Indo-Canadian lawmaker Deepak Obhrai has joined the race to become leader of the opposition Conservative Party, saying he will stand up for all Canadians.
The leadership contest to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper, who left the post after the Tories lost the 2015 national elections to Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, will take place in May 2017.
Obhrai, 66, confirmed to Hindustan Times that he is vying to lead the party: “Yes, I am setting up a team,” he said.
“Standing up for all Canadians is my motto,” Obhrai, the senior-most MP from a visible minority in Canadian Parliament, said in an interview.
Obhrai served as parliament secretary in successive Harper governments and is known for his significant role in fostering ties between India and Canada.
The member of the House of Commons has won seven consecutive parliamentary elections from ridings - as constituencies are called in Canada - in Calgary since 1997. As the senior-most and longest continuously elected MP, he briefly led the Conservative caucus after the 2015 election, when the new House was constituted. He currently represents the new riding of Calgary Forest Lawn in Alberta province.
Obhrai, who was born in Tanzania and moved to Canada in 1977, said the last election had seen new Canadians, including Indo-Canadians, “desert” the Conservatives, and his intent was to reverse that trend.
“We are a very open, very inclusive party. I will represent all Canadians. I will be representing a different face (of the party),” he said. He plans to spend the next couple of months building a “credible team across the country” to prepare a platform with which to approach the contest.
Next year could actually see another prominent Indo-Canadian politician vying for leadership of the country’s third national party, the New Democratic Party.
Jagmeet Singh, 37, is a member of Ontario’s Provincial Parliament or MPP, equivalent of an MLA. There is speculation he may mount a bid to capture the NDP leadership.
Singh, though, has the dubious distinction of possibly being the only elected member of a Western legislature to be refused a visa by India. That was in December 2013, when the Indian consulate in Toronto turned down his application. In early June, he moved a motion in the Ontario legislature for the November 1984 riots in India to be formally recognised as genocide. However, the motion was soundly defeated.
Indo-Canadians are already well represented in the higher echelons of the ruling Liberal Party, including senior ministers like national defence minister Harjit Sajjan. With Obhrai’s candidacy and a possible bid by NDP’s Singh, the community’s presence is poised to become more broad-based across Canada’s federal political spectrum.