Martin Collacott: Sikh political power in Canada under scrutiny

Yet another column on Sikh Canadians and their political influence. Their over-representation represents a mix of their geographic concentration in a number of ridings as well as their greater tendency to participate in politics compared to other groups such as Chinese Canadians, who also are concentrated in a number of ridings. Black Canadians are too dispersed to have the same electoral impact despite their size.

As to his recommendation that political party membership should be contingent on Canadian citizenship, while not without merit, would be unlikely to change the overall dynamics much:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to India made clear just how intertwined Sikh politics are with the political scene in Canada, as well as the complications this creates in our relations with India.

The visit reflected the huge influence Sikhs have on Canadian politics while constituting only one per cent of the population. We currently have four Sikh federal cabinet ministers, compared to none from the much larger Chinese community. Another example of this highly skewed level of representation is that in the parliament of India, Sikhs hold only two senior cabinet posts even though they comprise more than 20 million of that country’s population [given India’s population of 1.34 billion, 20 million is 1.5 percent, two out of the 27 cabinet ministers is 7.4 percent compared about half that of Canadian Sikh representation].

Not only are Sikhs heavily over-represented in the cabinet, but Trudeau appears to have made a distinct effort to find people likely to be supported by members of the community sympathetic to the creation of an independent Khalistan, a Sikh state to be carved out of India. This became apparent back in December 2014 when Trudeau as the then-leader of the Liberal party parachuted in Harjat Singh Sajjan as the candidate in Vancouver South to replace Barj Dhahan, who had already been chosen by local Liberal constituency members.

Whereas Sajjan enjoys the backing of the World Sikh Organization (WSO), which supports an independent Khalistan, Dhahan is a moderate and ally of former B.C. premier and federal cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh, one of the most respected politicians of Sikh background in Canada and no friend of Khalistani separatism.

One senior Sikh official summed the situation up by stating that he thought the Liberal party had been “hijacked by the WSO” and that the party, “especially Justin, (was) in bed with extremist and fundamental groups.”

The problem, therefore, is not only that Sikhs are heavily over-represented in federal politics, but that the Liberal party has chosen to concentrate on getting the support of Khalistani separatists and extremists as the easiest way of strengthening its support base in that community. It would not be surprising in the circumstances if other ethnic and religious groups started employing the same tactics in an effort to promote policies that benefit their particular community rather than Canadians in general — a development that would deepen ethnic divisions within our society.

Correcting this situation will involve not only the adoption of more responsible policies by the Liberals, but changes to internal party voting rules.

Back in 2003 and 2004, I and three associates published a series of articles exposing the potential damage done by political parties that recruit blocks of supporters from specific ethnic communities in the expectation that this support would be translated at some point into policies favouring the communities in question. We pointed out that such practices could lead to increasing divisions in Canadian society as more and more ethnic and religious groups gave their political support to those who would primarily serve their community’s interests rather than on policies that would benefit Canadians in general.

One recommendation we made was that full membership of a political party should be restricted to people eligible to vote in a federal election — which includes Canadian citizenship. At present, members of political parties can vote for delegates to a leadership convention as well as the selection of a candidate for election in a constituency, and as such are able to influence policy, without having to be a citizen.

Non-citizens could still be encouraged to take an interest in politics (perhaps as associate members of parties), but should not have full voting rights and the capacity to influence policy until they become Canadians.

In the meantime, political parties continue to recruit people who are often not Canadians, know little about Canada and yet are used by political factions to influence our policies. While the Liberals and NDP are the chief culprits in terms of allowing such abuse of the system, all parties should review their internal membership voting rules to ensure that the kind of distortion of Canadian democracy we are now seeing is brought to an end.

Source: Martin Collacott: Sikh political power in Canada under scrutiny

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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