The Sikh connection had been working well for Justin Trudeau, as it did for Jean Chretien. Punjabi Canadians, most of whom are Sikh, gave Trudeau a big leg up in nabbing the leadership of the federal Liberal party, which soon led him to the commanding heights of the prime minister’s office.
But Punjabi/Sikh support has come back to haunt Trudeau’s popularity. It ignited controversy in his February visit to India, where he appeared linked to backers tied to Sikh militants, some wanting to carve out a theocratic homeland in India called Khalistan.
How did it get to this? Why do Canadian Sikhs punch so much above their weight? How, to the envy of other minority groups, are they so adept at turning grassroots activism into serious political clout?
After all, the country only has 500,000 Sikhs, accounting for a little more than one per cent of all Canadians.
But more than 12 per cent of federal Liberal cabinet ministers are Sikhs, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. There are 14 Liberal Sikh MPs, says Kwantlen Polytechnic University political scientist Shinder Purewal. Liberals hold all nine federal ridings in which Punjabi Sikhs predominate, says Purewal, plus 11 more in which the South Asian population is significant.
Sikhs also profoundly shape the New Democratic Party. They played a huge role in the elevation of Jagmeet Singh to leadership of the federal NDP.
This is not to mention their over-sized clout in provincial politics in Ontario and also in B.C., where Sikhs were early supporters of former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh and recent Liberal premier Christy Clark. Purewal counts six current B.C. MLAs who are Sikh (five NDP and one Liberal).