First Indian-Canadian is British Columbia’s New Speaker

by Dec 10, 2020Diaspora0 comments

Punjab-born Raj Chouhan has made India proud by becoming the first person of Indian origin to take oath as the Speaker of British Columbia (BC), one of the key provinces of Canada.

In fact, he is the first South Asian to occupy the prestigious office.

Chouhan, who came to Canada from Gauhar village near Ludhiana in 1973, was Deputy Speaker in the outgoing assembly.

Chouhan represents Burnaby-Edmonds constituency. He is the five-time MLA of the New Democratic Party (NDP) which retained power in last month’s election, winning 57 seats in the 87-member House.

“It is difficult to describe how thrilled I am with this honour. The feeling has yet to sink in,” Chouhan told IANS news agency after he took oats on December 7, 2020. “This is the first time that an Indian-origin person – and a Punjabi and a Sikh – has been elected Speaker anywhere in the world outside of India (maybe except the Caribbean). I am humbled.

“When I landed in Canada in 1973, I never imagined that one day I will contest elections because we were a very small community and there was so much racism in those days. Today I have reached this milestone because the pioneers of our community paved the way for us.

“I have spent my career advocating for the rights of every person and working to end discrimination and inequality, and I look forward to continue serving the people of British Columbia by ensuring our Assembly operates in a fair and just manner,” Chouhan added.

Burnaby is a diverse and vibrant community. It’s a great place to live and Raj Chouhan has worked hard to make it even better.

Since immigrating to Canada in 1973, Chouhan has worked to improve the lives of everyday people. Known as a fierce advocate for equality, he is the founding president of the Canadian Farmworkers’ Union, and served as the director of bargaining for the Hospital Employees Union for 18 years. He also served as a member of the Labour Relations Board of BC and the Arbitration Bureau of BC.

A founding member of the BC Organization to Fight Racism, Raj has worked relentlessly in promoting human rights and racial equality. He has been instrumental in the resurrection of the BC Human Rights Commission.

Premier John Horgan of BC has said that Chouhan made history standing up for the rights of his fellow farm workers in the 1970’s “He is making it again today as the 1st person of South Asian heritage to be elected Speaker of the British Columbia legislature,” he tweeted.

Notably, B.C. MLAs unanimously chose Chouhan the new Speaker as they embarked on a short legislative session where John Horgan’s New Democratic Party (NDP) government has a commanding majority.

Apart from Chouhan, the British Columbia Cabinet also has four Indo-Canadian ministers. While Harry Bains is the Minister of Labour, Ravi Kahlon serves as the Minister of Jobs and Economic Recovery. Rachna Singh and Nikki Sharma are parliamentary secretaries.

In response to Chouhan’s election, Chandigarh-born Rachna Singh said it was a historic day, adding that “from the time of being disenfranchised to today, the South Asian community has come a long way. Definitely a momentous moment for all of us”.

Civil Rights and Human Rights Lawyer Amandeep Singh, who lives in Vancouver, wrote on his Facebook page: “What a beautiful day… The first Sikh/Punjabi speaker in Canada. What a momentous day for our community and our province.” Eight Indo-Canadians were elected as MLAs in last month’s elections.

Indo-Canadians make up about 10 per cent of British Columbia’s population of about 3.5 million.

Just like Chouhan, Ujjal Dosanjh had also created history in British Columbia in February 2000 when he was elected as Canada’s first-ever non-white Premier.

British Columbia’s Manmohan ‘Moe’ Sihota was also the first-ever Indian-origin MLA, elected in 1986, in Canada and the whole western world.

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