Gurmant Singh Grewal is a Canadian politician and former Conservative Party of Canada MP. Gurmant and wife Nina Grewal were in fact the very first married couple to serve in the Canadian House of Commons together. Gurmant grewal was first elected to the House of Commons on June 2, 1997 for the riding of Surrey Central and re-elected on November 27, 2000. He has represented the riding of Newton — North Delta from 2004 till 2005 as well. His wife represents Fleetwood — Port Kells. Born on December 21, 1957 in Barundi, Punjab state, India, Gurmant grew up in Ludhiana, going to school and graduating from the Union Territory. While not much is in the public domain about his childhood, boyhood and youth in India, the man himself shared some details with the NRI Achievers team which spoke to him:
“I belong to Ludhiana In Punjab, in a village called Halwara. In 1965, when I was 8 and in school, I got the opportunity to welcome US Vice President Hubert Horatio Humpfrey, when he came to our region to inaugurate a hospital in Sudhar. Our government at that time was more inclined towards the Soviet Union. But many central and state government ministers were there to welcome him. His caravan was of 2 to 3 kilometres long, a spectacle I was seeing for the first time in my life. My parents were teachers, who used to keep both me and my brother rather well groomed. We were also good singers, so we were invited to sing a song for him. He was very impressed with us, and gave us a certificate in which it was written: ‘Admit card to the Vice President gallery at the US Senate Chamber, an invitation,’ and below that there was his signature. We didn’t know the value of this piece of paper at that time. But after finishing our matriculation, when we came to Delhi and showed this certificate to the people at the US embassy, we were told that they were obliged to give us a US visa and that we will never be denied one ever. It has no expiry date. This was when my desire to serve the people got kindled … “
“After matric, I went on to do my B.Sc. Honours in Agriculture from Punjab Agricultural University, after which I did an MBA and got to join the DCM Group’s ‘Shriram Fertilizers,’ as a middle level manager. After a while I felt restless, so I took to seeking a better opportunity. In time, I got job with a British company, where I was selected from among 700 candidates, and was offered a station of my choice. I chose northern India.
“Then came matrimony, and it so happened that my in-laws were settled in Africa. So I left India for Liberia in West Africa. Liberia had become independent in 1847 and it is the only country outside of the United States where the official tender is the US Dollar. Their ships are also registered in largest quantity. Me and my brother Man Mohan Grewal started the business of Pest control with a meagre amount of six (6) dollars. We got to do a job at the home of the British ambassador, and we managed to earn 600 USD. Thus began our endeavour, and this is in fact how we got to establish our business. Later we went on to diversify into agricultural chemicals, pesticides, et al. We got the previlege to represent the global company ‘ICI’ in the Liberia. We were also responsible for contributing to the telecom network in Liberia. In fact, we even went to the extent of suggesting the replication of India’s green revolution to the president of Liberia, and the response was positive. In a way our host country also benefited by this measure, and in retrospect, that helped us indeed with our getting good business.”
Gurmant Grewal’s interests were not only focused upon growing his business, he also took interest in academics, and has served as a professor at the University of Liberia. In the year 1991, Grewal emigrated to Canada, where he wholeheartedly plunged into Canadian politics, apart from spending time with his commercial ventures that took care of his livelihood. Within 6 years, he managed to get elected as a Member of Parliament for the Reform Party of Canada, in the federal riding of Surrey Central in 1997. next in the 2000 federal elections he won by getting 29,812 votes, 51.6% of the popular vote – a margin of 10,300 votes more than the Liberal candidate. However, in the 2004 federal elections his margin of victory fell to 500 votes. As a MP sitting in the caucus of the Reform Party from 1997 to 2000, the Canadian Alliance from 2000 to 2003 and then for the Conservative Party of Canada from 2003 to 2006, Grewal has held the positions of Deputy House Leader of the Official Opposition of Canada (1998-2000); as as the Official Opposition Critic for several aspects, including Multiculturalism (2004), Scrutiny of Regulations (2001-2004), for Canadians Abroad (2004), for Asia Pacific (2001-2004) and for Foreign Affairs (1997-2004). With his wife, Nina Grewal, winning a seat in the 2004 federal election, the Grewals became the first married couple to serve concurrently in the House of Commons or in any Commonwealth parliament.
