Shopping for votes in Vancouver's Punjabi market
(Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets supporters as he attends the Vaisakhi festival in Vancouver, BC on Saturday April 16, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
VANCOUVER —Conservative Leader Stephen Harper met with Vancouver’s plentiful Sikh community Saturday afternoon in the three-block Punjabi market and gave a brief address at the city’s Vaisakhi parade, an event held each April to mark the harvest festival.
The parade just happens to be held in the Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh’s riding of Vancouver South, where the Tories hope to reap benefits for the political seeds they have been planting. Tory hopeful Wai Young had a booth set up less than half a block to the right of Harper’s stage, handing out leaflets and campaign paraphenalia to the passers by. Half a block to the left of the stage was a similar booth promoting NDP candidate Meena Wong.
A similar booth for the Liberals couldn’t be found in the area.
Dosanjh did, however, preceed Harper on the stage, speaking almost entirely in Punjabi. In a brief interview after his speech, he said his message was political. He was critical of the Conservative government’s record on family reunification.
“Why is it that it would take a new immigrant about 14 to 18 years to bring family to Canada? What kind of people do we want? Do we want people who are prepared to give their families up and come to Canada? Do we want simply temporary workers? Why is it that we’re so interested in having people in ethnic costumes stand up behind them, but he isn’t interested in true equality? Ultimately what kind of country to we want if there’s simply temporary foreign workers coming?” Dosanjh said.
The former NDP B.C. premier noted the Harper government had decreased the family reunification quota by 50 per cent since taking power in 2006.
Later he acknowledged that he was in the race of his life in Vancouver South.
"It's a hotly contested riding, you know that. (Harper) is here. Why do you think he is here?"
Harper himself was late to arrive at the event, forcing the emcee to kill time with stories and idle political talk.
He urged the gathered crowd to get involved in politics no matter what party they choose to support.
“If they (politicians) know you, that’s an easy way to get things done,” he said.
He was then informed that the Conservative leader was five minutes away and proceeded to tell a story about a meeting between former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau the bearded, turban-wearing editor of India Abroad and the editor's clean-shaven son.
“Where’s your turban?” a puzzled Trudeau asked the son.
The father replied, “He’s a Canadian.”
“Mr. Trudeau said, ‘That’s wrong. He can be a Sikh-Canadian. You don’t have to leave your tradition. You don’t have to leave your language. You don’t have to leave your culture.’ ”
Harper’s bus pulled up behind the stage at precisely 1:30 pm PST. He emerged wearing a blue headscarf. He was accompanied by wife, Laureen, B.C. candidates Nina Grewal, Paul Forseth, James Moore, Wei Young and others, as well as retiring cabinet minister Stockwell Day and Conservative candidate Jason Kenney, who head’s up the party’s ethnic outreach.
Jason Kenney kicked off the speeches with a dazzling, fluently Punjabi greeting.
“He is a man who shares the values of the Sikh community. Values like devotion to family, respect for tradition and the belief in hard work,” Kenney said of Harper in English, adding that the Tory platform promises an office of religious freedoms in DFAIT.
Fleetwood Port-Kells incumbent Nina Grewal was next up at the podium. She spoke entirely in Punjabi.
Then came Harper. He praised the founding principles of Sikhism, which he said have led Sikhs to be “among the most courageous, hard-working and successful of our world.”
“These principles are also important to us here in Canada, because ours is a country defined by its belief in freedom democracy and justice, values that have attracted people from around the world to our shores, including the growing numbers of Canada’s Sikh community,” he said.
Harper spoke of his visit to the Golden Temple in India in 2009 as among the fondest memories of his term in office. He said that 2011 was the year of India in Canada, and touted his promise of free trade talks with India.
The emcee took the microphone when Harper finished speaking. He took the opportunity to push the Conservative leader to help build a $3-million gate, one that was supposed to have been completed for last winter’s Vancouver Olympics.
“I don’t want to go into details because it’s not a good time for you to spend too much time on that, but please, look into that,” he said.