Toronto, Jan. 24: When Canada’s new parliament assembles in Ottawa after yesterday’s nail-biting snap election, the brown tinge on its benches will remain practically unchanged with most South Asian incumbents retaining their seats with comfortable margins.
With a change of guard in Ottawa and the incoming Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper well short of a majority of his own in parliament, composition of a cabinet is not at the top of his priorities.
Even as Harper negotiates with other parties to cobble together a majority in parliament, there is speculation here about South Asian representation in his ministry.
The expectation is that this slot will go to Deepak Obhrai, a Conservative MP from Alberta, where the new ruling party swept the polls. This is Obhrai’s fourth victory in elections to parliament from his constituency of Calgary East. Born in Tanzania, but educated at Daly College in Indore, Obhrai is a first generation immigrant, who came to Canada only in 1977.
Another Indian origin aspirant for ministership is Nina Grewal, who made history of sorts two years ago, when she and her husband Gurmant became the first couple to be elected together to Canada’s parliament.
Although Nina has retained her seat in British Columbia, there is a cloud over her chances because of a scandal which forced Gurmant to abandon his bid for re-election. The scandal involved tapes, in which the couple were allegedly offered incentives to cross the floor in the previous parliament.
For several years now, the political activism of Canada’s Punjabi community has been recognised with representation for them in the federal cabinet.
In the previous government of Prime Minister Paul Martin, the Indo-Canadians were represented by Ujjal Dosanjh, the health minister. Dosanjh, the only Indian origin politician to become premier of a Canadian province, was easily re-elected last night from his constituency of Vancouver South in British Columbia.
Martin’s predecessor, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, had brought into his cabinet Herb Dhaliwal, another Punjabi, who held several portfolios until 2004. Gurbax Malhi, the first Indo-Canadian to be elected to this country’s parliment in 1993, was also re-elected handsomely last night from Ontario province.
Other prominent candidates of Indian origin, who were re-elected, include Navdeep Bains and Ruby Dhalla, both from Ontario.
Among the winning candidates of South Asian origin, who made their way to Canada through East Africa are Yasmin Rattansi, who was born in Tanzania.
A former Pakistani Air Force officer, who embraced politics after immigrating to Canada is Wajid Khan. He will be a strong voice for Canadians of Pakistani origin in parliament.
Martin’s inability to gain a Liberal majority in the new parliment means an end to 12 years of continuous rule by the party. The outgoing Prime Minister announced that he will give up leadership of the party.
When he is sworn into office, Harper will be the first Canadian Prime Minister to come into office from outside the French-speaking province of Quebec in 27 years.