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June 11, 1999
First South Asian Elected To Ontario Legislature
Arthur J Pais in Toronto
Raminder Gill is certainly not a person to give up. He lost a 1982 school trustee bid, and several other efforts to win local elections; he failed to get the nomination of Liberal Party six years ago to contest the federal election. Gurubux Malhi, who defeated Gill's bid for Liberal Party nomination, is a member of the Parliament now.
But last week 48-year-old Gill, now a member of the ruling Progressive Conservative Party, defeated two other candidates -- both Indian -- and went on to become the first South Asian elected to the Ontario provincial legislature.
There were Indians fighting for 8 seats; everyone lost in an election that brought back the PC Party. Gill, who describes himself as 'people's candidate" is expected to find a berth in the cabinet.
It was not an easy fight for Gill. For his main opponent Dave Toor, who owns a chain of restaurants, offered a vigorous challenge.
"South Asians voters are Liberal. I am confident and excited because their response for me has been tremendous,'" Toor had said. However, he received 14,500 votes while Gill garnered nearly 19,000 votes. Vishnu Roche was a no-show with just about 2,200 votes.
Toor campaigned for better health reforms. He accused PC leader Mark Harris of hurting the ordinary people by making it difficult for them to obtain health benefits. Gill asserted in his campaign Harris had brought overall prosperity to the province, and that the standard of education had gone up because of PC policies.
A chemical engineer with a degree from University of Toronto, Gill runs two travel agencies. Born in Punjab, he migrated to Canada about 30 years ago. He is married to a doctor.
The election of an Indian candidate was inevitable since the election district has 31,000 Indians, constituting about 20 per cent of the population. A substantial number of them are Sikhs. At least 15,000 of the 72,000 eligible voters are of Indian origin.
Gill's success is the subject of many articles and discussions in the mainstream media here.
The strong Indian political presence signals the community's growing maturity in Ontario, said Reg Whitaker, a political scientist at York University.
"Once you reach a critical mass and community leaders appear, it is only a natural step to seek political representation,'' he told reporters. "It is a sign they are taking advantage of not only the economic, but political opportunities in this country."
Liberal Gurbax Malhi won federal elections in 1993 and 1997 from here. Though, like Gill, he too crossed cultural boundaries, the support of the Sikh community was crucial to his victory.
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