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Punjabis Make History in Canada

13 Punjabi MPs who represent the State of Punjab in New Delhi
but 20 Punjabi MPs in Canadian Parliament

Surrey, Vancouver, November 6, 2015
Balwant Sanghera    

      An impressive electoral victory by the Liberal Party of Canada, led by Justin Trudeau has been celebrated widely throughout Canada. Also, the election of twenty Punjabis as members of the Canadian Parliament is a major milestone for the Punjabi community. As a matter of fact, it has wide ranging implications in various countries where Punjabis have been flourishing. Relatively speaking, there are thirteen Punjabi MPs who represent the State of Punjab in the national parliament in New Delhi. However, thousands of kilometers away, a lot more Punjabis than that,   twenty, have been elected to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. This is quite an accomplishment for a community whose ancestors arrived in Canada some 120 or so years ago.

Justin Trudeau becomes the second youngest Prime Minister in this nation’s history. His new cabinet is an excellent mix of experienced veterans and fresh faces. As Justin Trudeau remarked in his press conference after being sworn in, it is “a cabinet that looks like Canada”. The brand new cabinet has a very evident younger look.  Trudeau must be commended for appointing four very capable Punjabis as members of his Cabinet. Two of them-Navddep Singh Bains and Harjit Singh Sajjan- have also been included in Justin Trudeau’s Inner Cabinet (Agenda and Results Committee). The Trudeau cabinet truly reflects the multicultural face of Canada of 2015.Newly appointed Minister of National Defence, 45 year old Harjit Singh Sajjan, a decorated soldier, will be a great asset for our defence. Similarly, other Indo-Canadian members of the Trudeau cabinet –Navdeep Singh Bains, Amarjit Singh Sohi and Bardish Kaur Chaggar –are a commendable addition to the cabinet. Their appointments to these esteemed positions are a great credit to Justin Trudeau, Canada and the Indo-Canadian community. On behalf of Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA) I would like to offer them my congratulations and best wishes to Justin Trudeau, his caucus and cabinet.

The election of twenty Punjabis including four to the cabinet have considerably raised expectations of the Punjabi community in Canada. It is true that all of these MPs have been elected to serve their country and constituents to the best of their abilities. At the same time, there are some expectations of the Punjabi community. Promotion of Punjabi language in Canada is one such issue. The 2011 Statistics Canada Census placed Punjabi as the third most spoken language in Canada after English and French.  There is no doubt that both English and French are the two official languages of Canada. As such, every Canadian, whether he/she has been here for generations or has just come off the plane, must make every effort to learn at least one or both of these languages, if possible. At the same time, a language like Punjabi, which has been an integral part of Canada for close to 125 years, also needs some recognition.

Since their arrival in Canada, Punjabis have made an incredible contribution to the growth and development of this country. It is gratifying to note that our food, culture, traditions, customs and religion have been recognized as Canadian. However, unfortunately, our mother tongue Punjabi is still considered as a foreign language. In this context, on behalf of PLEA, I would like to urge our newly elected Punjabi MPs to work towards getting recognition for our Punjabi language as a Canadian language. Not only that, hopefully, they will also ensure that Punjabi gets its due place at the federal government level as well as with federal agencies. PLEA would appreciate it to see appropriate funding available for the promotion of Punjabi at the federal level. Another matter that needs to be kept in mind is proper translation from English into Punjabi of the federal documents and materials. There are a number of well qualified Punjabi translators. However, often it occurs that rather than using their services the translation done by poorly qualified individuals /agencies is of very poor quality. Also, encouraging more signage at federal government facilities and institutions would be much appreciated.

Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto have now become very vibrant and influential hubs of the Punjabi community. As such, our Punjabi M.P.s in particular and representatives of Greater Toronto Area and Metro Vancouver should give serious consideration to establishing chairs of Punjabi language and literature at the University of Toronto and Simon Fraser University’s Surrey Campus. Such initiatives will go a long way in reaching out to one of the most resilient, prosperous, active and generous communities in Canada. Of course, not only PLEA but also the entire Punjabi community would greatly appreciate any progress in this regard

Balwant Sanghera

President, Punjabi Language Education Association


Balwant Sanghera
President, Punjabi Language Education Association . He is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist in British Columbia ,Canada.