By Prabhjot Singh*
The first-generation Members of Parliament have passed on the baton to the second generation of Indo Canadians who are taking to politics very well. After Naranjan Singh Grewall made a beginning in Canadian politics at Mission as first-generation representative, Moe (Munmohan) Singh Sihota played a pioneer for the second generation. Incidentally, both came from British Columbia. The gap – 36 years – between their successful entry to politics was huge. However, the next 36 years – between 1986 and 2022 – has seen the Indo-Canadian community making huge strides in Canadian politics at all levels, from municipal to the top of the ladder, the Senate.
On June 2 when Ontario votes to elect its new Provincial Parliament, a record number of young Indo-Canadians, mostly belonging to second generation, will be in the run. Though Ontario has the second largest population of Indo-Canadians, it took 14 years longer than British Columbia, the original or first home of migrants from South Asia, to enter the Provincial Parliament. It could be one reason that the Community have had more representations in the British Columbia Assembly than that of Ontario. Of course, British Columbia also enjoys the distinction of having the first Indo-Canadian Ujjal Dosanjh as its Premier.
Ontario had given its first break to the community in its 37th Provincial Parliament when Raminder Gill was elected from Bramalea-Gore-Malton-Springdale Riding. Since then, the strength of the Indo-Canadians at Queens Park has been growing steadily. The outgoing Assembly has 12 South Asian migrants.
All eyes are set on the 2022 elections as almost all major parties – ruling Conservatives, NDP, Liberals and Green – are putting up many South Asian migrants in the contest. Interestingly, most of these candidates, second generation migrants, hold professional qualifications and are alumni of top Canadian universities.
Besides all the sitting members of the 42nd Assembly, others in the run include Abhijeet Manay, Deputy Leader of Green Party. Though Green Party has not been successful in sending many to any of previous Assemblies, it hopes to improve its representation in the next House. Among various candidates it has named so far are Aneep Bhade, Bruno Souza, Priyan De Silva, Sheefaza Ismail and Shyam Chandra of South Asian origin.
The biggest group of South Asian candidates comes from the Liberal Party. They include Aman Gill, Anta Anandarajan, Harinder Malhi, Jannat Grewal, Imran Mian, Lisa Patel, Manpreet Brar, Rimmy Jhajj, Ruby Toor, Sam Bhalesar, Sameera Ali, Surekha Shenny, Shubha Sandill and Sumira Malik.
Sara Singh, Navjit Kaur, Gurratan Singh, Doly Begum, Neethan Shan and Khalid Ahmed are among the NDP candidates while the ruling Conservatives are putting up among others Hardeep Grewal, Prabhmeet Singh Sarkaria, Amarjot Sandhu, Goldie Ghamari, Sarah Bokhari, Logan Kanpathi, Parm Gill, Kaleed Rasheed, Deepak Anand, Nina Tangri and Vijay Thanagasalam.
How many of them make it to the 43rd Provincial Parliament will be known only on June 2?
Three South Asian migrants – Harinder Takhar, Vic Dhillon, and Bas Balkissoon – had been the longest serving South Asian representatives in the Ontario Provincial Parliament. They remained members from the 38th to the 41st Provincial Parliament. Harinder Takhar, who also held Cabinet positions under different Premiers, once ran for the Premiership of Ontario also but gave up the race mid-way.
Amrit Mangat was the first Canadian woman of Indian origin to sit in the Ontario Assembly. She remained a member of the 38th, 39th and 40th Assembly.
Sara Singh happens to be the first woman of Indo-Caribbean descent to be elected to the Ontario Provincial Parliament. She holds a Doctorate in Policy Studies and served as Deputy Leader of NDP in the outgoing House.
Another woman legislator of the South Asian origin to make a mark in the 42nd Ontario Assembly has been Doly Begum. She happens to be the first Canadian of Bangladesh origin to hold any electoral office in Canada.
Dipika Damerla, Indira Naidu Harris, Harinder Malhi, Sara Singh, Doly Begum, Goldie Ghamari, and Nina Tangri all followed Amrit Mangat.
Jagmeet Singh, who now heads the NDP, made his entry into electoral politics by remaining a member of the Ontario Provincial Parliament, before he quit the Ontario politics to move to the federal level and seek election to House of Commons from Burnaby in British Columbia. He got re-elected from Burnaby in the last Federal elections.
His younger brother, Gurratan Singh, a lawyer by profession, is now a member of the Ontario Provincial Parliament.
While Harinder Takhar had the distinction of becoming the first Indo-Canadian to hold a Cabinet berth, Prabhmeet Singh Sarkaria, President of the prestigious Treasury Board in the Doug Ford government, is also the third turbaned Sikh to sit in the Ontario Assembly. Jagmeet Singh was the first and his brother Gurratan Singh followed him.
In the previous Liberal Government, Harinder Malhi (daughter of five-time MP Gurbax Singh Malhi) also held a Ministerial berth.
Parm Gill, who earlier represented Conservatives in the House of Commons, is currently a Minister in the Doug Ford’s Conservative government that has Nina Tangri as the woman representative of the Indo-Canadian community in the Cabinet.
Deepak Anand, a journalist turned politician, and Amarjot Sandhu are Parliamentary Assistants in the Conservative government.
South Asians as Members of Ontario Provincial Parliament (1999-2022)
Harinder Singh Takhar
Indira Naidu Harris
Prabhmeet Singh Sarkaria
* Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows. For more in-depth analysis please visit probingeye.com or follow him on Twitter.com/probingeye