April 25, 2001

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Dosanjh Unlikely to Be Re-elected BC Premier

S Pasha

Ujjal DosanjhUjjal Dosanjh, the first and only Indo-Canadian to hold the post of provincial premier, is in danger of losing it just over 14 months after coming to power.

The New Democratic Party, which Dosanjh heads, hopes to capture British Columbia's elections next month and form a third straight government. But tough economic times and scandals that have plagued the party and Dosanjh make the situation look very grim.

Even Dosanjh recognizes that the odds are not in his favour.

"I know I'm going into this election as an underdog," he told reporters moments after announcing the polls last Wednesday.

"I think I know how David must have felt when he saw Goliath. But I've never backed down when the values I care about are at stake and I'm not about to start now."

Polls predict a Liberal Party landslide on May 16, ending a decade of NDP rule that has seen voters misled about balanced budgets during the 1996 election campaign, a failed scheme to build fast ferries, and the resignation of two NDP premiers.

Recent polls give the Liberals a lead over the NDP of between 40 and 50 percentage points among decided voters. If such a gap remains on election night, they could sweep all 79 seats in the legislature.

Liberal leader Gordon Campbell, former mayor of Vancouver, has crowed since the beginning of the campaign that his party's election into power would finish "a decade of decline and scandal and betrayal".

"It has been a long, long time, but the end of the NDP era is finally in sight," Campbell told his supporters.

Dosanjh at his officeDosanjh has attacked Campbell's plans to reduce taxes, saying that BC's social services would be sacrificed. He also said he would make party leadership an issue in the campaign. Campbell, meanwhile, will focus on the NDP's scandal-ridden history.

Dosanjh, 53, a lawyer and former attorney general, replaced Glen Clark as BC premier amid much fanfare last year. His election was considered a big step for minorities in Canadian politics, and a classic example of an immigrant success story.

Originally from the Punjab village of Dosanjh Kallan, the future premier made his way to Vancouver from England in 1969 at the age of 21.

Deciding to settle in Canada, he worked in a lumber mill during the day and took evening courses toward a bachelor's degree in political science at Langara College, where he met his future wife Raminder.

He later transferred to BC's Simon Fraser University, got his degree, and married. Afterwards, he attained a law degree at the University of British Columbia, establishing a law practice in Vancouver in 1979.

He established a squeaky-clean reputation in BC politics as a man of action, someone who could be trusted to get things done. But as he sought to become the premier, he cultivated opponents who accused him of signing up Punjabi voters en masse to support him, and accepting funds from Indo-Canadians across the country to aid his election campaign.

His ethnicity also became an issue at times. As a member of BC's large Punjabi community, Dosanjh found himself as its public voice -- sometimes uncomfortably.

When he briefly attended a wedding that was later marred by a fatal gang shooting, Dosanjh was angered by repeated questioning whether he knew the victim and the assailant.

"There are 250,000 Indo-Canadians in this province [British Columbia]. Some of them have lived here for over 100 years. Do you expect me to know each and every one of them?" he was quoted as saying.

"I am a premier, I've been attorney general and a Member of the Legislative Assembly who is most accessible to most people in British Columbia. I travel a lot, I go wherever I'm invited and, no, I didn't know this chap from Adam," he said at the time.

But at other instances, he was ready to oblige reporters.

After the arrests of two suspects last year in the 1985 bombing of Air-India Flight 182, which flew from Vancouver and exploded near Ireland's coast killing all 329 people aboard, the media rushed to Dosanjh for comment.

Dosanjh voiced the opinions of all Indo-Canadians. "The people of British Columbia and the people of Canada will heave a sigh of relief that finally justice may be done in this case," he said. "My thoughts go out to the families of the victims."

It was his outspoken criticism of Sikh separatists living in British Columbia after the bombing that resulted in a brutal attack on him outside his office with a crowbar. He needed 80 stitches to close head wounds.

"The violence had to be condemned. I supported him," Raminder says. Still, it was not easy seeing her husband in the hospital. "Everywhere I looked, there was blood. He paid a heavy price for what he believed in but I was proud of him and what he stood for," she said.

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