by Jeff Sallot in Ottawa
Tactics win skirmishes. Strategy wins wars.
Tactically, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is at a disadvantage in the current political battle over whether he’s flip-flopping on the efficacy of bombing Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
Of course he’s flip-flopping. He’s done the strategizing, however, and has decided to hunker down and endure the sniper fire from New Democrats on his left flank and Conservatives on the right when the House resumes sitting next week.
What else could he do? Trudeau cannot logically explain away the fact that RCAF warplanes will continue bombing for at least another two weeks. We all know he promised something else during the election campaign three months ago. He promised to halt the bombing mission — and we expected that to happen well before now.
Nor is there an easy way to square those campaign promises with Trudeau’s new pledge Monday to provide midair refuelling service for the warplanes of other countries that continue dropping bombs.
Trudeau's broader strategy
So Trudeau will take the political hits, figuring that he’s got the broader strategy nailed. And this strategy, he hopes, will win the hearts and minds of Canadian voters by the time the next election rolls around.
Ottawa will spend $840 million over three years to provide food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance to refugees running for their lives in Syria and Iraq. Canada will provide an additional $270 million over three years to help Jordan and other frontline states build the infrastructure they’ll need to deal with a continuing flood of refugees.
The Canadian Armed Forces will substantially increase training programs for Iraqi soldiers to fight ISIS on the ground. Training programs will continue for another two years at least.
This is a fairly easy package for the Liberals to sell to Canadians. We all want to help refugees. And most of us think the Iraqis will have to win back their own territory with their own soldiers.
Trudeau’s strategy also runs a big risk. Canadians will be training ethnic Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq who have a political agenda all their own. Yes, they want to rub out ISIS — but they also want to establish an independent Kurdish state. The Iraqi government in Baghdad — a government that Ottawa says it supports — doesn’t like the idea of partitioning its territory.
NATO allies stick together
Our NATO allies in Turkey also have concerns about the Kurds. Turkey has a substantial Kurdish population of its own along the border with Iraq. A Kurdish separatist revolt against Baghdad in Iraq could quickly explode into a Kurdish rebellion against Ankara.
There would be hell to pay within NATO if Kurdish troops, trained and armed by Canada, started attacking the Turkish army. Trudeau didn’t address this question in his announcement Monday.
The prime minister was much happier to tell everyone about the thumbs-up he says other NATO allies are giving Canada’s new anti-ISIS program. He said he has been working the phones with Barack Obama in Washington, Angela Merkel in Berlin, David Cameron in London and François Hollande in Paris, and they’re all okay with his plan.
But you didn’t have to take Trudeau’s word for it. On cue, spokesmen at the White House and the Pentagon piped up and said they think Canada’s new contribution is just swell. (It’s not just the leaders who consult among themselves. So do their spin doctors.)
But honestly — what else would would the allies say? NATO countries don’t criticize each other in public very often. They quietly clench their teeth when there’s disagreement. Which is why Jean Chrétien took very little flak from the George W. Bush administration when he politely declined to sign on with the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
And Brian Mulroney stayed best buddies with Ronald Reagan when his Tory government said ‘no thanks’ to Canadian participation in the Pentagon’s hare-brained Star Wars program.
But here’s the other part of the deal: Canadian leaders pull their punches, too. They didn’t tell the allies the Iraq invasion would become a disaster, or that Star Wars is just a Hollywood sci-fi fairy tale.
So Trudeau will bite his tongue and utter not a word the next time a U.S. bomb goes astray and kills a bunch of innocent civilians in Syria or Iraq. And Trudeau has no intention of badmouthing Washington over the fact the Americans simply aren’t doing their share to resettle refugees in the United States.
Between allies, mum’s the word — always.
Jeff Sallot is worked for The Globe and Mail for more than three decades, much of the time as a political journalist based in Ottawa. He started his career in political journalism at The Toronto Star when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister. He taught journalism at Carleton University for seven years until he retired in 2014.
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver
Analysts and members of the Iranian-Canadian community say they are optimistic about a thawing of relations between Iran and Canada now that a new government is in power.
