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November 8, 1999
Sihota Finds He's In A Glass House, After All
A P Kamath
Moe Sihota is fast learning that while criticizing his rivals, he himself isn't immune to attack. One of the most controversial of British Columbia's cabinet ministers, he hopes to become the premier of the province within the next few years. But right now Sihota, who became the first Indo-Canadian to be elected to a Canadian legislature in 1986 and the first Indo-Canadian appointed to a cabinet, is busy eating some of the words of criticism he leveled against fellow politician Ujjal Dosanjh.
Sihota, British Columbia's social development and economic security minister, made headlines last week when he lambasted senior fellow Sikh Ujjal Dosanjh, the attorney-general, for launching a massive sign-up of Indian Canadians for the National Democratic Party.
Dosanjh is expected to announce his decision early this week about contesting NDP's top position at the party's convention February next year. Opinion polls expect him to win but he could face some formidable opposition if Gordon Wilson, who is married to former television commentator and talk-show host Judy Tyebji, enters the fray.
This week, stung by criticism from liberal Sikhs such as Balwant Singh Dhillon, president of the Guru Nanak Singh Gurdwara, Sihota said he should have moderated his remarks and that words "stumbled" out of his mouth "awkwardly".
Sihota, who was pointedly asked by his opponents in the Indian Canadian community if he thought the recently registered Sikh members of NDP did not merit respect, said he criticized the drive because he worried that the voice of old-timers in the NDP would be muted.
Dosanjh has refused to criticize Sihota in return, but Sihota's critics question his moral stature to criticize the attorney-general. They point out that Sihota was forced out of the cabinet as law minister in 1995 when he was suspended by the Law Society after he was accused of taking a loan from one of his clients.
He joined the cabinet the next year but stepped down again following charges that he had improperly tried to advance the business interests of self-made millionaire Herb Dhaliwal who subsequently went on to become the national revenue minister and is now the fisheries minister.
But Sihota's backers are quick to point out that he is a gifted politician who has been able to overcome his mistakes and continue winning elections.
Sihota holds a degree in social work from the University of British Columbia and a degree in law from the University of Victoria.
Sihota, who casts himself as populist, discussed how, as minister of environment, lands and parks, he had created over 200 new parks, introduced the toughest clean air standards in Canada and changed logging practices in British Columbia. As minister of labour, he extended workers compensation coverage to farm workers, and introduced the largest consecutive minimum wage increases in the history of the province.
"In many ways, he (Sihota) is one of the smartest politicians," says a supporter of Dosanjh. "But he should realize that he can fight for his advancement without having to pull down someone else."
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