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Canada Brampton A New Battleground For Conservatives


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Brampton could well be ground zero in the fight between Liberals trying to hold on to the urban immigrant vote, and Conservatives, who are making inroads in heavily ethnic areas.

Late Monday night, Sunny Gill, a young politically motivated Sikh Canadian, completed an impressive double by winning the Progressive Conservative party’s Brampton West riding association presidency.

He was already the local federal riding association president, and with the recent victory he now holds the same position at the provincial level. He’s one of a growing number of Punjabi Canadians gravitating to the Conservatives.

Federally, the Conservatives have identified dozens of ridings party strategists feel are in play, mostly in urban areas with large immigrant populations. If even a third of them swing, that could give Prime Minister Stephen Harper a majority government.

On the provincial level, considering southern Ontario’s rapidly growing number of immigrant voters, the strategy could be even more fruitful for the Ontario party.

Of the eight MPPs and MPs representing Brampton, all are Liberal and six are Punjabi Canadian. But with a provincial election in the fall and the possibility of a federal election looming, a new generation of Conservatives is ready for change.

“The values of the Conservative party, socially and economically, are more aligned with our cultural values,” Gill says, referring to Punjabi Canadians, who make up about a fifth of Brampton’s 500,000 residents. He has lived in Canada for almost 10 years and now works as a quality engineer in the automotive industry.

In relation to economic issues, he mentions the entrepreneurial spirit of Punjabi Canadians, who hail from an area that drove India’s economy for decades. Fiscal conservatism, he says, is also a core cultural value.

But the biggest connection with the Conservative party is in the area of social values, Gill says.

“I personally don’t agree with same-sex marriage,” he says, referring to the 2005 Liberal bill that recognized it. Brampton’s influential Punjabi media were filled with stories at the time criticizing the party and the three Liberal Punjabi Canadian MPs who flouted an edict against same-sex marriage handed down from the Golden Temple, Sikhdom’s holiest shrine, to vote in favour of the bill.

Gill says Punjabi Canadians haven’t forgotten the issue. “And they are scared that, at the provincial level, McGuinty will try to bring back (his plan) for sex education as early as Grade 3.”

The proposal for a revamped sex-ed curriculum, which was scrapped in the face of pressure from religious groups, will probably be used as fodder for Conservative aims in diverse ridings where orthodox religious values prevail.

Gill sees the momentum shifting in Brampton. Harper’s visit to the Golden Temple in late 2009 was seen as a signal to the Sikh community that they are on his radar.

The decline in Liberal support in ridings such as Brampton-Springdale also bodes well for the Conservatives. In 2006, the riding’s Liberal MP, Ruby Dhalla, defeated her Conservative rival by 7,802 votes. In the 2008 election, that margin shrank to 773.

But some members of the riding association warn the party against taking its new-found support for granted.

Randeep Sandhu is already concerned about the provincial party trying to place its own hand-picked choices on the slate, squeezing out grassroots nominees from the community. He told the Star the provincial party has already informed the riding association of its preferred candidate for the local nomination.

“The nomination process is a partnership between the riding associations and the party,” said Ontario party president Ken Zeise, responding to Sandhu’s fears of a parachuted candidate. “Members of the party are welcome to apply to be a candidate.”

Zeise said the party has the right, after doing background checks on all nominees, to drop anyone from the slate who is not deemed a suitable candidate.

Nomination issues have the potential to divide local riding association loyalists from the party that’s supposedly reaching out to them. But Gill said, “I’m confident we will nominate a candidate that will give the Conservative party the best chance to win the election.”