Despite the fact that a large and dynamic Iranian diaspora calls Canada its home, recent relations between the two countries have been complicated.
In 2012, the Harper government put Iran on the list of State Supporters of Terrorism, closed the Canadian embassy in Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada. The diplomatic relation between the two governments has since been suspended.
The Conservative government also enacted unilateral sanctions against Iran, some of which adversely affected the lives of Iranian Canadians.
But in June 2015, then prime minister candidate Justin Trudeau told the CBC that he hoped “that Canada would be able to reopen its mission” in Iran and he was “fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage” the Iranian government.
Reasons for a different approach
Observers give different reasons for the Liberal party’s decision to re-engage Iran.
First of all, the Harper government failed to achieve its objectives with regard to its policy toward Iran.
John Mundy, Canada’s last ambassador to Iran, says he believes that the fundamental reason for the Harper government’s Iran policy was “to isolate and de-legitimize Iran.”
The opposite happened though, as the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) re-engaged Iran and reached a nuclear agreement with Tehran.
“Now it’s time for Canada to play catch-up,” says ambassador Mundy, who is writing a book about his time in Iran.
Secondly, there are commercial reasons for re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran.
Political scientist Thomas Juneau says that re-engagement with Iran is in Canada’s best interests as it provides access to an emerging market for Canadian businesses and citizens who want to do business with the country.
Moreover, Jayson Myers, president and chief executive officer of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters told the Globe and Mail there are tremendous opportunities for Canadian businesses looking to sell to Iran.
Thirdly, there are geopolitical reasons for a change in policy towards Iran.
Political scientist Houchang Hassan-Yari says that the crises in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, and the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) have created a new strategic environment in which Iran is an important player in the fight against IS.
“This [new geopolitical environment] may have had the Canadian government decide to engage Iran.”
Finally, the Harper government’s Iran policy created problems for members of the Iranian diaspora in Canada who maintain links to Iran and are in need of consular services from the Iranian government in Canada and the Canadian government in Iran.
Mohsen Taghavi, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Persian-English bilingual Weekly Salam Toronto, says that the majority of Iranian Canadians disagreed with the Harper government’s decision to suspend diplomatic relations with Tehran and to impose unilateral sanctions against Iran.
He says that the level of support for the Liberal party amongst Iranian Canadians was much higher in the recent federal election than what he had observed in previous elections and that the party’s Iran policy was an important factor contributing to this.
The Iranian diaspora and the Liberal party
But it was not all about Iran policy.
Taghavi says that Trudeau’s humility, energy, and vision appealed to many members of Canada’s Iranian diaspora.
Furthermore, many of them felt that the Liberal platform best manifested Canadian values. Therefore, their love for Canada and Canadian values, combined with the Liberals' pro-diplomacy approach towards Iran, swayed their vote.
Ambassador Mundy expects Canada and Iran will re-establish diplomatic relations and says he hopes that it becomes possible for Canada to re-open its visa section in order to be able to facilitate immigration and travel between the two countries.
He says that in 2007 when he was Canada’s ambassador to Tehran, “Iran was Canada’s fourth source of new immigrants and the Iranian community in Canada was growing quickly.”
Addressing Canada's concerns
Having diplomatic relations, however, does not mean that Iran and Canada are going to agree on different issues of mutual concern. In fact, all the interviewees for this article acknowledged Canada’s concerns over Iran’s human rights record and regional activities.
Professor Hassan-Yari says that having diplomatic relations with Tehran and starting a dialogue about “our differences with them” could be beneficial.
He concedes that, at first, Iran may not take Canada’s concerns seriously.
“However, when Canada and the Europeans address the same concerns, over time, they can influence the leadership in Tehran,” says Hassan-Yari.
Many Iranian Canadians view the Trudeau government’s approach to Iran as part of a larger worldview in which pragmatism outweighs ideology and diplomacy is utilized to resolve differences.
