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Sikh Politicians Jockey for Position in Canada's National Political Scene

Herb Dhaliwal graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of British Columbia in 1977. Mr. Dhaliwal was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993, representing the federal riding of Vancouver South. In 1997 he was re-elected, representing the redistributed riding of Vancouver South-Burnaby. Mr. Dhaliwal has played an active role in a number of non-governmental organizations such as the India Cultural Centre of Canada, the Orientation Adjustment Services for Immigrants Society, and the Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival Society. He received an honourary Doctorate of Law in Dec. 2001 from Punjab University (Chandigarh, India) and a special recognition from the Khalsa Diwan Society. He was honoured with a citation from the Canadian Red Cross Society for his work in assisting Kurdish refugees. Mr. Dhaliwal was born in Northern Punjab, India, in 1952. He and his wife, Amrit, have three children: Andrea, Justin, and Jessica.

The Globe and Mail, Vancouver, Jan. 14, 2003

It depends on who you talk to, but it doesn't matter in the end which version of events is true. Natural Resources Minister Herb [Harbance Singh] Dhaliwal had his riding association swiped by Paul Martin's B.C. organization. Mr. Dhaliwal is understandably peeved. Mr. Martin's forces are unrepentant. Bad blood is everywhere. Mr. Martin's gang says Mr. Dhaliwal didn't pay enough attention to his constituency association. The gang told him they were signing up members. They offered him a compromise, but the Dhaliwal forces didn't reply. That's one version. The Dhaliwal version starts from disbelief that the Martin forces would target British Columbia's senior federal minister. Some of the previous executive members were Martin supporters. What sense did it make to replace them? The Dhaliwal forces say they offered a compromise, but the Martin troops rebuffed it. Who's right?

Perhaps both stories contain correct elements, as often happens with retellings, but there are lessons from whatever happened. Paul Martin's forces utterly control B.C. riding associations and the provincial executive. They obviously adopted a take-no-prisoners approach with Mr. Dahaliwal, a strong Jean Chrétien supporter who organized for the Prime Minister in the leadership wars against Mr. Martin in 1990-91. That tough approach will impress some Liberals with the Martin camp's strength and repel others by its bully-boy tactics. Unless the Martin forces' grip on the riding associations and provincial executive can be weakened, they will continue to control the rules for membership sales. But even if those rules were loosened, say at the behest of the national executive, Mr. Martin can outsell any challenger. He's already got a downtown office staffed by people working the lists and phones.

Mr. Dhaliwal has been contemplating running for the leadership. He would position himself as the B.C. candidate, and maybe by a stretch the Western Canadian one, although it's a myth to believe British Columbia and, say, Manitoba have much in common. He'd be the first candidate of Sikh origin to seek the leadership of a federal party, and that would count for something. But not much against Mr. Martin's strength. Mr. Dhaliwal's challenge will start from the obvious fact that unless those membership rules are changed to allow for more sales, he can't win his own province. Even if the rules were changed, Mr. Martin will undoubtedly trump him in British Columbia. Pique - being mad at Mr. Martin's role in agitating against Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Dhaliwal - is a poor guide for politics. Mr. Dhaliwal, candidate or otherwise, is almost certainly leaving politics at the next election. He thought about not running in 2000, and barring a huge change of heart, he's bowing out next time.

That will leave a big hole, but also a large opportunity, for Mr. Martin in British Columbia. Indeed, there's a reasonable chance David Anderson, the other senior B.C. minister, will not run. Mr. Anderson says he will, but if the right appointment came along in Canada or abroad, he might be gone. That would open up the top two Liberal spots in British Columbia for Mr. Martin. The Martinites privately would love to be rid of the hapless former minister, Hedy Fry, in Vancouver Centre. She seems persuaded, however, that she might return to cabinet under Mr. Martin, something that will never happen. The search is on discreetly to find candidates to run for the Liberals under Mr. Martin. Normally, the Liberals struggle to find a lot of impressive candidates in British Columbia. The travel is awful, the chance of winning is poor outside a handful of seats in the Lower Mainland.

The Martinites have to find a couple of big-name candidates in Lower Mainland seats where Liberals can win, then search for qualified candidates in the additional ridings where Mr. Martin as leader might open up prospects. Would former N.D.P. Premier Ujjal [Singh] Dosanjh qualify? Rumours that Mr. Dosanjh might switch parties abound in Vancouver, rumours that Mr. Dosanjh has talked around but not completely denied. The Liberal Party prides itself on being a big tent, but big enough for a former N.D.P. premier? What about Michael Phelps? He's the former head of Westcoast Energy, who years ago worked in Ottawa as an aide to Liberal minister Marc Lalonde. Westcoast's sale to Duke Energy of the United States left Mr. Phelps with a bundle and time on his hands. These are speculations. Nothing more. What's not a speculation is Paul Martin's hold on the B.C. Liberal Party, as Mr. Dhaliwal discovered.