New Canadian Media
Thursday, 05 November 2015 07:13

A Cabinet that Looks Like Canada

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto 

Diversity of all kinds was pivotal for Justin Trudeau in the recent election, and on Wednesday, the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada kept one of his main campaign promises. 

We now have a cabinet that looks like the rest of Canada. Diverse and gender balanced “because it’s 2015” as Trudeau put it.

That didn’t stop him from springing some surprises on the immigration and visible minority files. 

The appointment of John McCallum as minister for immigration, refugees and citizenship is likely to have surprised pundits. 

McCallum, who was the Liberal critic for the same portfolio while in the opposition and a veteran minister in previous Liberal cabinets, was seen as too obvious a choice likely to be overlooked in the quest for fresh blood. 

It looks like the strength of his experience prevailed. McCallum, who told New Canadian Media during the campaign that he would like to see “immigrants being welcomed with a smile instead of a scowl,” now has the daunting task of bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year-end and the long-term mission of revamping the family reunification program. 

There was no surprise in the selection of Navdeep Bains, a long-time Trudeau friend and adviser. 

Fittingly, it was Bains who told us that “diversity would be a given in the Trudeau cabinet” because it was an organic part of the larger Liberal team.

His important portfolio of innovation, science and economic development is a welcome departure from the previous cabinets where minority ministers only had token presence. 

Fittingly, it was Bains who told us that “diversity would be a given in the Trudeau cabinet” because it was an organic part of the larger Liberal team. 

An accountant and financial analyst and visiting professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, he was an MP from 2004-2011 and served as parliamentary secretary to the PM and a Liberal critic for various portfolios. 

Harjit Sajjan, as Minister of National Defence, was again not a surprise. His appointment marks yet another case of a minority MP getting an important position. Sajjan was the first Sikh to command a Canadian army regiment. A decorated Afghanistan veteran, he also served with the Vancouver police gang crime unit. 

Sajjan is a member of Trudeau’s economic team announced during the campaign and was seen with him at various stops across the country. As reported earlier, this team has proven to be a precursor of the newly appointed cabinet, with many of its members figuring in it. 

More surprises 

The next three minority ministers came as a surprise. 

Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, has a backstory like no one else’s. 

A three-term Edmonton city councillor, Sohi was a former bus driver. He was also wrongfully imprisoned, without charge, as a terrorist in India. He has gone on and won various awards for his efforts to promote cooperation among cultural groups. 

While Sohi was at least on some speculative lists of likely ministers, Bardish Chagger, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism was on nobody’s list. 

Chagger is a long-time Liberal worker from the time she was a teen and has volunteered for community organizations for the past two decades. 

Maryam Monsef is now not only the first Afghan-born MP, but also the first from her ethnicity and the first Muslim to become a minister.

She also breaks the usual mould of “ethnic” MPs getting elected from ridings with large minority populations. She was elected from Waterloo-Kitchener, Ontario where not many look like her  family who emigrated from India. 

Like Chagger, Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions, also broke new ground by getting elected from Peterborough-Kawartha, Ontario where not many share her heritage. 

Monsef is now not only the first Afghan-born MP, but also the first from her ethnicity and the first Muslim to become a minister. She came to Canada with her single-mother led family as a refugee 20 years ago and went on to co-found a campaign to raise money for women and girls in Afghanistan. 

It must be mentioned that Monsef is the only visible minority minister who is not a Sikh and doesn’t speak Punjabi, now the third most spoken language among the new set of MPs. [Twenty of them speak the language and appropriately, according to Statistics Canada, it is the third most common tongue in Canada after English and French.] 

Empowered women

The absence of tokenism in the cabinet also extends to the gender diversity file. 

Among the women, many have large portfolios. Jody Wilson-Raybould is the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Chrystia Freeland gets international trade, Catherine McKenna is the minister of the now-renamed Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, and Dr. Jane Philpott gets health. 

All these women are there not merely because of their gender, but for being high achievers.

In addition, Carla Qualtrough, a visually impaired Paralympian, is Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities; Kirsty Duncan, a medical geographer, is Minister of Science; Dr. Carolyn Bennett, is in charge of Indigenous and Northern Affairs; and Patty Hajdu will look after the status of women portfolio. 