The future will show whether the Liberals can strengthen its relations with the Iranian diaspora and earn their future votes.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto
Arif Virani’s résumé is long and impressive. And nobody would say the newly appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is just not ready for the job.
Considered a star in Justin Trudeau’s firmament, the Parkdale–High Park MP’s name had figured in several speculative cabinet lists trotted out by the media.
One even named him as a possible Minister for Justice and Attorney General based on his legal career, which includes prosecuting genocide cases at the United Nations International Criminal Tribune for Rwanda and work on the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
But given the wealth of talent Trudeau could pick from to form his cabinet, it was inevitable that many eligible Liberal MPs would be left out. Virani was one of them.
“I am happy, honoured and privileged to be appointed as parliament secretary in a field I would 100 per cent want to be involved in given my background,” says Virani in a phone interview with New Canadian Media. “It is important that we get the refugee and immigration file right.”
Paying it forward
The background he is referring to was not just his work and education. It includes the lived experience of his family that began at a Montreal YMCA in 1972 on a cold October day.
Virani, who was only 10 months old then, and sister Shakufe, older by three years, came with their parents Sul and Lou as refugees ordered to leave Uganda with little notice by dictator Idi Amin.
Because of the friendship between the Aga Khan and then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the Liberal government of the day accepted 7,000 of his Ismaili Muslim followers into Canada. It marked the first such refugee arrival from a non-European country.
“My parents recall their dangerous 40-odd kilometre drive to the airport from Kampala city. They were allowed to board the plane with only two suitcases and were told the rest of their baggage would follow them later,” Virani shares. “But they never showed up.”
However, Canadian immigration officials showed up on-board the aircraft en route to process their papers and generally help them.
“By the time they landed, my mother already had two job offers and was persuaded to opt for Montreal over Edmonton as the Quebec city was more cosmopolitan then and hence a better place for newcomers.
“All this meant a lot to my parents,” Virani adds. “At a time when they were full of trepidation, Canada stepped up to the plate.”
It is this display of generosity shown to his family and himself that he seems keen to pay forward.
Creating change from within
So what prompted him to get into politics despite all the cynicism that surrounds it?
“Justin Trudeau on the positive side and Stephen Harper on the negative side,” states Virani. “I felt disenfranchised for the past nine years. And early on I had realized that it was easier to bring change from within the government than from outside.”
That realization came to him after the loops he went through to secure permanent annual funding for the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario that he co-founded and on whose board he served as a director for nearly eight years.
On some of the negativity generated by the current operation to bring in Syrian refugees, Virani feels the positive comments make up for it.
“The overall response of Canadians has been much more comforting. But that doesn’t mean we would ignore legitimate criticism.”
He dismisses the notion that Canada need not do anything for the refugees, as it had no role in creating the crisis.
“We are signatory to various human rights conventions and we have a duty as a global citizen.”
Virani also takes comfort from the way the world is again looking up to Canada when it comes to humanitarian relief.
He says the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, is seeking Canada’s advice on refugee integration. The agency has said that the Canadian programs are a practical expression of support and wants other countries to do similarly.
Germany, the current leader in accepting Syrian refugees, is constantly looking to learn from Canada on refugee integration, says Virani, despite Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rather dim view about multiculturalism.
And amid the constant anti-immigrant rhetoric south of the border, Canada has been steadfast in going the “whole nine yards” in presenting opportunities for newcomers to succeed, he explains.
“We may not be perfect, but we get it right most times.”
A lot like his mother mistakenly referring to cranberry sauce as “red jam” at her first turkey dinner.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
Commentary by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa
The Liberal government has emphasized its diversity and inclusion language in speeches, cabinet ministers, committees and mandate letters. This emphasis has been reinforced by the return of the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage. Taken together, these represent mainstreaming of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism to an unparalleled extent.
It starts with the language of Prime Minister Trudeau who regularly emphasizes that:
Canadians understand that diversity is our strength. We know that Canada has succeeded — culturally, politically, economically — because of our diversity, not in spite of it.
