Immigrant members of Parliament talk about their plans for 2016

posted on December 21, 2015

By Diana Manole, Canadian Immigrant |

By Diana Manole, Canadian Immigrant |

The election of more than 60 immigrant federal members of Parliament, three of whom have been appointed federal ministers, is positive proof that multiculturalism in Canada is, as according to the Multiculturalism Act, “a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada’s future.”

These MPs, who adopted Canada as their home, are now leaders in their community, and admit that being an immigrant definitely shapes their approach to politics, as well as their plans and priorities for the country. Canadian Immigrant talked to five of them to understand how.

Former bus driver charts new routes for infrastructure

Indian-born Amarjeet Sohi says his priorities as the newly appointed minister of infrastructure and communities and his experiences as an immigrant to Canada are inextricably linked.

His difficult beginnings as a teenager who arrived in Edmonton in 1981 speaking almost no English, combined with his hard work as a public transit driver for more than 10 years and his eight-year service as a city councillor, have given him a personal perspective of his portfolio. “It’s more than water, roads, bridges and sewers. It’s more than bricks and mortar. It’s about people,” says Sohi, who represents Edmonton Mill Woods.

His biggest priority as the minister is to develop a 10-year plan in collaboration with partners across the country to make communities more sustainable, inclusive and prosperous. The first steps will be to double the current infrastructure investments across the country in the next two years, and then increase them by an additional $60 billion over the next 10 years. The focus will be on public transit, green energy and climate changes.

Social infrastructure is also essential in his plans, as people need affordable housing, safe childcare facilities, seniors’ residences, efficient public transit, as well as recreational and cultural facilities, “where people can gather, learn, play and grow,” he says. Sohi is confident that infrastructure will thus become a great enabler, creating opportunities not just for immigrants, but for all Canadians to “learn the language, get the education or develop the skills they need to become active and contributing members of society.”

He adds: “This country has been very good to me and my family. So everything I do is about giving back. To Canada. And to all Canadians.”

Looking out on behalf of Canadians

Bob Saroya, MP for Markham-Unionville, is the only Conservative MP from the Toronto area and the only candidate in Canada to pick up a seat from the Liberals. He worked hard for this: “I personally door knocked every day during the campaign for at least five hours!” His own experience as an immigrant certainly helped him relate to the problems of people in one of the most diverse Canadian cities. Born and raised in India, Saroya immigrated in 1975 with $7 US in his pocket. He worked his way up from his first minimum-wage factory job to owning a couple of Pizza Pizza stores and holding senior positions in the company.

As the Official Opposition’s deputy critic for immigration, refugees and citizenship, Saroya hopes to build lasting relations with Canada’s diverse communities. His main priority for 2016 is to be part of a strong opposition: “My new role is to serve my community and hold the Liberal government accountable for their actions. I was elected to support families, to look out for everyday working Canadians, and that’s what I will do!”

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