All these women are there not merely because of their gender, but for being high achievers. And, this being Canada, there is again diversity among them.  

Wilson-Raybould is from among the eight Liberal Indigenous MPs, a record in itself. She along with Hunter Tootoo, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, unlike in previous federal cabinets, did not get pigeonholed into ministries presumed to be natural fits. 

Like a commentator said on CBC, minority and Indigenous ministers have now been “mainstreamed,” while a mainstream minister like Dr. Bennett is in charge of indigenous affairs. 

All of these ministers are also members of various cabinet committees and now have a chance to bring their diverse voices to the highest decision-making table of the land. 

And the calibre of the ministers selected will lay to rest the claim that diversity and merit cannot go together. It no longer is a case of window dressing to meet a certain diversity quotient. 

To borrow from an infamous line in a Conservative attack advertisement against Trudeau, “the cabinet got to balance itself.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories

Chandigarh (IANS): Hundreds of Sikh activists lined up along highways and roads across Punjab on Tuesday with black flags protesting against recent incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib. However, unlike the roadblocks put up by the Sikh activists during protests last month, no roads were blocked on Tuesday. The activists organised protests in […]

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A Toronto Star report says that Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau has chosen his cabinet and the members-to-be have been sworn to secrecy until the swearing-in on November 4. The report states: “Memo to Liberal MPs: If you’re still waiting for Justin Trudeau to call and offer you a cabinet post, you can stop the […]

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TORONTO: The Indo-Canadians more than doubled their representation the Canadian parliament from eight to 19 as Canadians voted out the Conservative Party by handing out a landslide

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ANJU Dhillon, who ran from the Quebec riding for Dorval–Lachine–LaSalle as the Liberal candidate, was elected on Monday with 53 per cent of the total vote cast. She beat her closest rival, the NDP’s Isabelle Morin, by more than 16,000 votes (29,940 votes to Morin’s 13,639 votes). Dhillon was born and raised in the same […]

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Published in Politics
Tuesday, 22 September 2015 22:00

New Gurdwara Coming up in Ontario

Toronto (IANS): Hundreds of Sikhs gathered at a ceremony for the start of construction of a new gurdwara in Guelph city, Ontario, a media report said on Tuesday. “The ceremony marked the beginning of a building process that starts now (Monday) and should take about nine months to complete,” Guelph Mercury newspaper quoted Ravi Rai, spokesperson […]

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Published in National

By Subhash K Jha

MUMBAI: Tiger Shroff, who’s playing a Sikh super-hero in Remo d’Souza’s The Flying Jat, would have to be extremely cautious about the dos and don’ts. Sikh cultural and

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Published in Arts & Culture
Wednesday, 02 September 2015 18:12

What Makes Brampton Voters Tick

by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton, Ontario

With campaigning for the 42nd Canadian federal election on October 19 gaining momentum, the issues uppermost amongst voters in the ridings of Brampton, a city in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), are no different than that of others across the country. 

In 2011, the Conservatives had a strong showing in the GTA and its surrounding areas by winning 19 new seats. This boost effectively secured the party its 11-seat majority in the House of Commons.

This breakthrough may be giving the Tories an edge this time around, as well as the ridings they won a special status on the hustings.

In particular, the five ridings in Brampton – Brampton North, Brampton Centre, Brampton South, Brampton West and Brampton East – are considered the best to micro-target and win.

With a population over half a million, Brampton’s growth of late has been fuelled by immigrants who now account for half the number of people living there. 

[A]ll the three major parties ... are paying careful attention to Brampton ridings, with leaders making multiple campaign stops over the past few weeks.

As two-thirds of the immigrants are visible minorities, hearing Punjabi or Urdu is as common as English. Other languages heard in the city are Portuguese, Gujarati, Spanish, Hindi, Tamil, Tagalog, Italian and Polish. 

The babel of languages combined with a significantly younger population at times makes Brampton an enigma for outsiders. And it is no different for political parties. 