It continues with the creation of the Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, with a strong inclusion mandate for Indigenous and new Canadians:
Considers issues concerning the social fabric of Canada and the promotion of Canadian pluralism. Examines initiatives designed to strengthen the relationship with Indigenous Canadians, improve the economic performance of immigrants, and promote Canadian diversity, multiculturalism, and linguistic duality.
It is reflected in his choice of ministers: 50 per cent women, 17 per cent visible minority.
And is further reinforced in the shared mandate letter commitments for all ministers with two strong multiculturalism-related commitments:
Canadians expect us, in our work, to reflect the values we all embrace: inclusion, honesty, hard work, fiscal prudence, and generosity of spirit. We will be a government that governs for all Canadians, and I expect you, in your work, to bring Canadians together.
You are expected to do your part to fulfill our government’s commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership.
Holding all ministers to account, with the PMO tracking these and other shared commitments (in addition to minister-specific commitments), should ensure greater progress on the two objectives of multiculturalism: recognition and equality.
It will take some time to see how well these commitments are implemented, particularly with respect to appointments. An early test was with respect to parliamentary secretaries where 34 per cent were women (below parity), but 23 per cent were visible minorities (significantly above).
Equally important, the previous government’s weak record on the diversity of judicial appointments (less than two per cent visible minority) will start to be addressed.
Rebuilding multiculturalism policy
Overall, the new government made few changes to how government is formally organized (machinery changes). This was wise given the disruption and turmoil that such changes can entail (e.g., the Martin government’s splitting apart Human Resources and Skills Development and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2004, reversed by the Harper government in 2006).
This makes the return of the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage all the more striking, after some eight years at Citizenship and Immigration (now Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or IRCC).
The original transfer to CIC was largely driven by political reasons given then Minister Jason Kenney’s political outreach role with ethnic groups.
However, there was also a policy rationale. Multiculturalism deals with longer-term multi-generational issues (along with ‘mainstream’ visible minority relations) in contrast to the newcomer focus of the immigration, integration and citizenship programs.
While multiculturalism could be seen as a logical extension of CIC’s mandate, and was portrayed as such in one of CIC’s strategic objectives, ‘building an integrated society,' in practice, however, the multiculturalism program withered away at CIC.
When the program moved to CIC in 2008, it had a $13 million budget: $12 million for grants and contributions and 73 full-time positions. The last departmental performance report (2013-14) showed 29 full-time positions (a decline of 60 per cent) with a $9.8 million budget. Money for grants and contributions fell to $7.9 million.
Negotiations over the resources to be returned to Canadian Heritage will be challenging, given the impact may be felt in other program areas in IRCC that benefited from the redistribution of Multiculturalism funds. Moreover, the weakened capacity will require a major rebuilding and re-staffing effort.
From a policy perspective, the return of multiculturalism to Canadian Heritage reinforces the overall government diversity and inclusion agenda, as well as the Canadian identity agenda, which fits nicely with Canadian Heritage’s overall mandate.
However, Minister Mélanie Joly’s public statements to date have not included any significant references to multiculturalism. Her general orientation, however, has been clear: to promote the “symbols of progressiveness. That was (sic) the soul of our platform.”
Overall, the commitment to a diversity and inclusion agenda, supported by a Cabinet Committee and shared Ministerial mandate letter commitments, and the rebuilding of multiculturalism back at Canadian Heritage, bode well for a more effective inclusion, diversity and multiculturalism strategy across government.
Andrew Griffith is the author of Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism.
This article first appeared on The Hill Times. Re-published with permission from author.
by Diba Hareer in Ottawa
Her story reads like a movie script.
Twenty years ago, Maryam Monsef fled the brutal rule of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and now, two decades later, she has become the first Muslim to be appointed a cabinet minister in the federal government.
In 1996, Monsef’s mother and her three daughters settled in Peterborough, Ont. after Iran refused to grant them refuge.
“It is the kindness and the support that my family and I received from the people of Peterborough-Kawartha that is at the heart of the service that I intend to give to the people of this riding,” says the Minister of Democratic Institutions.
