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Douglas Todd: Why Sikhs are so powerful in Canadian politics DOUGLAS TODD, VANCOUVER SUN 03.10.2018 The Sikh faction that wins control of any one of the scores of large gurdwaras in Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary has often taken advantage of their access to money and influence to support certain Liberal and NDP candidates, say observers. (Photo: Justin Trudeau shakes hands with audience members at an event for Surrey Liberal candidates in 2011.)IAN LINDSAY / VANCOUVER SUN The Sikh connection had been working well for Justin Trudeau, as it did for Jean Chretien. Punjabi Canadians, most of whom are Sikh, gave Trudeau a big leg up in nabbing the leadership of the federal Liberal party, which soon led him to the commanding heights of the prime minister’s office. But Punjabi/Sikh support has come back to haunt Trudeau’s popularity. It ignited controversy in his February visit to India, where he appeared linked to backers tied to Sikh militants, some wanting to carve out a theocratic homeland in India called Khalistan. How did it get to this? Why do Canadian Sikhspunch so much above their weight? How, to the envy of other minority groups, are they so adept at turning grassroots activism into serious political clout? After all, the country only has 500,000 Sikhs, accounting for a little more than one per cent of all Canadians. But more than 12 per cent of federal Liberal cabinet ministers are Sikhs, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. There are 14 Liberal Sikh MPs, says Kwantlen Polytechnic University political scientist Shinder Purewal. Liberals hold all nine federal ridings in which Punjabi Sikhs predominate, says Purewal, plus 11 more in which the South Asian population is significant. Sikhs also profoundly shape the New Democratic Party. They played a huge role in the elevation of Jagmeet Singh to leadership of the federal NDP. This is not to mention their over-sized clout in provincial politics in Ontario and also in B.C., where Sikhs were early supporters of former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh and recent Liberal premier Christy Clark. Purewal counts six current B.C. MLAs who are Sikh (five NDP and one Liberal). Most of the time Sikhs’ impressive ability to shape Canadian politics stays below the public’s radar. But it came to an embarrassing head for Trudeau in India – in part because of the shady figure of Jaspal Atwal, a one-time Sikh terrorist convicted decades ago of shooting an Indian politician who was visiting Vancouver Island. Neither Trudeau nor any Liberal can explain how Atwal was invited to high-level Trudeau functions in India. The Atwal affair, which sparked outraged headlines across India, has many people in India worried that Trudeau and other Liberal MPs are too closely tied to Sikh separatists, some of whom appear to glorify the man who masterminded the bombing of an Air India flight in 1985, which killed 329 innocents. And such incendiary connections are not confined to Trudeau’s Liberals, since similar suspicions have been levelled at the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, whom India refuses to give a visa, in part because he has a history as a lawyer of defending militants fighting for a separate Sikh homeland and because he lobbied for a 1984 pogrom against Sikhs in India to be labelled a “genocide” by the government of Ontario. Here’s a short primer on how Sikh politics often works in Canada. The grassroots process typically begins with board elections at hundreds of Canadian gurdwaras; especially in Vancouver suburbs such as Surrey, in neighbourhoods of Calgary and in Toronto suburbs such as Mississauga and especially Brampton (where Singh is centred). The competition to run a gurdwara, which acts like a community centre even for non-religious Punjabis, often pits so-called moderate Sikhs against fundamentalists, a minority of whom want to create a separate Sikh homeland. The faction that ends up controlling a gurdwara, Purewal says, “gains the upper hand.” The 10 to 20 individuals (almost always men) who run the gurdwara not only gain access to pools of money (typically religious donations made in cash), Purewal says, they’re also able to influence a circle of 40 to 50 extended families. The group that operates a gurdwara, Purewal says, can effectively obtain funds and temple volunteers on behalf of their partisan favourite. They often man a table in the temple on behalf of their politician, “particularly on weekends when devotees come by the hundreds.” Another little-understood factor that enhances the effectiveness of many Sikh leaders is their traditional caste, says Purewal. “The dominant caste among Punjabi Canadians is Jatt, which is a landowning warrior caste,” he says. The high status of a Jatt leader “makes it easier for certain politicians of Sikh faith to mobilize their relatives, extended families and friends.” The NDP’s Singh, despite playing down his family’s upper-caste origins, has proved adept at gurdwara politics, particularly at winning the “backing of Sikh temples with (Khalistan) secessionist tendencies,” Purewal says. “As they say, ‘money is the mother’s milk of political campaigns,’ and temples have a lot of it, in cash.” Before winning the leadership of the NDP, Singh signed up an astonishing 10,000 party members in B.C. alone. Barj Dhahan, a noted Punjabi philanthropist,also has first-hand experience of how temple politics works among Canadians Sikhs, since he competed in 2014 for the federal Liberal candidacy in the riding of Vancouver South. “Punjabi Sikh voters are very much into their politics,” Dhahan confirms. At one level, Dhahan admires the grassroots activism. At another level he’s concerned many can be manipulated by it. Sikh-Canadians’ political power is greatest at the local party level, Dhahan says — at determining who is nominated to represent ridings, and in gathering bulk members to vote for a candidate to become a provincial or national leader of a party. Despite Dhahan’s high profile and good standing in the party, Dhahan says the federal Liberals in 2015 pressured him not to run for a seat in the riding of Vancouver South, which has a large Punjabi Canadian population. Instead, Dhahan said Liberal officials manoeuvred for the only declared candidate to be Sajjan, whom Trudeau appointed minister of defence. Punjabi Canadians, Dhahan said, “mostly punch above their weight at nomination battles and for political party leadership. They can attract new members very effectively. This is where they put their energy. This is where they can do mass recruitments. And this is where they can deliver.” Looking into the future of Sikh-Canadian politics, however, Dhahan suggested it is Sikhs above age 55 who are most “driven by personalities.” They’re the most inclined to vote for a political candidate based on little more than the recommendation of a strong Sikh leader, mostly because of family, ethnic, caste or religious loyalties. The younger generation of Sikhs are more willing, Dhahan said, to quiz candidates on their actual principles. Like most Canadians, Dhahan says, younger Punjabi Sikhs “are more likely to ask, ‘What do you stand for?’ They’re less likely to join a political party because their father tells them to do so.” firstname.lastname@example.org Source - http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/douglas+todd+sikhs+powerful+canadian+politics/17155654/story.html