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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 12:34 GMT
Canadian elections get an Asian flavour

By Daniel Lak
BBC News, Brampton, Ontario

All candidates meeting in Brampton
More than 50 Asian candidates are contesting in this election

It is a typical Saturday in January in this suburban community, west of Toronto.

Wet snow is falling from a grey sky, the streets are full of cars as people run errands and take advantage of a day off work.

For Jaipal Massey-Singh, Bal Gosal and Jagtar Shergil however, Saturdays for the past month and a half means knocking on doors, listening to complaints and plaudits and eating take-away food.

Not to mention begging people to vote for them.

All three men are running in the Canada's 23 January general elections.

They are among nearly 50 candidates of South Asian origin who are vying to become members of parliament.

Family campaign

Bal Gosal arrives at the Conservative Party headquarters in a Brampton mall with his wife, son and two daughters in tow.

Candidate Bal Gosal campaigning on the doorsteps
Mr Gosal - campaigning in Punjabi, Hindi and English

Campaigning is a family affair for the Gosals.

Wife Paranjit settles in a chair with a copy of the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, and calls out the headlines to her husband, who is discussing the day's door-knocking with campaign manager Geoff Ritchie.

Nearby, a volunteer makes comforting noises into a phone receiver, before hanging up and saying wistfully, "If I spoke Punjabi, I would know whether or not I was promised that vote."

Mr Gosal says he campaigns in three languages, Punjabi for his largely Sikh constituents, Hindi for other South Asians and English for the rest.

"You often speak all three on the same doorstep," he says, "but if it gets us another vote, it is worth it."

Brampton has fast become one of Canada's most multi-cultural communities.

First it attracted people from Portugal and Italy, largely to work in the construction industry.

Then an expansion of the Toronto airport more than a decade ago attracted skilled South Asian workers from all over India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

"Just think," says Jaipal Massey-Singh, candidate for the environmentalist Green Party, "this is a place where you can arrive from India, worship as you are used to, eat the food you like, and speak your language - and be Canadian."

'Ice hockey'

Jagtar Shergil, an insurance broker who came to Canada 13 years ago, tells his potential voters that his sons both play ice hockey, Canada's national winter game.

Candidate Jagtar Shergil knocking on doorsteps
Immigrants have changed politics 'beyond recognition'

"This is a great country," he says, "you can come here, get a job, a house, a life and you can run for parliament, maybe even win."

Mr Shergil campaigns on behalf of the left-of-centre New Democratic Party (NDP).

The party that has governed Canada for the past 13 years, the Liberals, has many South Asian candidates as well.

Dr Ruby Dhalla represents another Brampton-area constituency and is proud of being one of Canada's youngest members of parliament.

Canada's Health Minister, Ujjal Dosanjh from Vancouver has also been premier of the province of British Columbia.

Herb Dhaliwal, Gubax Malhi and Navdeep Bains all had junior cabinet or parliamentary secretary posts in previous governments.

Pollster Michael Adams of Environics Research in Toronto says Canada has taken in so many immigrants in the past two decades that the face of politics is changing beyond recognition to previous generations.

"Forty per cent of this country is foreign born," he points out, "and because we accepted only skilled immigrants, we get people who are capable, intelligent, already accomplished.

"And it's no surprise that they run for office to try to make things better for their community and others."

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