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Increased Participation Of Young People An Encouraging Sign For Municipal Elections

Indo-Canadians Civic Legacy Began With First Sikh-Punjabi Mayor Naranjan Singh Grewall!

By Balwant Sanghera

The municipal elections held on Saturday, November 15, were unique in many ways. For one, the newly elected mayors, councillors, school trustees and park board commissioners are in for a four year term. This is a long way from the two year terms that were in place for a long time before they were raised to three years. The other major change is the demographics and increased interest amongst young people to get involved in local politics. This was very evident especially in two of BC’s largest cities, Vancouver and Surrey. It appears that the younger generation was more involved in these elections than before. Also, the huge presence of Indo-Canadians in Surrey and Chinese- Canadians candidates in Richmond was very encouraging.

The presence of a large number of Indo-Canadian candidates in Surrey and Chinese –Canadians in Richmond puzzled some political pundits. In a sense, it is great for people of all backgrounds to actively participate in the democratic process. For this, all of the candidates-regardless of their heritage- should be commended for their participation and willingness to serve their fellow citizens. The participation and performance of the Indo-Canadian community in this election has been remarkable. Certainly, the candidates who made the cut had fairly good support from citizens of Indian heritage. However, in many of the cases, especially in other parts of the province, with the exception of Surrey, their impact was rather minimal.

Once a candidate puts himself-herself up for election-re-election, he-she usually promotes himself-herself as a capable, community minded person willing to serve his-her community to the best of his-her ability. Very rarely his-her ethnic origin becomes an issue. Of course, it goes without saying that every community is proud of the candidate(s) from amongst its ranks and usually will do its best to get him-her elected. However, in most of the cases it is the broader community or the community at-large that makes the difference in the end. This is the way it should be. In my opinion, to merely appeal to your own community to vote for you because you belong to the same community may not be the best and most desirable approach. The voters are very smart. Usually, they don’t appreciate such an approach and vote for a candidate because, they feel he-she is a deserving candidate. Previous and current elections in BC are a good reflection of this approach.

Like every other person, the Indo-Canadian candidates who won their seats did so on the basis of their abilities, community involvement and appeal to the mainstream voters. The election of 37 year old Colin Basran as mayor of Kelowna and that of Akbal Mund as the mayor of neighbouring city Vernon is a tribute to their community involvement. Such was also the case in many other communities where a number of Indo-Canadians were elected as councillors and school trustees.

This may also be one of the major reasons for Surrey councillor Tom Gill who topped the polls in the second largest city of this province. It is likely that Tom was also the recipient of a majority of Indo-Canadian votes. Same goes for Gary Thind, who was elected to the Surrey Board of Education. Similarly, the victories of Sav Dhaliwal for council and Baljinder Narang and Harmohanjit Singh Pandher as school trustees in Burnaby speak volumes about their popularity with the voters. All of them managed to pull off these victories as they also received overwhelming support from members of other communities as well.

Historically, when one looks back at the election of members of the Indo-Canadian community in this province over the past few decades, they were elected as a result of their appeal to and support of the mainstream community. In those times, the Indo-Canadian community was very small. As such, their impact at election time was rather minimal, if any. Take for example Naranjan Singh Grewall who was elected as mayor of Mission, BC in the 1950s at a time when there weren’t too many Indo-Canadian families living there. Similarly, there are countless examples of the veterans in our community who succeeded in winning elections with the support of the mainstream voters in communities that had very small numbers, if any, of Indo-Canadians. People like Setty Pendakur (Vancouver) Johnder Basran and me in Lillooet, Mohinder Singh Takhar in Terrace, Surinderpal Singh Rathore in Williams Lake, Aman Virk in Golden, and many others in the province. The list goes on and on.

At the provincial level, Moe Sihota, the first Indo-Canadian elected to a provincial legislature in Canada, won his seat with the support of the mainstream community as his riding didn’t have many Indo-Canadians. The point I am trying to make is that certainly we should be proud of our heritage and our community. However, when we place our name on a ballot, whether it is local, municipal or federal, we should make every effort to reach out to everyone and every community(including our own) for support. Once elected, it is an obligation on the part of the elected representative to serve his-her entire constituency, not just his/her community. Canada is a multicultural democracy. As such, all of us, regardless of our heritage, need to promote intercultural harmony, mutual respect and integration. People who run for public office have an added responsibility to ensure this.  We must be proud of our heritage and at the same time we need to be equally proud of being Canadians.

I would like to offer my congratulations to every candidate (whether elected or not) who had the courage to put forward their names to serve the public. All of you have made an excellent contribution to our democratic process.

Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist.

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