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Ajit Jain in Toronto
Even though Prime Minister Jean Chretien has so far not indicated his intention to step down before his term expires in 2004, the race is unofficially on for leadership of the ruling Liberal Party, with six federal ministers lobbying for support and raising funds for the leadership contest.
They include Indo-Canadian Federal Minister for Fisheries and Oceans Herb Dhaliwal, 49, who, according to an exclusive report in The National Post, has quietly started building his own constituency and is raising funds to be the candidate from the alienated western parts of the country.
Community leaders who requested anonymity argue that it is high time an Indo-Canadian stakes his claim for the top political office, since Indians have been in Canada for about 100 years and their number has swelled to 1.2 million. Many of them are multi-millionaires and high-profile professionals.
They now have five members of Parliament -- two Liberals (including Dhaliwal) and three from the Canadian Alliance. Another Indo-Canadian, Ujjal Dosanjh, was, till two months back, premier of British Columbia, the country's third most populous state, and there are seven Indo-Canadian members in the British Columbia legislature.
The five other candidates vying to succeed Chretien are: Finance Minister Paul Martin, 63; Industry Minister Brian Tobin, 47; Health Minister Allan Rock, 47; Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, 47; and Foreign Minister John Manley, 51.
The report in the Canadian daily says Dhaliwal has already built a war chest of $3 million for his leadership campaign.
Since Dhaliwal (like Tobin and Manley) is not fluent in French, which could jeopardise his ambitions, he has reportedly started learning the language. He is likely to spend two weeks at St Jean-Sur-Richelieu, where all federal Anglophone politicians go to try to master French.
This is the not the first report about Dhaliwal's ambitions. A few months back there was another report in The Toronto Star in which Dhaliwal was quoted as saying that he was very close to Chretien and whenever he happened to be in Ottawa during the weekend, Chretien would invite him over for a game of golf. This was to buttress his claim that he enjoys his leader's confidence.
It is also known that Dhaliwal is the second richest federal Cabinet minister, next only to Martin, whose family is in the shipping business. Dhaliwal's business interests include airport limousines in Vancouver and Toronto and cleaning contracts for the airports.
The next federal election is not due before 2004, but the pressure is building on Chretien, already 68, to step down a couple of years before then to make way for a younger leader.
Dhaliwal "has meticulously kept his nose clean. He supports the prime minister, he supported him in two leaderships (in 1997 and 2000) and as a member of his Cabinet and his team. If the prime minister stays on, he would be supportive of that. If the prime minister makes a move then these other things come into play," a source close to Dhaliwal is quoted as saying.
In terms of his support, Dhaliwal would go after the Indo-Canadian community, and his organisers believe he could win large support in urban centres such as Vancouver in British Columbia, where his home base is, Toronto (Ontario), which has the largest concentration of South Asians, and Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta.
"If you add up the ridings [constituencies, in and around these cities] that could be a significant chunk of potential support. But he does not want to run as an ethnic candidate. He would run as a British Columbian and a westerner," the source added.
Perhaps this is because Dosanjh, who was elected premier of British Columbia largely as a result of the support of Indo-Canadians, discovered that this was not adequate to sustain him in office once provincial elections were called at the end of his term.
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