Ontario votes today: South Asian migrants set to improve their tally

On Thursday (June 2) Ontario will vote to elect its 43rdAssembly. Of a record number of 900 candidates, representing 25 different political parties, 60 of the contestants are of South Asian origin. 

More than one third of them are Punjabis, who are representatives all major political parties, including the Progressive Conservatives, LiberalsNDP, and Green.  A couple of them are also testing their political acumen as Independents.

In 2018, there were 825 candidates and 28 parties on the ballot. This represents a 9% increase in the number of candidates and a 10.7% decrease in the number of parties participating.

Making use of the advanced polling, a number of Ontarians have already cast their votes. Preliminary figures indicate that 1,066,545 voters cast their ballot at area advance polls during 10 days of advance voting in this year’s general election. This represents 9.92 per cent of eligible voters in Ontario. In comparison, during five days of advance voting at area advance polls in 2018, 698,609 voters, or 6.8 per cent of eligible voters, chose to cast their ballot.

Voting on election day (June 2) is from 9 am to 9 pm. Immediately after the end of polling, counting of votes is undertaken.

Vote by mail and voting early at a returning office were  the other options available to all eligible voters.

Pre-poll surveys, debates involving leaders of all major political parties and the issues facing the people of this biggest province of Canada indicate some absorbing contests, especially in areas dominated by migrants of Punjabi descent.

Doug Ford (Conservatives), Andrea Howarth (NDP) and  Steven Del Duca (Liberal) are among the runners for the Premier’s position. They all have been trying to lure the fast growing South Asian migrant community into their respective party folds.

Like in India, parties and their leaders have been making big promises to the voters, including toll wavers, strengthening of health care system, employment generation, construction of new motor ways, ending disparities in insurance premiums and provision of affordable housing.

Compared to previous elections, there are not many from the first-generation migrants who are in the fray this time. Instead, it is the second generation of South Asian migrants in general and Punjabis in particular, who have taken to politics in a big way. A study of the socio-economic background of the migrants of Punjabi descent in the fray for 124 seats of the Ontario Provincial Parliament or Assembly reveal that most of them belong to middle class. They have impressive academic and professional qualifications and are looking forward to their new role in public service.

South Asian migrants have admirable abilities to relocate and adjust to new environs. Many of them, especially the first-generation migrants, may not be able to read or write local languages of their new countries of abode but their matchless ability to converse in local languages facilitates their quick assimilation in alien societies.

Studies conducted from time to time also reveal that political influence wielded by the Punjabi community overseas remains mostly confined to suburbs of major cities. In Canada, for example, if the community has made inroads into provincial and federal politics, it is through the suburbs. There are not many South Asian migrants in general and Punjabi in particular, who made it to provincial or federal politics from major cities like Toronto. 

On analyzing their phenomenal growth in politics, one can safely infer those suburbs of big towns have helped them to script their success stories.

The June 2 election is no different from the previous elections. In 1999, Raminder Gill became the first migrant of Punjabi descent to sit in the Ontario Assembly. Since then, the number of representatives of the community has been increasing with every election. 

In the 42nd Assembly, there were 12 candidates of South Asian origin. 

Five ridings in Brampton – North, South, East, West, and Centre – are dominant Punjabi Ridings. From Brampton East, for example, all the three major political parties – ruling ConservativesNDP and Liberals – have put up Sikh candidates. The NDP is represented by Gurratan Singh, younger brother of the federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. Then Jannat Grewal is from Liberal while Hardeep Grewal represents the ruling Conservatives.

From Brampton North, it is Harinder Malhi contesting on Liberal ticket. Her father, Gurbax Singh Malhi, was the first turbaned Sikh to sit n House of Commons. He remained MP for five consecutive terms. She is facing Sandeep Singh of NDP while the third candidate of South Asian origin is Aneep Dhade contesting on the Green Party ticket.

Mississauga and Scarborough are the other important parts of Greater Toronto Area that are represented both in provincial and federal parliaments by South Asian migrants.

Bampton West presents a unique picture. Of the four Punjabi contestants, the community has shown excellent gender equality by fielding equal number of men and women candidates. Rimmy Jhajj (Liberal), and Navjit Kaur (NDP) represent the women while Amarjot Sandhu, a sitting MLA of ruling Conservatives, and Manjot Sekhon of Ontario Party, are men candidates.

From five Brampton Ridings, there are 13 Punjabi candidates. One of them, Sara Singh (NDP), the first Canadian of Indo-Caribbean origin to sit in Ontario Provincial Assembly, has an opponent from Pakistani Punjab, Safdar Hussain (Liberal).

Another candidate from Pakistan Punjab is Zaigham Butt from Hamilton East-Stoney Creek. He is a candidate of NDP. A sizeable section of Pakistani Punjabis in Ontario has been a supporter of Jagmeet Singh.

Among the South Asian migrants contesting the June 2 Ontario assembly elections are Sara Singh, Gurratan Singh, Sandeep Singh, Navjit Kaur, Aisha Jahangir, Faheem Alim, Zaigham Butt, Farina Hassan, Khalid Ahmed, Raymond Bhushan, Neethan Shan, Doly Begum, Jasleen Kambo,  and Pasma Chandra (all from NDP),  Abhjeet Manay, Aneep Dhade, Fatima Faruq,  Mini Batra, Nira Dookeran, Priyan De Silva, Rizwan Khan, Shanta Sundarason, Sheefaza Esmail and Syam Chandra (all from Green Party), Aman Gill, Anita Anandarajan, Dipika Damerla, Harinder Malhi, Imran Mian, Jannat Grewal, Kaviz Mouli, Lisa Patel, Mohammed Adil, Manpreet Brar, Mazhar Shafir, Rimmy Jhajj, Ruby Toor, Safdar Hussain, Sam Bhalesar, Sameera Ali, Shubha Sandil, Surekha Shenoy, Zeba Hashmi , and Aziz Choudery (all from Liberals), Hardeep Grewal, Prabhmeet Singh Sarkaria, Amarjot Sandhu. Goldie Ghamari, Logan Kanapathi, Parm Gill, Kaleed Rasheed, Deepak Anand, Nina Tangri, Vijay Thangasalam, and Husain Neemuchwala (all from Progressive Conservative), Manjot Sekhon (Ontario Party), Sadiq Nadia (Ontario Provincial Confederation), Hiten Patel and Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Independents).