Deepak Obhrai and Rahim Jaffer have been returned to Parliament. Grewal's wife Narinder (Nina) , a political novice, defeated the seasoned Liberal politician Dr. Gulzar Cheema in the newly created constituency of Fleetwood-Port Kells in British Columbia by 2,484 votes.

Cheema is himself a history-maker, being the first South Asian to be elected to the legislature of the western province of Manitoba in 1988. He later shifted his residence to British Columbia and ran unsuccessfully in the 1997 provincial elections. Elected to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in 2001, he went on to become a Minister of State for Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Gurmant Grewal squeezed past Sukh Dhaliwal, one of Martin's men, by 480 votes in Newton-North Delta. First elected to Parliament in 1997 on the Reform party ticket, he was again in Parliament in 2000, both times from Surrey Central, the riding that was split into Fleetwood-Port Kells and Newton-Delta North. It was one of the needle fights for the Sikh community.

Herb Dhaliwal, who had opposed Martin in the Liberal leadership race, had found his riding executive taken over by Martin supporters when he was away on a foreign tour last year. With Dhaliwal opting out of the race, Martin nominated Dossanjh as the Liberal candidate.

Dossanjh's victory seemed sure, though his switching of sides from the NDP to the Liberal Party in 2004 caused a lot of heartburning in both parties. He had lost the provincial NDP government to the Liberals in 2001.

In Ontario, Gurbax Singh Malhi retained the Bramalea-Gore-Malton seat for the fourth time for the Liberals, defeating Raminder Gill (Conservative) by over 7,000 votes. Gill, who had won the seat in the provincial elections in 1999, lost it in last year's provincial elections to Dr. Kuldeep Kultar (Liberal).

Two other Sikhs in the Liberal camp,Ruby Dhalla (Brampton-Springdale) and Navdeep Singh Bains (Mississauga-Brampton South), have also made it to the House of Commons. Dhalla, who was nominated by Martin, beat Sukalyan (Sam) Hundal of the Conservative Party while Bains defeated Parvinder Sandhu, who owns the Chandigarh-headquartered WWICS, an immigration consultancy office.

Liberal Wajid Khan, a Pakistani-Canadian, took Mississauga-Streetsville in his first run at public office from Conservative Nina Tangri who was making her third bid at electoral office.

Yasmin Ratansi, who won in Don Valley East, had made an unsuccessful electoral bid in 1988. She soundly defeated Dave Johnson, a Conservative heavyweight, to retain for the Liberals the seat that was held by former Minister David Collenette, who retired from politics.

Ratansi, who migrated from Tanzania, is joined by fellow Ismaili Muslim Rahim Jaffer (Edmonton-Strathcona) from Alberta. The 32-year-old won for the third time for the Conservatives. Similarly, Deepak Obhrai (Conservative) held his Calgary East (Alberta) seat with a big margin. In the Alberta riding of Edmonton-Beaumont, Conservative Tim Uppal's hopes rests on a recount. He lost by 40 votes to David Kilgour (Liberal).

Mobina Jaffer, an Ismaili born in Uganda, is in the Senate, the Upper House of Parliament. The Vancouver-based lawyer was nominated by former Premier Jean Chretien in 2001.

On the Indian government's web site on the Indian diaspora, it is erroneously mentioned that Kieth Martin, who won from a British Columbia riding, is "originally from Goa". A former Reformer who switched over to the Liberal side, Dr. Martin is reported to have said that he is "one-fourth" Indian, as he believes his grandmother (from his mother's side) was of Goan origin.

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