The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi lesson for Canada

Windsor (Ontario), May 22: Canada’s embattled Prime Minister Paul Martin appears to have learnt a thing or two in the Indian art of political survival from his recent visit to New Delhi.

He is being aided in this effort by at least one Indo-Canadian minister and two Indo-Canadian MPs, who have roots in the Punjab-Haryana region, once notorious for its Aaya-Ram-Gaya-Ram politics.

In a mirror image of the Indian Parliament, Canada’s House of Commons has been paralysed for weeks by shouting matches and adjournment motions and the Prime Minister has been besieged by the Opposition over a corruption scandal.

On Thursday, his minority government squeaked through in a confidence vote on the budget: 152 votes for the government and 152 against. The speaker used his casting vote to bail out the government.

But even that morally questionable victory was made possible Indian-style. Two days earlier, Belinda Stronach, an MP from the Opposition Conservative Party, defected and was immediately sworn in minister for human resources in the Liberal government.

The defector, a colourful 39-year-old heiress to a multi-billion-dollar automobile parts business, is the girlfriend of Peter McKay, deputy leader of the Conservatives in the House of Commons.

Canadian tabloids have hinted at a very close friendship between the attractive Stronach and former US President Bill Clinton and have published pictures of the two together.

Stronach has been in politics for no more than two years, but that did not prevent her from seeking leadership of the Conservative Party. She lost.

She has been a virulent critic of the Liberal Party, which she joined on Tuesday, but she took a leaf out of the defectors’ book in India when she rationalised her decision to cross the floor.

“I regret to say that I do not believe the (Conservative) Party’s leader is truly sensitive to the needs of each part of the country and just how big and complex Canada really is,” Stronach told a news conference after being sworn in as minister.

“For me this was a very difficult decision. I had to do a lot of reflection and inner searching. I came to the conclusion that I can best serve Canada and my constituents in this capacity.”

For the Prime Minister, Stronach’s defection has only given some breathing space. The Opposition has threatened to bring up a series of confidence votes before Parliament adjourns on June 24, but Martin is appealing to the Opposition, Manmohan Singh-style, to let Parliament work.

The weekend brought more trouble for the embattled Martin as shades of the JMM bribery scandal during P.V. Narasimha Rao’s prime ministership cast a new shadow over his government.

A tape surfaced to suggest a deal between the Indo-Canadian health minister in Martin’s government, Ujjal Dosanjh, and two Indo-Canadian MPs from the Opposition, Gurmant Grewal and his wife Nina. Dosanjh has been a trouble-shooter for Martin.

According to accounts in the Canadian media, a spokesman for Dosanjh said Grewal and his wife offered their votes to the government during the crucial budget session in return for political appointments and termination of separate investigations by the police and the ethics commissioner of the House of Commons against Grewal.

The tape, which is likely to be probed, will make Canada’s already murky politics steamier in the weeks ahead.

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