Punjabi Canadians won 18 seats in the recent election in Canada
In Canada’s newly elected Liberal government, under PM designate Justin Trudeau, Indian Canadians have notched up a record number of 19 seats.
While many of these seats have been won in Canada’s largest province of Ontario, a hub for the Indian immigrant community, five of the winners are women. These include Anju Dhillon, a lawyer who contested for the Liberal Party from Dorval-Lachine-La-Salle and became the first Indian-Canadian to win a seat in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Fellow Liberal candidate Ruby Sahota, also a lawyer, won from Brampton North, a riding (constituency in Indian parlance) in Ontario, which has a large immigrant population.
“Indians in Canada are active on democratic forums and turned up to vote in large numbers in our riding. In fact, the Indian-Canadian community is very active in political roles because they bring a long tradition of public life from back home in India,” says Sahota, a second-generation immigrant whose parents moved to Canada from Punjab. And while she believes that as an Indian-Canadian MP representing a large number of immigrants she will highlight issues related to the south Asian community, she also wants to focus on young women in her constituency.
“Many young women, some with children, supported me in my campaign. Some of them were from the Indian community, too. As a lawyer and mother myself, I would like to support them in a big way in remaining in the workforce because I see public life and politics to be a male-dominated world so far,” Sahota told ET Magazine.
Pallavi Banerjee, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Calgary, believes that while Indian-Canadians have always been a powerful minority community, the record number of MPs elected in the 2015 federal elections will energise the community further and allow them to find a stronger voice in legislation and policy-making at the highest levels. “The high representation of women of Indian/South Asian origin in elected offices is also commendable. Besides, the much-needed presence of women in elected offices and public life, the engagement of Indian and South Asian women in public life explodes the stereotypes of South Asian women as docile, dependent and home-bound,” said Banerjee, whose work focuses on immigration in a big way.
“Compared to the US, the level of engagement in political and public life of Indians in Canada is definitely higher. What’s fascinating is how prominently the community is represented across political parties and across provinces,” Banerjee adds.
Longest-serving south Asian MP Deepak Obhrai, who won for the seventh term from Calgary Forest Lawn as a Conservative Party candidate, believes that no government in Canada — Conservative or Liberal — can ignore the Indian community any more. “There were a large number of candidates of Indian origin in the fray across party lines [44 Indian Canadians contested of which 36 are Punjabi].
Those who have been elected come from diverse backgrounds and I hope they will all bring some unique value to parliament,” Obhrai said. He is, however, somewhat concerned that some of the candidates are freshers with no experience and may have rode a Liberal wave that swept the Canadian elections.
Sukh Dhaliwal, the newly elected Liberal MP from Surrey-Newton in British Columbia, of course, has no such concerns.
“Canada has always had one of the most diverse parliaments in the world. There is a long history of MPs who were born outside of Canada, and the Liberal Party was the first to appoint an Indo-Canadian as a Cabinet minister in 1997,” Dhaliwal said. He added that Indo-Canadians are prominent in public life across Canada with a large number of candidates for the recent elections from Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
“In my city of Surrey, Indo-Canadians make up more than 30% of the population. Across provinces, Indo-Canadians are stepping up in all areas of society to make significant contributions that are appreciated by all Canadians,” said Dhaliwal.
While the Liberal Party in Canada is seen as a party of immigrants, many of the first-generation immigrants from India who went to Canada in the 1970s supported late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of Justin Trudeau, the new PM of Canada, points out Liberal politician Ruby Dhalla, who became the first woman MP of Indian origin in Canada in 2004.
“There are pockets in Canada known as mini India and mini Punjab. The Indian diaspora overall has done very well here in every facet of Canadian life including healthcare, business, media, real estate and politics. The community has succeeded through hard work and determination,” adds Dhalla.