The Indo-Canadian community is about 1.2 million strong, making up nearly 3 per cent of Canada’s population, though that percentage hits double digits in the Toronto and Vancouver metro areas. All the three major federal parties – the ruling Conservative Party, and the opposition Liberal and New Democratic Party – have nominated candidates from this community for the parliamentary election coming up on October 19.
In fact, in many ridings, as constituencies are called in Canada, all the three candidates are Indo-Canadian, ensuring a sizeable presence of the community in the next Parliament. Currently there are eight MPs of Indian origin in Canada; six of them are Conservatives and two from the NDP. No Indo-Canadian Liberals were elected in 2011, a trend the party will hope to reverse this year.
Here are some of the key candidates:
Studied at DAV College in Jalandhar, Bal Gosal migrated to Canada in 1981. He worked in the insurance industry before entering politics and was the first elected MP in 2011 in a tight race where his two main opponents were also Indo-Canadian. He’s currently serving as Minister of State for Sport in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, and is one of five visible minorities in the ministry. Gosal was named as one of Canada’s most active MPs on Twitter (@BalGosal) in a Canadian news report last year.
This Canadian-born politician has been a banker and radio host. He was first elected to Parliament in 2008 when he was initially made Minister of State for Democratic Reform in Harper’s government and currently serves as Minister of State for Multiculturalism along with Gosal.
Tim Uppal is one of five visible minorities in the government, and the first turban-wearing Sikh to serve as a federal minister in Canada. He helped unveil the government’s controversial plan for legislation to ban the wearing of face-covering niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. A federal court recently upheld the right of a Pakistani woman to cover her face during the ceremony and she was sworn in as a citizen. Uppal faces a competitive race against another Indo-Canadian candidate, Amarjeet Sohi of the Liberal Party, this year.
Born in Jalandhar, Jinny (Jogindera) Sims first immigrated to England at the age of nine, and moved to Canada in 1975. A former teacher and union leader, she entered Parliament in 2011 by defeating Indo-Canadian Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal; she is seeking re-election against Dhaliwal and Conservative candidate Harpreet Singh. Surrey Centre will also see a three-way race between Indo-Canadians Jasbir Sandhu of the NDP, who is the incumbent MP, and Liberal Randeep Sarai and Sucha Thind of the Conservative Party.
Shory was born in Barnala, Punjab and studied law at Punjab University in Patiala before moving to Canada. He unloaded trucks, drove a cab and worked in a video store before he was able to start practicing law in Canada. He was first elected to Parliament from Calgary in 2008 and re-elected in 2011.
His main challenger this year is another Indo-Canadian Darshan Kang of the Liberal Party; the NDP candidate is Sahajvir Singh Randhawa. Shory is known for championing legislation that would revoke Canadian citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage. The controversial provision was included in a revamped Citizenship Act passed last year and took effect this summer.
Dhillon was born and raised in the Montreal riding she is contesting from, in the French-speaking province of Quebec. She is the first Canadian Sikh to practice law in Quebec courts. She is challenging sitting MP Isabelle Morin of the NDP. Before its boundaries were redrawn, the Liberals held the previous incarnation of this riding for over four decades. Morin won in 2011 as a virtually unknown 26-year-old.
Bajaj is a former consultant to 7-Eleven Canada, and past president of the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce. He has often talked of immigrating to Canada from Gujarat just over a decade ago with only $600 in hand. Bajaj has been a member of several trade delegations to India and was also part of the Prime Minister’s delegation when Harper visited India. The candidates of all three major parties in Brampton East are Indo-Canadian and a tight three-way race is expected. This is Bajaj’s first electoral battle and his opponents are Liberal Raj Grewal and Harbaljit Singh Kahlon of the NDP.
Other Indo-Canadian candidates include Conservative MPs Nina Grewal, Parm Gill and Deepak Obhrai; Sukhdev Aujla, Kamal Khera and Rameshwer Sangha of the Liberal Party; and the NDP’s Monika Dutt, Amandeep Nijjar and Harbaljit Singh Kahlon.
There are also several other South Asian candidates of Pakistani and Sri Lankan origin, including NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaeisan and NDP candidate Rev. KM Shanthikumar, a former cricketer who was a member of Sri Lanka’s World Cup team in 1979.
(Indira Kannan is a senior journalist currently based in Toronto)