“When I migrated to Canada, I was no politician. But after settling down in Canada, I saw that Asians had to reckon with a lot of partiality and discrimination, and they were not getting equal opportunities. Due to poor representation, our position was not so good, so I ultimately decided to take to politics as a means of alleviating the lot of Indians (and Asians). I recall how in Africa we were called the white man while in Canada we were the brown men. Our party was called the Reform Party. I became the first minority candidate of the party. Deepak Obhrai, another long time MP and politician of Indian origin, came next. It was my previlege to initiate all work for the minority ethnic communities in the whole of Canada. I have also had the previlege to be the first ever minority candidate to be selected to be a Chairman of any Committee in Canadian parliamentary history since 1867. And I managed to accomplish all this in a mere 5 years and 8 months after shifting to Canada. A record I guess, as getting citizenship itself takes between 2 to 3 years. I have served three terms as a MP and my wife is currently in her 5th term as a MP. In my stints, I have the distinction of having introduced more than 50 bills, while any average MP gets to introduce a mere 4-5 bills during their tenures. I used to also give the maximum number of speeches, once in one session I even gave 87 speeches.”
When India conducted the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998, Canada expressed its unhappiness by recalling its High Commissioner and imposing trade sanctions against India. Gurmant Grewal was at that time the Opposition Deputy House Leader in the Canadian House of Commons. IT WAS Grewal’s thought that it a wrong move on the part of Canada, and he took action by organising a visit to India on a fact-finding mission, with Preston Manning, the Leader of Official Opposition of Canada and MP Bob Mills. If this action he then took did not happen, the Indo-Canada relationship would have remained frostier for a longer time. His delegation was the first foreign one to visit Indian shores after the nuclear tests. They perforce had to defy the ban on Canadian politicians to visit India by the then Liberal Foreign Minister.
“I had become a Canadian MP first in 1997. After India’s nuclear tests in July 1998, the Canadians were the only country to protest, and in a knee-jerk reaction, recalled their diplomats from India and Pakistan, at the same time imposing trade sanctions. I was the official opposition critic for foreign affairs, aka the government’s opposition shadow minister. In my view it was a very serious issue, both countries were in tension and war could have happened. I felt the need to take some qualitative actions. I did my research, put all relevant facts together, convinced my leaders that Canada was taking a wrong step, and that we should stand up to avert disaster. While I had convinced our leader to go to India, we had to go against Canadian government orders to make the trip. On the 18th of July 1998, me, my opposition leader, MP Bob Mill and an assistant made it to India.
“Our embassy shadowed us everywhere. We were in fact the first foreign delegation after the sanctions. Our presence had a positive impact on Indian leaders. The Indian government arranged high-level meetings for us with president of india Dr. KR Naraynan. While the Embassy wanted to be in on it, we adopted subterfuge by citing the meeting time as 3.30 PM while it was in fact scheduled for 10 AM. We met the president and he gave us the nuts and bolts of the nuclear test. The meeting, originally to last 20 minutes, lasted over an hour. Subsequently, we also held meetings with many senior ministers and ministries, and ours turned out to be one successful mission. We went back to Canada and did everything to make the Canadian government to roll-back all sanctions. We got diplomats sent back to India and Pakistan.