To crack the code, all the three major parties have fielded a large number of visible minority candidates and are paying careful attention to Brampton ridings, with leaders making multiple campaign stops over the past few weeks. 

But exactly how easy is it to win over Brampton voters?

“Many times I have heard our political leaders making sweeping statements, particularly when an election draws near,” says Solomon Naz, a professional writer and author.

“They say come to me any time with problems of the riding. But as voters we need to go beyond that and start asking candidates about their political agenda and party manifesto.” 

Naz says candidates should be aware of problems facing a riding instead of soliciting them from constituents. “If they simply tell us what they have done over the years for a riding, they do not have to beg for votes and canvass.” 

Federal support 

Many in Brampton see the sinking value of the Canadian dollar against its U.S. counterpart as a sign of a weakening economy and the inevitable increase in prices of imported food and fuel. 

The delivery of the expanded Universal Child Care Benefit cheques to parents, just before the start of the election campaign, doesn’t seem to have softened the blow.   

“We were so happy when we got [the] big cheque and we thought [the] Harper government is really helping the poor people, and thinking about Canadian families,” recalls Surjit Gunraj, a mother of two, who lives in Brampton West. 

“But just after a week or so we come to know from TV and newspapers that much of the money would be taken back as tax.”

“To improve standards, federal, provincial and municipal governments need to work together for Bramptonians.”

Macro economic issues are not the only ones to bother Brampton residents. There are a host of local issues too.

“No matter which party comes to power, as a Brampton resident, I want to see more nurses, more doctors in our hospitals, better and safe service,” says Ajinder Singh, expressing distress at the current state of medical services in the city.

“To improve standards, federal, provincial and municipal governments need to work together for Bramptonians.”  

Singh’s sentiment resonates with Mayor Linda Jeffrey.

“City council and residents are keen to know how the federal government will be supporting growing cities like Brampton as our transit and infrastructure demands continue to be a burden on the property taxpayer,” says Jeffrey.

She says the federal government has an important role to play in providing affordable housing. 

“Along with my large urban mayor colleagues I am concerned by the gradual and systematic withdrawal of federal financial support of new projects as well as the maintenance of existing facilities. I would like to see all party leaders commit the federal government to take on a leadership role in affordable housing and working closely with municipalities across Canada and more specifically Peel Region to address this growing backlog.”

Immigration matters

Brampton being what it is today because of its new Canadian demographics, issues around immigration remain on community members’ minds.

“We have seen the Liberals in the past and now the Conservatives proclaim themselves as best for immigrants,” says Gurvinder Kaur Virdi, a long-time Brampton resident who runs her own graphic design shop. 

“But they are not. The current government has made its immigration rules so tough that even sponsoring a spouse is a difficult process. Yes, they need to put a cap on fake marriages, but because of just a few cases, everybody is suffering. Put something else in place to detect fraud, instead of making it difficult for everyone.”

“There must be a clear and well defined policy to guide the way Canada accepts immigrants.”

Dr. Balwinder Singh, host of the local Sargam Radio, says the immigration system should not be run on an ad hoc basis.

“There must be a clear and well defined policy to guide the way Canada accepts immigrants,” he says. “Obviously, people expect more officers deployed for timely disposal of the applications.”

Gursimrat Grewal, the editor of Punjab Star weekly newspaper, maintains that Brampton constituents must elect the party that can best look after immigration matters.

“Because the Liberal government made the Canadian system so liberal, the Conservatives made excuses about needing time to clean up the mess left behind by the Liberals. Now everybody can see what they have done to immigration policies and some other sectors,” says Grewal.

“It is inevitable that we now give the NDP a chance.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Politics

I had the opportunity to participate in the first annual Sikh Spirit Ride on August 15th from Mission to Surrey. Haven’t been on my bike since our Cycling4Diversity event last May all I say is my biking muscles need a bit of pedaling. Overall, I had a wonderful time and met lots of wonderful riders [...]

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LONDON: A wedding between a Sikh girl and a white man being conducted at Southall Gurdwara here on Friday had to be cancelled when some people stormed it to stop the ceremony.

“Because

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Published in Western Europe

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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