By Prabhjot Singh*
October 25, 1993, would go down in the annals of history of Canadian House of Commons as a golden letter day. It was on this day that Canada earned the distinction of electing first turbaned Sikh MP to any Parliament outside India. The honor went to Gurbax Singh Malhi as he was declared successful from Bramalea-Gore-Malton riding.
Though two more MPs of Indian origin – Harbance (Herb) Singh Dhaliwal and Jagdish Bhaduria – also made their debut in the Canadian House of Commons simultaneously, spotlight was on Gurbax Singh Malhi. Since then, no Canadian Parliament has been complete without a turbaned Sikh represented on it.
Starting with three MPs in 1993, now the Indo-Canadian community has grown six times in its strength in the House of Commons. It represents all three major parties – the ruling Liberals, the main Opposition party the Conservatives, and the third major party NDP headed by an Indo-Canadian Jagmeet Singh. Incidentally, Jagmeet Singh is the lone Indo-Canadian NDP in the current House of Commons.
Of 42 MPs of Indian origin elected to House of Commons since 1993, Navdeep Singh Bains, Tim Uppal, Jagmeet Singh, Randeep Sarai, Harjit Singh Sajjan, Darshan Singh Kang, Raj Grewal, Jasraj Singh Hallan and Iqwinder Singh Gaheer, are among those who earned special limelight because of their colorful turbans.
Incidentally, Gurbax Singh Malhi has till date remained the longest serving Sikh MP representing the Liberals. He was elected five times starting in 1993 till he lost the 2011 elections. Otherwise, Deepak Obhrai, who was born in Tanzania, earned the distinction of longest serving Canadian MP of Indian origin. He retained his House of Commons seat for seven consecutive terms mostly as a nominee of Conservatives.
While Gurbax Singh Malhi, Jag Bhaduria and Herb Dhaliwal were the first representatives of Liberals in Canadian Parliament, the honor for giving representation to Indo-Canadians in House of Commons on behalf of Conservatives went to Deepak Obhrai and Gurmant Grewal. Subsequently, Jasbir Singh Sandhu and Jinny Jogindera Sims were the first Indo Canadians to represent NDP in the Canadian Parliament.
Women of Indo-Canadian did not take along to reach Ottawa’s Parliament Hill. Ruby Dhalla (Liberal from Ontario) and Nina Grewal (Conservative from British Columbia) became the torch bearers. They were followed by Jinny Jogindera Sims (NDP).
Sonia Sidhu, Ruby Sahota, Kamal Khera, Bardish Chagger and Anju Dhillon created ripples when they all made their entry into the 42nd Parliament and are all continuing in the current 44th Parliament. In the 43rdParliament they were joined by Anita Anand, the first Indo-Canadian woman politician to hold the important portfolio of Defense. Also new entrant was Jag Sahota, the ninth woman of Indian origin to enter Canadian Parliament.
These Canadian MPs of Indian origins have several other firsts to their credit. For example, Gurmant Singh Grewal and Nina Grewal were the first couple to sit in the same House. Herb Dhaliwal was the first from the group to be inducted in the Canadian Cabinet as a Minister for Oceans. Many of them have remained Parliamentary Secretaries attached with important ministries.
In the previous Liberal Government, Harjit Singh Sajjan, became the toast of not only the Indo-Canadian community but also of the rapidly growing Indian Diaspora after he was named the Defence Minister of Canada.
Bardish Chagger hawked media headlines on becoming the first woman leader of the House of Commons. And late last year, Anita Anand stole the limelight as first Indo-Canadian woman to hold the portfolio of Defence Minister. Incidentally, the last two Liberal Governments had an Indo-Canadian as Defence Minister.
There have been Indo-Canadians who created history both in provincial and federal politics. The shinning example has been of Ujjal Dosanjh who after his phenomenal rise as the first Indo-Canadian Premier of British Columbia later held the portfolio of the Canadian Health Minister.
A couple of MPs, including Jinny Jogendra Sims and Parm Gill, later made debut in provincial politics and held positions as Cabinet Ministers in British Columbia and Ontario, respectively.
Amarjit Sohi, who held an important cabinet portfolio in the previous Justin Trudeau government is now a Mayor of Edmonton in Alberta since last year.
MPs of Indian origin
Gurbax Singh Malhi
Harbance (Herb) Singh Dhaliwal
Jinny Jogindera Sims
Randeep Singh Sarai
Harjit Singh Sajjan
Darshan Singh Kang
Jasraj Sigh Hallan
Iqwinder Singh Gaheer
-To be concluded
* 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