Campaigning in a small town
Monsef says the fact that she grew up in a smaller community allowed her to build networks. It was easier for her to create connections in Peterborough, a city of less than 80,000 people.
“It is possible to plant seeds in this community because of its size, and to see those seeds grow, and to see that you can have an impact when you come together and collaborate.”
Monsef is also the first female Member of Parliament (MP) ever elected in the riding Peterborough-Kawartha. It’s an achievement she attributes to a lot of hard work.
During the 60-day election campaign she and her team knocked on 70,000 doors and held 10 different roundtable discussions with the community.
At these meetings she outlined her priorities for the riding. She campaigned for the Liberals on good sustainable jobs, preservation of the environment, health care and access to services for seniors.
According to Monsef attracting and retaining newcomers to her riding is critical for the prosperity of the district.
“Over a 160 different groups and individuals have been meeting for over five years and [have] developed strategies and action items devoted specifically to that mandate of creating a more welcoming community for newcomers to our area.”
She adds that her riding continues its efforts to be a welcoming community to newcomers and Canadian immigrants.
Strengthening democratic institutions
While she was born in a country with a lack of human rights, it will be Monsef’s responsibility to strengthen Canada’s democracy as Minister of Democratic Institutions.
Monsef describes the scope of her job as “broad”, encompassing Senate reform, electoral reform and elections spending.
“The way I see my job I believe is to restore and to strengthen Canadians' respect and appreciation for these democratic institutions that we are so privileged to have.”
She would also like to see more women’s participation in Canadian politics.
Monsef says she is grateful for the women who paved the way before her and hopes to do the same for others who follow.
Inspiring Afghan Canadians
For Afghans in Canada the news of Monsef’s appointment as a cabinet minister broke at the same time with the news of the horrific stoning of a young girl in Ghor, a northwestern province in Afghanistan.
Amid the horror in Ghor, Afghans welcomed the news of Monsef’s appointment with delight and surprise.
Adeena Niazi, the Executive Director of Afghan Women’s Organization in Toronto is of the view that refugees are too often perceived to be a burden and treated as unequal members of society, but that Monsef’s election has the power to change that.
“Monsef’s election is helping to build the image of refugees and trust of Canadian society in them. It decreases the discrimination against refugees in society.”
Monsef forces the public to re-think their perception of Afghan women, Niazi adds.
“The international media has portrayed Afghan women as victims, listeners and oppressed, but since Monsef’s election everyone has come to realize that Afghan women are not just silent victims; they have strength and ability.”
Khalid Mirzamir, an Afghan Canadian immigration counsellor in Ottawa, says Monsef’s story is one of hope and inspiration.
“Maryam’s election reminds all of us as immigrants that Canada is a country where it gives everyone the opportunity to grow.”
Hope is what Frozan Rahmani felt after Monsef was elected. The Toronto-based student followed the campaign closely and shed tears of joy when Monsef’s victory was announced.
Rahmani is awed by the fact that it was Monsef’s mother who was the key to the minister’s success.
After fleeing the Taliban, Monsef’s mother started life from scratch with her three daughters in Canada. The difficult task is a shared experience for many immigrants in this country.
“I am not happy because we share the same heritage as Afghans, but because I know that she has risen from a society that has pains, from a culture that in the 21st century does not value women,” says Rahmani. “We have witnessed the stoning of women. But Maryam did rise in Canada and made us proud.”
Majorities in BC, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada feel country headed in right direction BY BRUCE ANDERSON & DAVID COLETTO Abacus Data IN our latest nationwide poll, fully 49% say that they would vote Liberal if there was an election today, signalling that the early choices made by the Trudeau government have been […]
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by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa
While Canada’s recent federal election resulted in more visible minorities being elected to Parliament than ever before, many also lost and are in the process of moving forward with the lessons they learned.
Rev. KM Shanthikumar, Scarborough-Rouge Park, New Democratic Party
Rev. KM Shanthikumar is a priest who ran as the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate in the riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park. Born in Sri Lanka, Shanthikumar moved to Canada 30 years ago. He says he was very confident about winning and was actually leading in the polls prior to Election Day.
