Under this theme of Global events, we have in the past often brought to you interesting information, facts, news and articles from across the world on events and happenings in lands foreign, whether it be festivals and days of remembrance, ceremonies of national and international importance, Diaspora related stories etc. In this issue, we bring you tidings from the North of America. From Canada, a country that spans from the pacific to the Atlantic from west to east, and a bulwark in the Arctic, in the north, a long-time partner in the development of independent India. While Canada is busy forming a new government led by the liberals, it has implications for our Diaspora, who are progressively joining the mainstream there …
Canada emerged from its 42nd federal elections held on October 19th just a fortnight ago, noted for being one of the longest and costliest in Canadian Parliamentary history, which also saw a marked increase in voter turnout – from 61% in 2011, to 68% in the current election, with cast ballots rising from 14.8 million to 17.5 million. The Conservative Party, in power for the past 9 years, was being challenged by the New Democratic Party – the Official Opposition, with the Liberal Party of Canada holding at best the third party status. This three-way race saw many ups and downs – there were times the NDP surged ahead, and times when Conservatives looked like they would form another minority government. But in the end – as the public mood shifted over the final week or two as it often does – Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau won a majority government, ushering in a change of guard.
In a stunning end to a long, bitter campaign, Trudeau, the son of a former prime minister, is elevated to the same office after leading his party to the biggest political comeback in Canadian history. His Party has a clear majority of 184 seats in the 338-member House, while the outgoing Conservative party has 100 and the NDP placed third with 42 seats. With its 184 ayes, the Liberals secure a strong mandate to implement their big-spending platform designed to jolt the economy. The NDP is crushed, returning to a distant third-place and raising questions about its leadership. More significantly, a decade of Conservative rule comes to an end in Ottawa – a polarizing span that witnessed crackdowns on crime, lower taxes, a more aggressive stance in the world, and an economic emphasis on oil and the West.
From the Indian Diaspora point of view, one could say history has been made in these elections, with as many as 20 Punjabis getting elected to the House of Commons. This number apropos exceeds the 13 Punjabis elected to the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) during the 2014 Indian General Elections. This is the highest success-rate so far – in the past, this has been 10 in 2008, and 8 in 2011. In 1993, for the first ever time in Canada, three Indo-Canadians had made it to Parliament, among whom was Gurbax Singh Malhi – the first ever turbaned Sikh to get elected. Of the 20 Punjabis, 18 are Liberals and two are Conservatives, 14 are males and six are females. Ontario elected 12, British Columbia four, Alberta three and one is from Quebec.
Prominent among the winners are Navdeep Bains, Harjit Sajjan, Deepak Obhrai and Sukh Dhaliwal. Bains and Dhaliwal had lost elections the last time but have made it this time. Four Punjabi women – Sonia Sidhu, Kamal Khera, Anju Dhillon and Ruby Sahota have also been elected. Prominent losers are Tim Uppal and Bal Gosal, Devinder Shorey, Param Gill, Jinny Sims and Nina Grewal. Uppal lost the election to Amarjit Sohi of the Liberal Party with a wafer-thin margin of 80 votes in Edmonton-Mill Woods in Alberta. There are five turbaned Sikhs – Harjit Sajjan, Raj Grewal, Darshan Kang, Navdeep Bains and Randip Sarai – who have been elected. Harjit Sajjan, who has been elected from Vancouver South, an area dominated by people of Chinese origin, has served as a Lt. Colonel in the Canadian Army, and has done duty in the Afghan war.
Traditionally Punjabis have been close to the Liberal Party, a reason why the party put up maximum number of candidates from the community. The Liberals had nominated 20 Indo-Canadians in the elections and most were Punjabis, of whom 15 have succeeded. Only two Punjabis have been elected on the Conservative Party ticket. They are Deepak Obhrai and Jati Sidhu. The best win is for Anju Dhillon, who won in a French-speaking constituency where the Punjabi population is negligible.
The Liberal Party has promised to revoke C-24 Bill, which empowered the Canadian government to divest any immigrant, found involved in anti-Canada or any terrorist activity, of citizenship. The party has also promised to soften the C-51 Bill authorising the government to make arrests without issuing a warrant in terror-related cases.
Even as this piece is being written, we have some late news, which we have here. Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberals party, has been sworn in as the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada at the historic Rideau Hall in Ottawa, the country’s capital. In a departure from previous ceremonies, the event was open to the public. During his campaign, Trudeau had assured a Cabinet with gender-parity and he delivered on that promise – women formed almost half the 31 new Ministers.
The Indian-Canadian community has much to celebrate as well, with Trudeau co-opting four Indian-origin MPs to steer important ministries – Vancouver South MP Harjit Sajjan’s appointment to the critical post of Minister for National Defence is a case in point. Sajjan, born in Punjab, is a first-time MP and is perfectly suited for that role. He has an interesting background: A native of Vancouver, he has served as Detective with the Gang Crime Unit, of particular significance given the prevalence of Indo-Canadian gangs in that metropolitan region. Sajjan went on to military service and served three deployments in Afghanistan, playing an intelligence role. In 2011, he became the first Commander of an army regiment of Sikh-origin, taking charge of the British Columbia Regiment. He left the military in 2014 and soon thereafter entered the political theatre, emerging as the Liberal Party’s candidate for the Vancouver South constituency.
Also joining the Cabinet is Navdeep Bains as the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Bains, an MBA, was an MP between 2004 and 2011 before he lost in that election. In the years since he has been a visiting professor at the Ryerson University in Toronto. Bains played a critical role in marshalling the Liberal Party’s campaign in the Brampton and Mississauga suburban parts of Toronto that have a large population of Indo-Canadians. Bains has been rewarded perhaps in recognition of his role in the Liberals sweeping this region.
The third minister is Amarjeet Sohi, who takes over as the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. He’s a former city councillor who turned into a giant killer, defeating Indo-Canadian Minister Tim Uppal by less than 100 votes in the October 2015 federal elections. Stephen harper’s outgoing Conservative Party, apropos, had two ministers of Indian-origin – Tim Uppal, who lost to Amarjeet Sohi, and Bal Gosal, who also lost in his re-election attempt. The fourth minister is a young Sikh woman, Bardish Jhagger, a first-time MP who joins Trudeau’s cabinet as the Minister for Small Business and Tourism.