A large group of Sikhs in B.C. who have threatened to abandon Justin Trudeau’s Liberals say their political protest is reaching Sikh communities across the country.
“It’s not (only) people going to the Ross Street Temple, or people living in the Vancouver area — it’s people living across Canada,” said Raj Bhela, a former general secretary of Vancouver’s Ross Street Temple.
The Sikhs’ complaint is that the party’s open riding nomination process is flawed.
According to Bhela, Sikhs from across B.C. and Canada have held “meeting after meeting” to discuss which party to support, and expect to announce their choice by the end of the week.
“We are not Liberals, that’s for sure,” Bhela said.
The protest was sparked last week over the nomination of retired Canadian Army officer Harjit Singh Sajjan as the Liberals’ Vancouver South candidate, after prominent businessman Barj Dhahan withdrew from the nomination race.
At the time Dhahan withdrew he was gaining steam in the community and had signed up nearly 4,000 voting members to support him in the race, said Kashmir Dhaliwal, past president of Vancouver’s Khalsa Diwan Society.
And according to Dhaliwal, the community believes Dhahan was forced out to make room for Sajjan, a decorated former officer who Dhaliwal said was “planted” as the party’s “preferred candidate.”
“It’s not fair,” said Dhaliwal. “Democracy is not respected in this riding.”
While Dhahan wouldn’t discuss why he stepped down, he told Vancouver Desi he “withdrew reluctantly.”
But Olivier Duscheneau, a spokesman for the Liberal Party of Canada, insisted Dhahan withdrew willingly when he submitted his notice at the end of November.
“We have an open nomination process in every riding and we’re really proud of it.” said Duscheneau.
Despite that assurance, the ongoing controversy has led a small group of Liberal Party members to accuse B.C. campaign co-chair Bruce Young of running “interference” in nomination races across Metro Vancouver.
According to Mark Elyas, past president of the Federal Liberal Riding Association of Vancouver East, about 50 Liberal Party members have formed an internal movement to pressure Trudeau to reconsider Young’s position.
Elyas sent an email, which was obtained by The Province, to Trudeau last week, formally asking the leader to reconsider Young.
“Under Bruce’s watch there have been zero truly fair, open and unhindered nominations in Greater Vancouver,” the email reads. “The news coming from south Vancouver is a significant problem … a mess resulting from Bruce’s impeding of the democratic process.”
Elyas said he has yet to receive a response, but “we’re not letting it go.”
While Young declined comment, Mike Witherly, a spokesman for the Liberals’ B.C. chapter, said the controversy is “not that unusual.”
“It’s politics,” said Witherly. “Not everybody’s happy, but these are the things that tend to happen when you have nomination meetings.”