“Until the last two weeks to the election, I was the front-runner,” he recalls.
Shanthikumar says he was not complacent, but still can’t come to terms with his loss.
“I worked very hard till the last day and I’m very surprised,” explains Shanthikumar, who lost to Liberal candidate Gary Anandasangaree. “I don’t know what happened.”
He says although it was a major blow, he has moved on and returned to work. A manager at a telecommunications company in Toronto, Shanthikumar says he will continue to serve the people of Scarborough-Rouge Park like he has always done.
“I’ll continue where I left off and do whatever I can to help my community,” he says. “I know there is an MP (member of Parliament) in the riding, and I will approach him and offer any help he wants.”
Shanthikumar plans to re-strategize and return to politics in four years.
“I will come back with better plans and better ideas to win the next election,” he says.
One thing Shanthikumar learned about the people in Scarborough-Rouge Park – a riding where more than 70 per cent of the population identifies as a visible minority – is that they see themselves first as Canadians before anything else.
“The people of this riding do not see anybody as a minority or immigrant,” he explains. “This is the feeling I got when I went canvassing for votes from different people from different cultures.”
Steven Kou, Vancouver Kingsway, Liberal party
Steven Kou arrived in Canada from China 15 years ago.
Having majored in economics at University of British Columbia, Kou planned to use his economics knowledge to benefit the many low and middle-income families in B.C.'s Vancouver Kingsway riding.
Kou, who contested on behalf of the Liberal party, says that people in the ethnically diverse riding accepted his campaign message.
“As a visible minority, I wanted to be the bridge between the different ethnic groups in the riding and integrate the cultures into the Canadian culture,” Kou says.
Although the NDP, which has traditionally held the Vancouver Kingsway seat, won on Oct. 19, Kou says he is happy with the results.
“The most important thing for me is to continue to work in the community and be a voice for them even though I’m not the MP,” he explains.
Kou adds that he believes this election will be a source of inspiration for young visible minorities to get into politics. He hopes to get the nod from the Liberals to try to unseat the NDP MP again in four years.
“As a visible minority I have come to appreciate the opportunity to run for politics,” Kou states. “It’s a privilege.”
Jimmy Yu, Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Conservative party
Contesting Liberal veteran Stéphane Dion in the Saint-Laurent-Cartierville riding in Montreal was a tall order for Jimmy Yu. He ran for the Conservatives in a riding that has voted Liberal since 1988.
Yu, who migrated to Canada from China in 1981, says the area has a sizeable number of visible minorities, including a large Chinese Canadian population.
“We have very rich experiences [that] the locals here don’t have, it is therefore important to add our diversity to [government],” he says. “We are now part of Canada. It is therefore important for the minorities to get involved.”
Yu took a year off work and has been volunteering full-time for the Conservative party since the beginning of the year.
“For next year, I need to go back to work to make money to feed my kids,” he says.
Yu has not made up his mind about contesting in the next election yet.
For Shanthikumar, Kou and Yu, it will take at least four years before they may see their names on the ballot again. Though they may have lost their bids to become MPs, all three say they are winners in their own way.
by Simran Singh in Vancouver
Indo-Canadian representation in Canada’s new government goes beyond the cabinet ministers Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced to the country at his swearing-in ceremony earlier this month.
In what he called “a cabinet that looks like Canada,” 15 of Trudeau’s 30 ministers are women, two are aboriginal, two have disabilities and four are Indo-Canadian Sikhs.
The Indo-Canadian representation of Trudeau’s cabinet was noted around the nation and internationally. From India’s Hindustan Times to New Zealand’s Indian Weekender, global news media showcased Canada’s newly appointed Indian cabinet ministers.
A total of 23 Indo-Canadian representatives were elected into parliament in the recent election, an astounding increase compared to the nine Indo-Canadians elected in 2011.
Moreover, 20 of the Indo-Canadian MPs speak Punjabi, making it the third most-spoken language in Canada’s House of Commons after English and French.
