Sikhs in Canadian politics

In Canada there are 800,000 sikhs or 2.1% of Canada’s Population. Yet in the House of Commons they have 18/338 or 5% of the seats. In India the Lok Sabha, their house of the Parliament of has 13/543 seats or just over 2% of the seats. “Indian Sikhs number approximately 21 million people and account for 1.7% of India’s population”.

So why this disproportionate representation in Canada? Around Woodstock, near Toronto, 80 per cent of the inhabitants are Sikh. Sikhs are a nice Indic community who respect other religions without being insecure about their own. A Sikh can worship in a Hindu temple and vice versa unlike some other religious groups world famous for jihad.

Punjabi has for years been the third-most spoken language in Canada, after English and French.

Sikhs have a robust culture of grassroots politics, organisational skills and fundraising capabilities, and a particular feature of Canada’s electoral system that requires each candidate to bring in a certain number of signatures and party members in order to get nominated.

According to Statistics Canada, between 2006 and 2016, the number of Punjabi-speaking citizens in Canada grew by 36.5 per cent. The only other communities to grow at a greater rate were the Filipinos and Arabs, at 83.1 per cent and 60.5 per cent, respectively.

Of the 92,231 people admitted into Canada as permanent residents in 2018, 39,600 or 43 per cent were Indian citizens. Punjabis, especially Sikhs, are believed to comprise a large share of this.

The political influence Sikhs have come to enjoy in Canada was on clear display in 2018 when a Canadian intelligence report listed Khalistanis as one of the top five terrorist threats in the country.

The backlash from the Sikh community — including from within the Liberal Party — was so severe that Trudeau’s government subsequently watered down the claims regarding Khalistani terrorism.

Canadian election results have shown that MPs from ethnic minorities often win constituencies where their community doesn’t form the majority. “(In 2015) nine of the 47 visible minority MPs were elected in ridings where the voting population was less than a 20-per-cent visible minority,” a May 2018 opinion piece in Canada’s Globe and Mail stated.

What explains this is Canada’s “pay to play” nomination system. For a candidate to be nominated by their party, they need to bring in a large number of letters by actual voters in their and the party’s support.

“Most federal parties allow electoral districts to nominate the candidates through local contests (nomination meetings). If a candidate can recruit enough members (from his ethnic group), he/she is able to win the contest easily,” Purewal said.

“The Sikhs have strong internal unity based on the caste (vast majority are Jatt Sikhs).”

The Sikhs are known to have a tight community structure, which places them at an advantage in such a system, say observers.

“To succeed in the nomination system you need to have very strong grassroots networks from which to sign up members and then deliver at the nomination selection meeting,” Jaskaran Sandhu, senior consultant at political consultancy, Crestview Strategy.

“These networks are very sophisticated and layered, and have been organically developed and refined in the Sikh community over decades in a way few others can easily mimic.”

This particular nomination system has also allowed a minority within a minority — the Khalistan supporters — to gain a voice in Canadian politics.

“The reason why the Sikh community in Canada is politically successful is that it is well organised. Through the gurdwaras, they organise community events, non-profits, fundraising for charities, food banks… It’s a very community-oriented community,” said Anita Singh, a PhD from Dalhousie University, Canada, and an expert on the country’s diaspora politics.

“There’s also financial means within the community to spend on political campaigns,” she added.

At the grassroots level, substantial politicking among Sikhs begins at board elections for gurdwaras. Eventually, a group of 10 to 20 men gain control of a gurdwara, and can use it to raise campaign money and influence about 40 to 50 extended families.

“From a young age, Sikhs are encouraged to volunteer in campaigns and learn not only how to fight elections but how government works in general,” said Sandhu.

“Sikhs take community building, democratic engagement, and grassroots empowerment seriously. It is built into our very ethos,” he added.

Reference: summarized from “How are Sikhs so powerful in Canada? It’s not about thier numbers” The Print Srijan Shukla Nov 2019


Blue Skies as the ice melts from last nights freezing rain storm. November 2023