BY RATTAN MALL
FOR the past week sources had been telling me that federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had been pressuring Vancouver entrepreneur Barj Dhahan to drop out of the Liberal nomination race for Vancouver South riding in favour of Lt. Col. (retd.) Harjit Singh Sajjan, a former Vancouver Police officer.
In spite of several phone calls to Dhahan about this over the past few days asking him about this development, he refused to return my calls.
On Thursday morning, he finally admitted that he was withdrawing from the nomination contest on a local Punjabi talk show. The party apparently tried to persuade him to switch over to another riding, but he refused.
Jagdeep Sanghera, who has been two-term past president of the riding association and who was until now the chair of the election readiness committee, told The VOICE on Thursday morning: “I have stepped aside from the election readiness chair due to decisions made by the election readiness (committee) not allowing an open nomination and have chosen not to be part of the executive that has ignored … open nomination. After 30 years of being involved with Vancouver South I have stepped aside.”
Later on Thursday, Sanghera fired off a letter (see below) to the “Vancouver South Federal Liberal EDA Executive” accusing the “green light committee” of “[ensuring] that a decent and ethical man has had his reputation dragged through the mud by accusing him of fraudulently signing up members and thus guaranteeing bad publicity” and alleging that “this was done for the sole purpose of ensuring that only one candidate was green lit for the nomination process.”
Some angry supporters of Dhahan told me that they will switch over to the Conservative Party and made all kinds of accusations against various South Asian individuals who they allege are manipulating things that will result in a loss to Trudeau.
DHAHAN finally called me after the radio talk show.
I asked him if he was forced to step aside and he responded: “It`s my decision. I decided to withdraw in the end for the best interests of our community, for also the best interests of the party.”
I asked him if he was going to stick to the party or whether he was having second thoughts about it.
Dhahan said: “Well you know we are obviously disappointed. I am disappointed, so are nearly 3,500-4,000 members who with open hearts joined the party. But it is what it is. As for me, for my family, for a lot of our friends, our own values and the things that we believe in and the things that we want in this country in the future are the ones that we believe the Liberal Party best expresses those.”
I asked Dhahan if it’s true that he was offered another riding, but he declined the offer.
Dhahan said: “There were talks and I was offered another riding, but as we thought about it, for me Vancouver South is home. My wife’s family has been here for six decades, mine for almost five decades, the whole riding is like our own home and I can’t go elsewhere – this is where it was!”
He added: “Things happen in life. Things happen in politics. If I have withdrawn this time, it does not mean that in the future I will not seek nominations.”
LATER on Thursday, Jagdeep Sanghera fired off the following letter to the “Vancouver South Federal Liberal EDA Executive”:
IT is with great sadness that I resign from the position of Election Readiness on the Vancouver South Federal Liberal EDA Executive. I have been an active and loyal Liberal for 30 years but feel compelled to cease holding an official position in a Party that is clearly not following the Leader’s call and the public expectations for fair and open nomination meetings. In that time I have served in many capacities such as Membership Chair of the Liberal Party of Canada in BC, President of Vancouver/Burnaby South (two terms), Vice President Vancouver South, etc. I have given my time and money over and over again during elections.
The EDA was given the gift of two fine, qualified candidates, Barj Dhahan and Harjit Sajjan, to run for nomination and we could have used this to build great publicity but the Green Light committee and Bruce Young have ensured that a decent and ethical man has had his reputation dragged through the mud by accusing him of fraudulently signing up members and thus guaranteeing bad publicity. This was done for the sole purpose of ensuring that only one candidate was green lit for the nomination process. If some of Barj’s volunteers signed up members incorrectly and thus had not followed Barj’s instructions to them, then the party should just remove these people from the membership list. Or the Party can do a complete membership audit in BC as there are many rumours of other EDAs having increased their membership lists without following all of the rules but only Barj’s memberships were audited. This has been a problem within the Party for many years and is ignored for years or they only apply the rules against some candidates and not others. The Party needs to focus on finding ways to stop this from happening instead of just happily keeping the thousands of dollars raised and only auditing when it wants to ensure that one candidate does not have to actually win a nomination meeting to become the candidate. I note that they haven’t said that they will refund the over 3,000 members that Barj signed up.