Punjab: A political hotbed
Although this year’s Canadian cabinet announcement appeared to draw a lot of attention to Indo-Canadians’ representation in politics, their involvement has remained steadfast in all levels of government across the nation.
Most Indo-Canadian politicians originate from the northern Indian state of Punjab, which has a rich, politically, fuelled history. Their political inclination is embedded in their cultural background and heritage.
“The first thing you have to look at is that Indo-Canadian politicians are mostly Sikhs and [they are] a small, yet highly motivated, religious sect that developed a kind of reformation movement,” explains Shinder Purewal, a professor of political science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C.
Purewal adds that the geographical positioning of Punjab in India has made it a political hotbed for centuries.
“Every invader from Alexander the Great down to the Ahmad Shah Abdali came through the Punjab,” explains Purewal. “So you are dealing with a group of people that never led any kind of comfortable lifestyle. They were constantly invaded. It moulded that spirit of trying to resist oppression and exploitation and that kind of unity created is highlighted [in the] Sikh diaspora.”
Gradual political participation in Canada
That sense of unity remained for Punjabis when they first settled in British Columbia in 1903.
In 1907, the province of B.C. disenfranchised not only Punjabis, but all of the South Asian diaspora. They were not allowed to vote in federal elections or participate in politics.
After 40 years, the voting restrictions against South Asians were lifted in 1947, but their political involvement developed slowly.
“The numbers didn’t warrant for [Indo-Canadians] to actually be successful at either provincial levels or federal levels,” says Purewal. “But they did work for the parties mostly as volunteers and also raising funds. They were doing this from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s onward.”
Although political participation was gradual, Indo-Canadians were motivated and outspoken on many issues impacting their communities.
Ujjal Dosanjh, the first Indo-Canadian provincial premier and a former Liberal federal cabinet minister, began his community activism by advocating for the wellbeing of B.C. farmworkers.
Many of these workers were South Asian and Chinese immigrants, who were being underpaid and mistreated.
Like Dosanjh, Raj Chouhan, a long-time member of legislature in B.C., explains how he was driven by advocacy for farmworkers during his early days in Canada.
“My activism started almost right away. When I came to Canada, I saw people working in the farms – they were treated so badly,” says Chouhan. In 1980, after speaking out on the issue, he became the founding president of the Canadian Farmworkers Union.
Inspiring the next generation
Both Chouhan and Dosanjh point to the political culture of India as a nation playing a large role in motivating early Indo-Canadian politicians.
“I had this sense of pride in our history and our civilization, and in the morals and values of the independence movement,” Dosanjh recalls. “There was politics all around as I was growing up.”
India’s democratic system is the largest in the world. It fosters a feeling of responsibility to get politically involved amongst Canada’s South Asian diaspora.
“[Politics in India] is part of life, it’s like a second nature,” Dosanjh says. “It is a very comfortable position for [Indians] to be in when they come to Canada – to be part of the political system.”
That political voice has grown stronger as the South Asian representation in Canada’s highest level of government serves as inspiration for the next generation of young Indo-Canadians.
But Dosanjh highlights that no matter who you are, politics is about believing in yourself and your values.
“You don’t do it for glory. I did it because I believed in it […] Winning or losing isn’t the issue. In the end you have to look at yourself in the mirror and see if you have been true to yourself,” he says.
“I would say to young people, if you believe Canada can be a better place, and you want to make it better, go into politics.”
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
In the weeks leading up to the Oct. 19 federal election, Rabia Khedr started to feel like she didn’t belong in Canada.
The executive director of the Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities says she, along with many other Muslim Canadians, felt targeted as extremist and socially backward.
“I have no other home,” says Khedr, who was born in Pakistan and came to Canada when she was four. “I cannot function anywhere else, with my kids half Pakistani and half Egyptian.”
Her family feared the Islamophobia they felt was brewing during the recent federal election. “It was a nightmare for us.”
