Punjabi now third language in the Canadian parliament

| The Hill Times | Canada | 3 Nov 2015 | Asia Samachar |
Liberal MPs Iqra Khalid and Navdeep Bains, Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai and Liberal MP Salma Zahid. - COURTESY OF THE HILL TIMES
Liberal MPs Iqra Khalid and Navdeep Bains, Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai and Liberal MP Salma Zahid. – COURTESY OF THE HILL TIMES

With the election of 20 Punjabi-speaking MPs on Oct. 19, the Punjabi language is now the third most common in the House of Commons after English and French.

In total, 23 MPs of South Asian origin were elected to the House last month. Three of them—Liberal MP Chandra Arya (Nepean, Ont.) who was born and raised in India, Gary Anandasangaree (Scarborough-Rouge Park, Ont.) who is Tamil, and Maryam Monsef (Peterborough-Kwartha, Ont.) who is of Afghan origin—do not speak Punjabi.

Of the 20 who do speak Punjabi, 18 are Liberals and two are Conservatives.

The NDP does not have any Punjabi-speaking MPs in caucus after B.C. MPs Jinny Sims and Jasbir Sandhu both lost on Oct. 19.

SEE ALSO: Canada politics changed forever from personal to community perspective 

Among the newly-elected Punjabi-speaking MPs, 14 are males and six are females. Ontario elected 12, British Columbia four, Alberta three and one is from Quebec.

Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) is scheduled to unveil his Cabinet this week and some of these Liberal MPs are expected to be included in the front bench.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey, 430,705 Canadians identified Punjabi as their mother tongue, making it the third most common language after English and French.

About 100 million people in the world are native speakers of Punjabi, most of them based in Pakistan and India. In the Indian state of Punjab, Punjabi is the official language. In Pakistan, despite being the single largest linguistic group, Punjabi does not have official language status in the province of Punjab. Instead, Urdu and English are used in schools and offices.

In an interview with The Hill Times, Navdeep Bains, a Liberal elected in Mississauga-Malton, Ont., said that although 20 Punjabi-speaking MPs have been elected, these MPs represent all constituents regardless of their party affiliation or ethnic origin.

“It speaks to our commitment to diversity and allowing individual [MPs] to play an important role in our political institutions,” said Mr. Bains.

“The main issue to understand is that we have a very clear mandate to execute our platform and we also have a responsibility to represent our constituents, which are very diverse.”

Iqra Khalid, the Liberal now representing Mississauga-Erin Mills, Ont. who was born in Pakistan but moved to Canada with her parents at a very young age, said that the diversity of the newly-elected House reflects the true make-up of Canada.

“Our Parliament is finally starting to look like the people of Canada. It’s a very positive step forward,” said Ms. Khalid, a lawyer by training.

The 430,705 native Punjabi speakers make up about 1.3 per cent of Canada’s population. The 20 Punjabi-speaking MPs represent almost six per cent of the House of Commons.

Deepak Obhrai, first elected in 1997, won his Calgary seat for the seventh time in a row. He will chair the national caucus meeting this week to elect the interim Conservative Party leader. He said that his focus, now, is the next election when his constituents will judge him not on his ethnicity but his record in the party and how effectively he represents his constituents.

“The voice of the Indo-Canadian community will now be very well represented in the Parliament. In the overall aspect of it, the South Asian community won,” said Mr. Obhrai.

“We must also recognize we represent all communities. How active you play your role in the party and how active you play your role in the Parliament, you will be judged by your record, as I was.”

In the 2011 election, nine MPs of South Asian origin were elected and eight spoke Punjabi. Former NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan has Tamil roots and did not speak Punjabi. She lost her seat on Oct. 19.

Conservatives elected six of them in 2011, while the NDP elected two and Liberals did not elect any MPs who spoke Punjabi.

Mr. Obhrai is the only MP of South Asian origin from 2011 to have survived in 2015. The Conservatives who lost include Bal Gosal, Parm Gill, Devinder Shory, Tim Uppal and Nina Grewal. The two NDP MPs who lost are Mr. Sandhu and Ms. Sims.

Mr. Obhrai said the key reason other MPs of South Asian origin lost their seats was the Liberal momentum.

“There’s nothing more to read into it except to say that it was a red wave,” said Mr. Obhrai.

Salma Zahid, a former Liberal Queen’s Park ministerial staffer elected in Scarborough Centre, Ont., said voters wanted a change from the Stephen Harper Conservative government.

“People wanted change and I’m very proud of our platform, which we took to the people and it is because the Canadians believed in the change we were proposing,” she said.

Former Liberal Cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal, who was one of the first Sikh MPs elected to the House in 1993 along with Gurbax Malhi, said the newly-elected MPs from ethnic communities have an opportunity to play a key role in Canada’s national and international policies.

“It reflects how open our political system is, that new immigrants can get elected and they can contribute to Canadian life and determining future policy. It also shows our Parliament is reflecting the diversity of our nation. That’s always a good thing,” said Mr. Dhaliwal, who was Canada’s first full Cabinet minister with Asian roots.

During his political career from 1993 to 2004, he held the National Revenue, Fisheries and Oceans, and Natural Resources portfolios, and was the political minister responsible for B.C.



  • Darshan Kang (Calgary Skyview, Alta.)
  • Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton Mill Woods, Alta.)
  • Jati Sidhu (Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, B.C.)
  • Randeep Sarai (Surrey Cenre, B.C.)
  • Sukh Dhaliwal (Surrey-Newton, B.C.)
  • Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.)
  • Ramesh Sangha (Brampton Centre, Ont.)
  • Raj Grewal (Brampton East, Ont.)
  • Ruby Sahota (Brampton North, Ont.)
  • Sonia Sidhu (Brampton South, Ont.)
  • Kamal Khera (Brampton West, Ont.)
  • Raj Saini (Kitchener Centre, Ont.)
  • Iqra Khalid (Mississauga-Erin Mills, Ont.)
  • Navdeep Bains (Mississauga-Malton, Ont.)
  • Gagan Sikand (Mississauga-Streetsville, Ont.)
  • Salma Zahid (Scarborough Centre, Ont.)
  • Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.)
  • Anju Dhillon (Dorval-Lachine-LaSalle, Que.)


  • Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta.)
  • Bob Saroya (Markham-Unionville, Ont.)


Original article entitled Punjabi now third language in the House at The Hill Times (2 Nov 2015). See here.


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