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COLUMN: Surrey MPs once again overlooked in prime minister’s cabinet picks

With a population of 580,000, Surrey is an important city in federal politics

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his new cabinet on Tuesday, Oct. 26. Once again, there is no representation from Surrey – as has been the case with every cabinet since B.C. first started sending MPs to Ottawa in 1871.

While there have been Liberal-Conservative, Liberal, Conservative, Unionist and Progressive Conservative administrations, there has never been a Surrey representative around the cabinet table.

For many years, that was understandable. Surrey did not become a standalone riding until the 1968 election, and it wasn’t until 1979 that there were two MPs representing significant portions of Surrey.

Now there are five Surrey MPs in the House of Commons. Four of them are from the governing Liberal Party – and all four are experienced MPs. One of them, Sukh Dhaliwal, was first elected in 2006. He was the first Liberal MP elected to represent a portion of Surrey since 1949.

Surrey’s population is now 580,000 and it is a very important city in federal politics. Party leaders visit here in every election, and so they should. It is a battleground area, as voters have elected Liberal, Conservative and NDP members regularly. The fast-growing population here means Surrey will one day surpass Vancouver in population – probably in the next 25 years or so.

It goes without saying that Vancouver has been represented in almost every federal cabinet. The cabinet unveiled on Oct. 26 has two Vancouver representatives.

Or consider Brampton, Ont. The large number of people living there of South Asian background means elections are hard-fought, as India is the world’s largest democracy and politics is taken very seriously. People who move to Canada from India, and those whose ancestors came from that part of the world, tend to be avid voters and take a keen interest in politics. It is very similar to Surrey.

Brampton has an population of 647,000, and it also has a representative in cabinet, Minister of Seniors Kamal Khera. She was first elected in the 2015 election, at the age of 26.

Cabinet ministers must be individuals capable of handling the many details of a federal department. Of the four Surrey Liberal MPs, Dhaliwal of Surrey-Newton, Ken Hardie of Fleetwood-Port Kells and John Aldag of Cloverdale-Langley City would all be good choices. Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai may be a bit more problematic, given that he was responsible for inviting convicted criminal Jaspal Singh Atwal to India while Trudeau was touring in 2018.

Atwal had been convicted in 1987 of the attempted assassination of Indian politician Malkiat Singh Sidhu near Gold River on Vancouver Island, while he was visiting Canada. At the time, Sidhu was the planning minister in the Punjab state.

While in India in 2018, Atwal was photographed with the prime minister’s wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and also with then-cabinet minister Amarjeet Sohi, who was just elected as the new mayor of Edmonton on Oct. 18. He was scheduled to attend a banquet with the prime minister, but that invitation was rescinded when news of his attendance at some of the India events became public. Sarai later apologized for an error in judgment in inviting Atwal to India.

Delta MP Carla Qualtrough, first elected in 2015, has proven to be a capable member of cabinet. She is currently minister of employment. Surrey also needs to be considered when prime ministers are choosing their cabinets.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News, and at Email