This sentiment may have contributed to what Dr. Salha Jeizan, a professor who teaches online in the education department at Capella University in Minnesota, U.S. and mentors PhD students, calls a strategic vote on behalf of Muslims.
“People have voted strategically [knowing that] if I vote for NDP, I vote for Conservatives,” Jeizan explains. If enough votes had been split between the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Liberals, the election outcome could have been in favour of the Conservatives.
Malaz Sebai, who works for Lifeline Syria, an organization working to resettle 1,000 Syrians in the GTA, says he was happy to see true leadership in the form of Liberals has resumed.
“Strategically, yes – Muslims from different communities came out and voted,” he explains. “There were more than three different groups encouraging Muslims to vote; I guess that was the strategy.”
One of these groups was The Canadian-Muslim Vote, a non-partisan organization with the goal of encouraging civic engagement amongst the Muslim community.
Muneeza Sheikh, communications director for the organization, says that while the anti-Harper sentiment may have fuelled many Muslims to vote, it may not have been their sole motivation for heading to the polls.
“One can’t assume all of these issues are important to Muslim Canadians for the same reasons,” says Sheikh.
“On the niqab issue you may see increased voter turnout because Muslims are concerned about many of the same issues in relation to the niqab as non-Muslims – i.e. Charter rights, freedom of religion, minority rights, women’s rights, et cetera.”
Jeizan says fear of the Islamophobia created during the Harper era may have been a great motivator as well.
“Actually, [Muslims] have realized that if we don’t come out and vote, something worse can happen, and where would that lead us?” says Jeizan, adding that the Conservatives’ divide-and-rule approach of singling out Muslims to gain support from other religious communities backfired.
“Harper’s calculations proved to be wrong.”
Political engagement increasing
Although the exact percentage of eligible Muslim Canadians who cast a ballot on Oct. 19 is not available yet, anecdotal evidence speaks to a higher level of engagement.
“My younger daughter voted, as she turned 18 last month, and my elder daughter has volunteered at a riding and told me that lots of hijabis came out to vote,” says Jeizan, who is originally from Yemen.
Highlighting the efforts of The Canadian-Muslim Vote, Sheikh says she is thankful to the hundreds of volunteers who helped to increase civic engagement in Muslim community.
“We engaged them in a great deal of door-to-door canvassing – it is important to connect on an individual level with Muslims in the community and to build relationships.”
Khedr says she believes things were changing even prior to the federal election. Earlier this year she ran in her Mississauga ward’s byelection and, though she lost, she doesn’t believe it was a failure.
“I stood at number five out of 26 candidates. It’s a step in the right direction and a proof that the stereotype is breaking,” she says, highlighting that Muslims’ involvement in politics is on the rise. “It is our religious and civic duty to vote, because Islam demands us to stand up for what is right.”
It is Jeizan’s hope that political engagement in the Muslim Canadian community only increases.
“The momentum should not stop even after election; it needs to continue for municipal, [for] provincial and, later again, for federal elections.”
Build in-roads with new government
As the new government gets settled into office, Muslim Canadians will be watching particularly for how it handles legislation like the Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51) and Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24), both of which many community members opposed.
“Stripping of Canadian citizenship is unfair,” explains Jeizan. “Returning to their countries is impossible in many cases, as those countries don’t exist anymore, like Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine.”
“What is needed, rather, is to rehabilitate misguided young people,” she says, and a reframing of terrorism as not a Muslim faction.
During the campaign run, both the Liberals and the NDP promised to repeal C-24. The NDP said it would repeal C-51, while Trudeau and the Liberals only said it would be amended.
Jeizan says the community will be calling on the NDP to ensure accountability within the new government.
“NDP members will hold [them to] what they promised,” she says with optimism. “Laws can be reviewed, repealed or amended. It’s not written in stone.”
Khedr agrees. She says just because the Conservatives are not in leadership anymore doesn’t mean the work is done for the Muslim-Canadian community.
“We need to continue lobbying – clear and loud – against this fear [of Muslims],” she says. “Send messages to our leaders by building relationships with them.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit