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Will Obhrai get a cabinet berth?

In the 308-member lower house, there are 12 MPs of south Asian origin, seven being Indians, writes Gurmukh Singh.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2006 20:02 IST
Gurmukh Singh
Gurmukh Singh

The Canadians may have ended the13-year rule of the Liberal party in the last week's elections, but there was no change in the fortunes -- or numbers -- of Indo-Canadian representatives in parliament.

Barring one, all the sitting MPs have been re-elected. The only exception was Gurmant Grewal who had opted out of the fray after the tape scandal in which he had taped Canadian health minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Prime ministerial advisor Tom Murphy for allegedly "bribing'' him to vote for the ruling Liberal party in a no-trust motion last year. However, Grewal's seat has been won by another Indo-Canadian Sukh Dhaliwal.

In the 308-member House of Commons, there are 12 MPs of south Asian origin. Out of these, seven are of Indian origin.

Interestingly, not only have some Indo-Canadian retained their seats, they have also increased their victory margin.

Among them, Deepak Obhrai, who was elected from Calgary East, won 67.1% of the vote. ``This is the highest level of support of any visible minority candidate elected last night. I am indeed very thankful to the constituents of my riding for their continued support," says Obhrai.

"This tremendous show of support is very humbling. I would also like to acknowledge the support I have received across the country. I look forward to representing my riding and working with ethnic communities but this time from the government side of the House of Commons,'' he added. As against 5,410 votes for his Liberal rival, Obhrai polled 26,766 votes.

Obhrai, who may be the new Indo-Canadian face in the federal cabinet after Herb Dhaliwal and Ujjal Dosanjh, told after his landslide victory that the ethnic minorities were slowly shifting their allegiance to the Tories. ``Yes, we have made some gains in Indo-Canadian votes.

In my riding, south Asians voted massively for me. I campaigned for the party in the ridings where there is considerable presence of the community. I also raised money for the party campaign from our people. Like in Alberta, we have made inroads in the Indo-Canadian vote in BC which usually goes to the Liberals,'' he said.

Asked about his chances of making it to the cabinet, the four-time MP said, "Anything is possible. But I am not angling for anything. Stephen Harper is my leader and it is up to him to include anyone in the cabinet. Not all people can be accommodated in the ministry,'' he said.

Whether he gets the cabinet slot or not, Obhrai, who has a lot of experience in international trade affairs and multicultural issues, is sure to be given some "important assignment.'' They in the Indo-Canadian community are already speculating about the cabinet make-up.

Asked about what impact the Tory victory will have on the pro-Liberal Indo-Canadian community, Obhrai said, "Our aim is to win our community to the Tory side. We have a lot work to do in the Toronto area where we failed to make much headway this time as well. I will take up issues that impact us -- be it racism or discrimination in subtle forms.''

Apart from Obhrai, another Indo-Canadian MP in the Tory ranks is Neena Grewal who won in Fleetwood-Port Kells in British Columbia. Neena and her husband Gurmant Grewal were the first Canadian couple to make it to parliament in the last federal elections in 2004.

Speaking about the outgoing Liberals, they had as many four Indo-Canadian MPs in their ranks last time. This number has increased by one as the seat -- Newton North Delta -- held by Grewal (Tories) has been won by Sukh Dhaliwal.

And Canadian health minister and former BC premier Ujjal Dosanjh, who was in the eye of the tape controversy, sailed through in his Vancouver South riding.

And in the most important province of Ontario, Gurbax Malhi too won for the fourth time in the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton. Malhi, who was parliamentary secretary in the outgoing government, was the first turbaned Sikh to become an MP in the West in 1993. He is the man who is credited with bringing Vaisakhi celebrations to the Canadian parliament.

Navdeep Bains and Ruby Dhalla too retained their Mississauga-Brampton South and Brampton-Springdale seats.

First Published: Feb 01, 2006 13:13 IST