Ontario election: Indo-Canadian candidates behaving badly takes centre stage

Among the high-profile candidates here is Gurratan Singh, younger brother of Jagmeet Singh, the federal leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP

world Updated: Jun 02, 2018 00:02 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Ontario,Ontario election,Indo-Canadian candidates
Couple of controversies surrounding Indo-Canadian candidates behaving badly have taken centre stage.(Reuters File Photo)

The nastiness that often characterises an election in India appears to have seeped into the campaign to form the government in Canada’s largest province, as a couple of controversies surrounding Indo-Canadian candidates behaving badly have taken centre stage.

The scandals plaguing the election process in Ontario are emerging from one prominent riding (as constituencies are called in Canada) – Brampton East, in a township in the suburbs of Toronto. Among the high-profile candidates here is Gurratan Singh, younger brother of Jagmeet Singh, the federal leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP).

Gurratan made an appearance on the front page of the Toronto Sun, for all the wrong reasons. It was a photograph of his from 2006, participating in a demonstration while holding a sign reading “F**k the Police”.

As his party, which recently gained momentum in the election, faced serious blowback when the image emerged, he issued a pubic apology, stating it was something he was “now deeply ashamed of”.

“I apologise unreservedly to police officers, their families, and the policing community,” Gurratan said. His brother leapt to Gurratan’s defence: “It’s something that happened 12 years ago. My brother’s absolutely embarrassed by that, (he has) apologised unequivocally.”

While most candidates would have been dismissed for such a transgression, provincial party leader Andrea Horwath has retained Gurratan.

Elections in Ontario matter in Canada in the way that results in Uttar Pradesh do in India. As the NDP loses traction over this controversy, earlier it was the Progressive Conservatives (PC Party) that suffered from another scandal out of Brampton East, which played a major role in killing off the significant advantage it enjoyed in polling for much of the cycle.

That involved Simmer Sandhu, the party’s then candidate from Brampton East. He had to step aside after his former employer, 407 Express Toll Route, complained there had been “internal theft of customer data”. That data may have been used for the party’s nomination contests, across several ridings and is now the subject of a police investigation.

Sandhu has maintained his innocence, calling the allegations “totally baseless”. In a statement issued on social media, he said, “I will vigorously defend myself and my reputation and I am confident I will be cleared.”

Jagdish Grewal, publisher and editor of Ontario’s sole Punjabi language newspaper, Punjabi Post, said this scandal had “major a ripple effect” across the province in impacting the PC Party’s prospects. Similarly, he felt, the Gurratan Singh photo could have an “effect” on the overall chances of the NDP.

This is also indicative of a sort of Indian-style anything goes electioneering, which may have been imported into Canada, especially in places like Brampton that has five ridings, and 14 of the 15 candidates of the three major parties are of Indian origin.

“It’s worse than Indian politics, the way its going now, with all this mud-slinging, digging out old pictures, old websites,” Grewal said ruefully.

Christo Aivalis, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s department of history, has been tracking the election and said Brampton East may appear like a “random riding”, but “it’s gotten a lot of attention because this is a very diverse part of Ontario, one that is more and more important in Ontario politics”.

Satish Thakkar, an entrepreneur and a voter in the riding, felt the “controversies surrounding both NDP candidates and previous PC candidate are a bit serious and need further investigation and clarification. As this is a very important riding, public scrutiny is quite strong.”

Sandhu’s replacement as PC candidate, Sudeep Verma, has not come without problems, either. The paradropping of a candidate from another area has caused outrage among local party activists and supporters, Grewal pointed out.

Meanwhile, the candidate of the ruling Liberal Party, Parminder Singh, is prominent in the province and across Canada as co-host of the Punjabi version of Hockey Night in Canada. But he has faced hardly any trouble, mainly because the dispensation’s fortunes in the province are at rock bottom and the media have focused on parties and candidates with a viable chance at forming the next provincial government after elections are held on June 7.

However those results go, the riding-rich areas around Toronto show how influential the Indo-Canadian community is getting in Canadian politics, even though, as the Brampton East storms suggest, they may bring along baggage that weighs down their parties.

First Published: Jun 02, 2018 00:02 IST