May 19, 2001
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British Columbia's Chosen Six

Ajit Jain
India Abroad Correspondent in Toronto

Apart from the fact that they are all Liberals, there is not much similarity among the six Indo-Canadians elected in the May 16 election in British Columbia, Canada's third most populous province.

Take Tony Bhullar, who defeated his New Democratic Party opponent Param Grewal by a lead of 2,550 votes from Surrey-Newton riding. A graduate in political science from Simon Fraser University, he then studied law at the University of Victoria and took a master's in law from the University of Notre Dam in France.

Thereafter Bhullar became a federal prosecutor and ad-hoc prosecutor in Surrey, near Vancouver. He's now a civilian member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and represents members involved in matters before the service court. Those who know Bhullar say he stands a good chance of being included in the Liberal Cabinet by premier-elect Gordon Campbell.

Gulzar Cheema, on the other hand, is a seasoned politician who was elected twice before as a Liberal member of the Manitoba legislature and served five years as opposition health critic. From Winnipeg, Cheema, a physician by profession, moved to Surrey a few years back. He polled 7,579 votes and was declared elected from Surrey-Panorama Ridge.

During his campaign, Cheema said much of his attention as a Member of the BC legislature "will focus on helping British Columbia set the standard for better health care and promoting our province as the centre for health excellence. I strongly believe that our public health-care system needs to be protected. However, at the same time, new and innovative approaches must be developed to meet the present and future challenges in the health-care system as our population grows and ages."

Cheema argued that children, the future of any society, "must have the skills, education and insight to face the challenges of an ever-changing global economy". Therefore, "our education needs to serve the needs of our children, and all other British Columbians who need knowledge to improve their lives and their communities".

He's also Cabinet material because of his long experience in politics.

Rob Nijjar, elected from Vancouver-Kingsway riding, defeated his nearest NDP candidate by a margin over 2,600 votes. He holds an undergraduate degree in general studies from Simon Frazer University and runs a public relations consultancy firm.

Born and bred in the East Side of Vancouver, Nijjar says he was raised in a working-class family by parents who migrated from India over 40 years ago. "We live our lives by working hard, taking care of our family members and doing honest, straightforward work," he says.

Nijjar, and of course the Liberal Party, wants "a balanced government where interaction between business and unions is done fairly; where government works with municipalities to make our streets safer; where social services have funding because more people are working and paying taxes..."

Patty Sahota defeated Indo-Canadian NDP candidate Sav Dhaliwal by 4,428 votes in Burnaby-Edmonds riding. She too is a public relations consultant and has worked as an aide to premier-elect Gordon Campbell.

"I believe one of the biggest issues facing us is crime. With BC having the highest crime rate in Canada, Band-Aid solutions are no longer acceptable. It is time we give local communities the resources they need to protect themselves, including the option of using auxiliary officers. Every one of us has the right to be safe anywhere in Burnaby," she said in her campaign literature.

Then there's Dave Hayer, elected from Surrey-Tynehead, who's publisher of the Indo-Canadian Times. He's the son of well-known journalist Tara Singh Hayer, who was assassinated three years ago in the garage of his home because of his controversial views on Punjab and the Sikh community in British Columbia.

Karn Manhas, who defeated his NDP rival in Port Coquitlam-Burke Mountain riding by around 3000 votes, firmly believes "in a stable education system that will allow young people to flourish, and prepare us all for work in the knowledge-based economy".

Manhas is all for "lower income taxes, improved public transport and community-based solutions for sensible housing, safe neighbourhoods and economic development". A graduate of McGill University in science and biology, he is a business development and operations planning expert.

Strangely, despite the complete rout of the NDP in an avalanche that swept even Premier Ujjal Dosanjh off his own riding of Vancouver-Kingston, many Indo-Canadians are happy with the results. "We are very, very happy," said Vancouver businessman Inderjit Bhugra. "Ujjal Dosanjh tried to be a good guy, but there were a lot of scandals," he said.

Bhugra believes the Indo-Canadian community will do very well, now that there are six MLAs elected on the Liberal ticket.

Premier-elect Campbell's plan is "to create a new era of hope, opportunity and prosperity" in British Columbia. He has made 200 promises, including a dramatic reduction of taxes within 90 days of assuming office. But can he deliver?

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