When Canada votes on September 20 to elect a new federal government, there will be many Punjabi and Sikh candidates whose fate will be decided. According to the Indian High Commission in Ottawa, the Canadian House of Commons (total strength 338) currently has 22 Members of Parliament of Indian-origin. This includes three ministers in the Cabinet, including defence minister Harjit S. Sajjan; minister of diversity, inclusion and youth Bardish Chagger; and minister of public services and procurement Anita Anand. Jagmeet Singh, leader of New Democratic Party, the party that provides support in parliament to the minority Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, is also an MP.
During his recent campaigning in New Brunswick province last weekend, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who heads a Liberal Party minority government, had procurement minister Anita Anand, whom he called his minister of vaccines, by his side. Anand has relaunched her own campaign for re-election from Oakville, Ontario. Minister Bardish Chagger, MP since 2015 from the riding of Waterloo, Ontario, is also contesting again.
Defence minister in the Trudeau Cabinet, Harjit Sajjan, who was first elected MP in 2015, is also seeking re-election from Vancouver South. Indians form a large part of the population of this district and Conservative candidate Sukhbir Singh Gill is also of Indian origin.
Jagmeet Singh, MP from Burnaby South, British Columbia since 2019, and leader of the New Democratic Party since 2017, is likely to play an important role in the election. In the 2019 federal election, the New Democrats under Singh won 24 seats. Liberals led by Trudeau were re-elected but reduced to a minority government, with the support of NDP. Hence as its leader, Jagmeet Singh could again emerge kingmaker after the election results are declared.
Ujjal Dosanjh, who has served as premier of the state of British Columbia; Liberal Party MP and minister of health feels that regardless of which party or political dispensation forms the government in Canada, there will be a sizeable number of Indian Canadians elected, especially in districts such as Surrey, in the province of British Columbia, which have large a Punjabi population. “Though there have been references to the farmers protests in India and support expressed over the last few months by the political parties in Canada, since many Indian Canadians have their roots in Punjab, I don’t think any specific issues of the Indian community are being raised during the election campaign,” Dosanjh told timesofindia.com from Vancouver.
While Randeep S. Sarai, the MP representing the electoral district of Surrey Centre is seeking re-election in the Greater Toronto Metropolitan Area, which is also home to a large Indian Canadian population, Liberal members of parliament Maninder Sidhu (Brampton East), Ruby Sahota (Brampton North), Kamal Khera (Brampton West) and Sonia Sidhu (Brampton South) are in the fray again. Navdeep Bains (Mississauga-Malton), who was earlier a minister in the Trudeau Cabinet, has, however, announced that he is stepping away from politics and is not in the race. Liberal MP Gagan Sikand (Mississauga-Streetsville) and Independent Ramesh Sangha (Brampton Centre) are also not seeking re-election. Sangha was removed from the Liberal caucus this January because he had spoken out against the government. Indian American Conservative party candidates Jasveen Rattan, Jagdeep Singh, Naval Bajaj, Medha Joshi and Ramandeep Singh Brar are contesting from the ridings of Mississauga-Streetsville, Brampton Centre, Brampton East, Brampton North and Brampton South. Anju Dhillon, Liberal MP from Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, who is the first South Asian to be elected from the province of Quebec, is also campaigning for re-election. In Alberta, Conservative candidate Tim S Uppal (Edmonton Mills Wood), who had defeated former Liberal Cabinet minister, Amarjeet Sohi, is also contesting again.
The most important issues that are likely to become deciding factors in Canada’s upcoming elections include management of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economy. However, with Indian Canadian candidates representing all the big parties and playing an important role in politics, issues which are specifically of concern to the Indian community could also play an important role in deciding winners, feel some political analysts. “The ongoing travel ban on flights from India, which has been extended to September 21, is hurting members of the community hard. Indian students, who bring in valuable foreign exchange for universities as well as the Canadian economy, are facing great hardships in reaching their institutions to attend in person classes. Besides, the ban is also hurting small businesses in Canada, many of which are run by people of Indian origin, and Canada-India trade,” says Hemant M Shah, trade director, Overseas Friends of India Canada, an Ottawa based organisation.
Dr Shivendra Dwivedi, a doctor in Montreal and national president of Canada-India Global Forum, an organisation that helps build international business networks, also agrees that the travel ban on Indians by the Canadian government with no relaxation even for vaccinated passengers will have an impact on who Indian-Canadians will vote for. “The ban has been extended till after election day and is causing a lot of hardships for members of the community. It is very unfair since no other country faces a similar ban. We have communicated this to the Canadian Prime Minister’s office,” Dr Dwivedi said. Considering that the Indian community has high visibility across the political spectrum as well as in business, academics and other walks of life in Canada; Dr Dwivedi feels that issues such as a long delay in signing of the India-Canada free trade agreement and the Canadian government supporting the farmers protest in Punjab could also have an impact on the election.
National Alliance of Indo-Canadians is, in fact, reaching out of candidates from the community to sign a pledge for the federal elections to reject vote-based, divisive politics, based on ethnicity, religion, race, gender etc. The pledge also raises the issue of immediate resumption of direct flights between Canada and India, as this prohibition has caused great distress to Indo-Canadians, separated families and severely damaged the prospects of students from India wishing to pursue higher studies in Canada. “It is important for the community to fight divisive politics and also to call out extremist elements that support the Khalistan movement and violence. Another concern is the fact that many Indian Canadians who are stranded in India because of the ban on direct flights will not be able to cast their vote and are being deprived of their rights,” Dr Azad Kaushik, president of the alliance said.