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An Indian drama in Canada polls

A young Indo-Canadian made headlines this summer when he recorded his conversation with a minister, writes Gurmukh Singh.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2005 20:29 IST

Much should be read (or not) into the decision of the Indo-Canadian MP Gurmant Grewal not to seek re-election to the House of Commons this time around. The minority Liberal party government, led by Paul Martin, fell last week, necessitating a fresh general election. Grewal represents the Newton-North Delta riding (constituency) in the Canadian Parliament.

The young Indo-Canadian made headlines this summer when he recorded his conversation with Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, a fellow Indo-Canadian, when he approached Grewal allegedly with the offer of 'rewards' if he jumped to the Liberal party or voted for the Liberal party to save the government from falling during the no-confidence motion.

Grewal also taped his conversation for Prime Minister Paul Martin's chief of staff Tim Murphy and went public with them, saying that the Liberal party tried to bribe him and his wife Nina Grewal, who represents another riding, just before the vote.

After the government survived because of the speaker's vote, the tape issue led to political mudslinging.

Ujjal and Murphy said they never made any offer to Grewal, and that the tapes released to the media were selective and doctored.

The issue was referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and now is pending before the Ethics Commission.

In the wake of the tape scandal, the media went tong and hammers after Grewal as he was already involved in another issue impinging on his integrity. It related to his seeking guarantee of thousands of dollars from those who sought the MP's help in securing visiting visas for their relatives. Grewal said he wanted this to ensure that the visitors didn't stay back in Canada.

Now when the house has fallen and the tape scandal is still fresh, Grewal says he has decided not to seek re-election for the simple reason that he doesn't want the Opposition to use this issue in the election. He spoke with this correspondent about his future course of action.

Excerpts:

Doesn't your decision to pull out of the fray amount to capitulation to the Liberal party onslaught against you?

No, it is not. I have served the House thrice for nine years and am proud of what I have accomplished. Now that they - the Liberal party and the national media - are resorting to dirty tactics, I have decided not to let them take further advantage of the issue. I am clean and I am all for accountability in public life. It is dirty politics by the Liberals who will go to any lengths to save their government. People have seen their real face before the last no-trust motion - how they lured Opposition MPs.

It is said that you and your party were selective in releasing the tapes and that they were doctored?

It is all part of their propaganda. When I blew the whistle in May, they made all these accusations. They referred the issue to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). I came out clean. And then with an eye on the election, they referred the matter to the Ethics Commission (come to think of it, the RCMP has a higher profile than the Ethic Commission). Now that that report is going to be critical of the Liberal party they have not tabled it in the house.

Don't you think you could have fought them more effectively by staying in the fray?

I don't want my leadership to be distracted by the Liberal propaganda. I made the decision in the larger interest of the party and conveyed this to my leader Stephen Harper. He appreciated my views and allowed me to take this step. The Conservastive party will form government this time.

So you could be rewarded later for your sacrifice?

No, I am not after any office. I was offered cabinet position thrice but I refused. I have never made deals in my life. Let me emphasis that whatever I set out to do in life, I did very well in that field. Before leaving India, I did my MBA and was a very successful executive with a multinational in the early 1980s (!). In Liberia where I moved after marrying Nina, I was a successful businessman and university professor. Then I came here in the early 90s and became an MP within just six years. When my wife became an MP this year, we became the first MP couple in Canada!

In the House of Commons, I have the record of speaking more than any of the 308 MPs. Till now; I have introduced 45 bills and motions. Out of these, two have passed. One has become a law of this land. Which is a record in Canadian parliamentary history - that an Opposition MP's bill became law. And mind you, it was a substantial bill in the sense that it was a regulatory bill.

For my record and perfect attendance in the house, they gave me the award of 'Iron man.'

Furthermore, I was the first to raise in Parliament the issue of recognition of foreign degrees in Canada. Then, in 1999, I introduced the whistle-blower bill for protection to those who expose wrongdoings in public life.

Even my opponent will tell you that I repeatedly raised the issue of apology from the government for the Komagata Maru episode. It was I didn't care about Canada's sanctions on India after N-blasts in May 1998 and went to Delhi to meet Indian leaders. I fought for lifting of those sanctions. I exposed corruption in the Canadian missions in New Delhi and Islamabad, raised the issue of recognition for the five Sikh - five Ks -- symbols, and the discrimination against seniors from Asia who are eligible for pension only 10-year stay in Canada while those coming from Europe are eligible for it straightway.

Will you campaign for your wife?

Yes. I will go out to people and explain my decision. Nina is on a solid ground.

First Published: Dec 04, 2005 17:42 IST