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Four Indians in a 30-member Canadian cabinet; 13.3% representation

Four Indian Canadian ministers give the 30-member Canadian Cabinet a diverse look and feel, although some feel that the community is over represented.

, ET Bureau|
Nov 22, 2015, 06.25 AM IST
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Navdeep Bains, Canada’s freshly minted minister of innovation, science and economic development, may be just 38 but he’s no newbie in politics, having served as member of Parliament for Mississauga — Brampton South from 2004 to 2011.

When he first won the election in 2004, Bains was only 26 and the youngest Liberal MP. A year later he was elected chair of the subcommittee on human rights and international development of the standing committee on foreign affairs and international trade, and later became parliamentary secretary to the then prime minister Paul Martin.

Connected to Political Roots

Excited about his new innings as minister with an important national economic portfolio, Bains is, however, not going to forget his constituents at Mississauga and Brampton, an area with a large representation of the Indian-Canadian community, where he has been a long-time resident.

“It’s very exciting, with new responsibilities on a national level. But I still take very seriously representing the constituents of my riding (or constituency). At the same time now I have this very unique opportunity to work with people from across the country to drive a meaningful agenda on economic development and innovation,” Bains told ET Magazine in an email interview.

Business tycoon turned politician Herb Dhaliwal, the first Indian Canadian minister in the federal Cabinet in 1997 as minister of revenue (then in 1999 as minister of fisheries and oceans, and in 2002 as minister of natural resources) too is upbeat about Bains and the three other ministers in what is now being dubbed as “the world’s most Sikh Cabinet.”

“The ministers of Indian origin have all proved themselves through their work in public and political life and deserve the responsibilities that prime minister Justin Trudeau has given them. Besides, they also represent diverse regions of Canada and have not all been elected from pockets that have large population of the Indian community,” Dhaliwal, who has now retired from public life and is back to running his own business, told ET Magazine.

He added that Bains is a representative of the young second and third generation Punjabi Canadians who have been active in public life and community work. “He will do very well in a challenging economic portfolio,” feels Dhaliwal.

Bains himself believes that the significant number of Indian Canadian MPs (19) and ministers speaks of the broader issue of creating an inclusive society and allowing people of diverse backgrounds to be represented in Canadian institutions. “It’s great to see that diversity reflected in our House of Commons and, in particular, in our Cabinet,” he says. For good measure, the Cabinet has 15 women, one of whom is a Muslim Canadian and another of indigenous (aboriginal) origin.

The portfolio of innovation is particularly significant for Bains, a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, and he is looking forward to continuing his work with students. “Ryerson is a great example where industry, academia and students came together and collaborated on some meaningful projects, and in-class learning; in particular, the digital media zone, which is a phenomenal success for startups,” he says.

An MBA with a finance specialisation who has worked for several years for Ford Motor, Canada, the minister has a great appreciation for financials. “I understand the expectations that many in the business community would have because of my business background. I have a good appreciation for what business people are thinking and the questions and concerns that they may have, and I feel very confident that I can represent their questions and concerns at the table,” he says.

Vision for Future

The Indian-Canadian community remains pivotal to Bains’ vision for the future. “It will be a key priority for me to engage with the Indian diaspora because of their entrepreneurial successes and their technical know-how. And also because we have a longstanding history of doing that in Canada through organisations like the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce,” he explains. The diverse opportunities for Canadian companies in the Indian market is also a big draw for the new Canadian government. “During PM Modi’s visit to Canada in April 2015, we had the opportunity to advance Canadian interests in science, technology and innovation cooperation with India when we hosted the Canada-India Joint Science and Technology Cooperation Committee (JSTCC) meeting,” says Bains.

However, the high visibility of Indian Canadians in the new government has not gone down too well with a section of political commentators and media, which feels that the community is over-represented.

Although they form only 1.5% of the Canadian population, Punjabi Canadians now have over 13% representation in the 30-member Canadian Cabinet. Ujjal Dosanjh, one of the first Indian Canadians to have gained visibility in public life, having served as Premier of British Columbia from 2000 to 2001 and as a Liberal MP between 2004 and 2011 and held the portfolio of minister of health between 2004 and 2006, sounds a note of caution.

“There is an increased number of young Indian Canadians running for various public positions at different levels including municipalities and local government from different political parties.

However, the number of Indian Punjabi ministers in the present Cabinet could seem a bit disproportionate considering that certain important ethnic groups such as the Chinese Canadians are not represented in the Cabinet at all. Community members only hope that there is no backlash against them in future,” he says.

Of course not everyone is unhappy over this ‘over-representation’. Of the 19 MPs of Indian origin elected in Canada’s recent federal elections, 16 were part of the Liberal caucus, an group within the party that directs important policy and strategy matters, Harinder Singh Takhar, a Liberal member of the legislative assembly of Ontario, representing the riding of Mississauga — Erindaleis, is not surprised. “The Indian Canadian MPs represent approximately 9% of the total Liberal caucus. And based on their strength, Indian origin MPs were well positioned to be included in the Cabinet,” he told ET Magazine.
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