This is nothing more than a backdoor appointment. The Leader has the right in our Liberal Party of Canada’s constitution to appoint candidates where he thinks it is necessary and I, for one support that right. If he wanted Harjit to be the candidate without having to fight and win a nomination then he should have appointed him. It would then be on his shoulders as to whether the decision was the correct one. Instead the Party has played games and jerked around Barj so that Harjit was nominated without a contest.
This is going to cause political problems not only in Vancouver South but in surrounding EDAs as many of our members and voters will view this as a dishonest process and will not give their support to a Party that talks one way but acts another. If Harjit had beaten Barj in a fair contest this would not be an issue although I suspect that Barj would have won, which is why the Party has decided to go the dishonest route. I thought that after the disastrous election results of 2011 that we had learnt some hard lesson regarding how we govern ourselves but with just a sniff of possible electoral victory we have reverted back to type with dirty politics coming into play.
ANYWAY, last March I had warned about this in my RATTAN’S RUMBLE column.
This is what I wrote back then about Vancouver South:
THAT’S the controversial riding where then-Liberal federal minister Herb Dhaliwal was forced to quit by that petty-minded then-Liberal leader Paul Martin who encouraged his poodles led by Shinder Purewal to take over the riding executive because Dhaliwal had been a loyal Jean Chretien supporter. Martin, after having used Purewal to do his dirty work, dumped him and parachuted NDP-turned-Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh into the riding.
Dosanjh narrowly lost to Conservative Wai Young in the last election and with Trudeau’s popularity, the Liberals hope to win back the riding.
The Liberals have two fresh faces: well-known Vancouver entrepreneur Barj S. Dhahan and Lt. Col. Harjit Singh Sajjan, the first Sikh in Canada to take command of a British Columbia regiment.
According to my sources, Trudeau actually favours Sajjan who received a prominent role at the Liberal convention in Montreal two weeks ago when he introduced the star speaker Lt. General (retired) Andrew Leslie.
But as Trudeau has declared that there will be open nominations, all he can do is give hints or put pressure on Dhahan through others.
But I am told Dhahan is not one to back down and enjoys the support of the Khalsa Diwan Society’s Ross Street Gurdwara executive.
Since both of them are prominent personalities, their nomination battle will be watched keenly.
Sajjan joined the British Columbia Regiment as a trooper in 1989 and was commissioned in the regiment in 1991. He was promoted to captain in 1995 and to major in 2005. Established in 1883, the regiment is said to be the oldest military unit in Vancouver, and has received 40 battle honours in its history, according to information on his Facebook.
Sajjan will have to quit the military soon to kick off his political campaign.
Dhahan has managed to get himself a great deal of publicity recently in both the ethnic and mainstream media by doing stuff like starting the Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize with an endowment fund of $2.5 million. The Vancouver Sun has featured articles titled “Vancouver entrepreneur Barj Dhahan has found success in business; satisfaction in spirituality” and “Alumni come to the rescue at John Oliver Secondary – Donations to help feed special-needs students and fund literacy program.”
Dhahan is the founder and chief executive officer of Sandhurst Group of companies, specializing in commercial real estate development. The group is also largest Esso dealer and one of the largest Tim Hortons franchisees in B.C., according to a Canada India Foundation profile.
Dhahan is also the co-founder and director of Canada-India Education Society (CIES), a registered Canadian charity focusing on health promotion and education in Punjab, India, in partnership with Guru Nanak Mission Medical and Educational Trust (GN Trust), established by his father Budh Singh Dhahan.
Incumbent MP Wai Young and the Conservative Party will have to come with some kind of a strategy to attract as many South Asians as they can. I am sure this will include South Asian MPs Tim Uppal, Bal Gosal and Parm Gill visiting the riding and attacking Trudeau’s liberal stand on marijuana, especially with the community having such a huge problem with gangs and drugs in South Slope!
Maybe posters in Punjabi showing the drugs and gangs problems with graphic images and Trudeau smoking a joint could prove terribly effective – with both South Asians and Chinese voters in the riding, eh!