Our PM, Mr. Harper, in recognition of my efforts has so far offered twice that I join his liberal party, but being a man of principle, I have regretfully turned down the offer twice. But I do have very good relations with almost all cross sections of the Canadian polity. In India too, I have had very good relations with most of the Indian leaders … Dr. Manmohan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishan Adwani, Yashwant Sinha, and others… “
Grewal has raised many issues that have benefitted the visible minorities in Canada, including the Indian diaspora. He had initiated and raised the issue of India’s dual citizenship and had appeared as a witness before the High Level Committee of Indian Diaspora led by Dr. L.M. Singhvi. Dr. Grewal made the case that India must capitalize on the people of Indian origin living abroad and the dual citizenship would keep them and their future generations connected with India – their motherland. He is also credited with raising the issue of recognition of foreign credentials in Canada. He is the one who lobbied the governments of both countries for opening of a Canadian Consulate Office in Chandigarh. Nina Grewal, Gurmant’s spouse, is the first South Asian woman to have been elected to Canadian Parliament, and continues to serve her fifth term as MP. Nina Grewal has accompanied Canadian PM Stephen Harper twice on official visits to India. Both Gurmant and Nina are co-founders of the Canada-India Parliamentary Friendship Group, of which Gurmant has also been a Chairman.
Talking about the diaspora and his efforts to smoothen their way into Canadian society and the economy, and his current endeavors and preoccupations, Gurmant Grewal shared this with the NRI Achievers editorial team: “At one point in time, many qualified Indian professionals like doctors and engineers who came to live in Canada faced a problem regarding their qualifications, and were forced to find employment as petrol pump attendees, drivers, shopkeeper’s assistants, and cleaners etc. I was disturbed by this and took it upon myself to get this problem sorted out. Even facing some opposition from my own party members, I was all for it – I said make the pie bigger, create more jobs. Ultimately, I got recognition for foreign credentials.
“I have also worked on many other issues related to diaspora, like the fees issue, where there was fee discrimination against third world contries as compared to Europe. On the tourist visa issue, these were earlier refused on the pretext that they do not go back. I took this up, and insisted in Parliament that one has got a sponsorship, they ought to be given visas. I have also fought against racism, compelling the government to apologise for policies that were being seen as racist. I am a proud Canadian, but I am also proud to be Indian origin. There is this problem in Canada, where though being Canadians, we of Asian origin are more often than not treated as second-class citizens. The credit for moving a bill to combat this is also mine. In my view, all should b treated at par … as Canadians and not as Indo Canadian.
“Presently I am out of Parliament and into business. I am in the process of establishing extensive apple orchards, in collaboration with Non Resident Indian Rajesh Satija, whom you had featured in one of your earlier issues. Together between us, we have so far about 320 acres of land under apple cultivation. As of now, we are the largest apple growers in Atlantic Canada, and the fourth largest in all of Canada. It is my projection that after december this year, we will the second largest. If everything goes well, we will be the largest next year. We had gone to Prince Edward island in the year 2007. I saw huge potential there, as the land was extremely very good and as a matter of fact, rather inexpensive. Our apples are of the choisest and premium varieties, and one box of 20 kilos is today selling at US$ 79. Other ordinary apple varieties sell for around 20 – 22 USD. Our variety is called ‘Honey Crisp’ and we have a 65% hold of the world market for it. One of our team members, Dr. Amarjeet Jutana, is a veteral in this field for some 35 years now, and is credited with being the first one to introduced ‘stickered’ apples in India, during 1997-98.
“In July 2000. while travelling in Central and Eastern Europe, I had gone to Georgia, a former Soviet republic and now independent. I even had the occasion to meet the Georgian president and interact with him. I shared my thoughts and ideas on current trends in world affairs which he liked. That apart, Georgia has great geographic positioning in Europe, an excellent climate, rich soil, and is eminently suited for fruid orchards along the plains that abut their foothills. So we went in for orchards there, and we now have 170 acres of apples and other fruits in Georgia as well. So much so that we are labeled the largest fruit grower in eastern Europe.”
All said and done, the Grewals come across as Canadians who are proud of their Indian origins, and keen to contribute towards the strengthening of bonds and relations between Canada and India, on the diplomatic, political, economic and people to people fronts.