By Asma Aamanat
“..young people that get involved in gangs, some come from families that live in areas that are down-trodden, i.e. socio-economic issues. Others, especially in the Punjabi community, it’s not even that they are coming from a financial problem, they’re coming from an attitude problem.”
“Then why are we as South Asians saying they can’t do it? There’s no reason why they cannot pair up with a school here, set up a certification program in India, Pakistan etc. for people to take those courses, get the certification and have equal access once they come here..”
While Canadians enjoy their summer, cabinet ministers of the Harper government are busy touring country to listen to Canadians. In one such tour, Generation Next got an opportunity to sit down with Minister of State (Democratic Reform), Tim Uppal. Minister Tim Uppal has been representing the riding ofEdmonton—Sherwood Park(Alberta) since 2008.
Minister Uppal has been assigned the important task of ensuring that Canadians are represented fairly in the House of Commons. There will be 30 more seats created acrossCanada, 15 of these ridings will be here inOntario. The proposal of the location of these ridings is already disclosed.
Minister Uppal has been quite visible in the South Asian community of the GTA in his blue pagri. A young professional himself, Minister Uppal goes through the same difficult task of balancing personal and professional life.
When we asked him how he juggles personal and professional life, his chuckling response was “Ask my wife! It is difficult. I have a 4-year-old, a- year-ld and a baby coming in 3 weeks. It’s hard on the family because I have to travel a lot but it is such an honour to serve in this government that I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Minister Uppal has been involved with youth, engaging them in sports like kabaddi before he was elected. He believes that it is parents’ responsibility to involve their kinds in outdoor activities. “We need to get our kids active. At the end of the day I don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility. It is the government’s responsibility to give some education through programs like ParticipAction, it’s more so the parents’ duty to encourage their children to get that exercise,” says the father of three.
Shooting in Eaton Centre and Scarborough earlier this summer has once again highlighted the need for youth to be understood and listened to. What’s the young Minister’s take on it, we asked.
“There’s a couple of things to understand, young people that get involved in gangs, some come from families that live in areas that are down-trodden, i.e. socio-economic issues. Others, especially in the Punjabi community, it’s not even that they are coming from a financial problem, they’re coming from an attitude problem. So what we’re doing as a government is cracking down on those who’ve committed the crime, because if you’ve committed a crime, there needs to be a punishment..The repeat offenders stay in jail and longer, we can help them in jail and we can help other young people to not get involved in gangs etc.”
But sometimes good people get involved in bad things.
“Most of the legislation we’ve brought forth is for dangerous criminals and repeat offenders.., I’ve worked with a lot of young people and if they go to jail, they come out and say that they never want to go back,” says Minister Uppal.
However, once a young person has gone to jail, aren’t their chances of getting a job reduced substantially?
“It is difficult,” agrees Minister Uppal. Nonetheless he believes that ..”80% of the crimes are done by 15-20% of the criminals because it’s the same ones that are doing it, so I think that if we crack down on the repeat offenders, then the crime situation will improve a lot.”
GTA is a home of many immigrants. Most of these immigrants don’t know the laws, don’t you think the government should make an extra effort to teach them, we asked.
“When they [new immigrants] become Canadian citizens, they do get an understanding of what the laws are, they go to school etc. You can go to almost any country, I think, and there’s an understanding of what is right and wrong. Stealing is stealing; assault is assault in any country.”
What’s interesting about Canada as a country is that immigrants are needed here to fulfill labour demands, yet most new Canadians believe that immigration to Canada has become a lot harder than it was a few years ago. How do you strike the balance, then?
Minister Uppal argues that the Canadian immigration system is broken. “You’re bringing in federal skilled workers under the point system but they are not finding jobs. So instead we’re having employers taking temporary workers.”
But what about the fact that employers don’t even call you if they see you have a certain name? “Yes and what we’re doing about that in the system is that prospective immigrants can put up their resumes to some kind of an online pool and an employer who needs people can go into that pool and can call or set up an interview. Or go to the other country and interview people, pick the ones they want to hire and tell Immigration. Then Immigration will fast-track those people within months. So that person will come into the country with a job offer and maybe even a contract. That will help. The other thing we’re doing is: there are students inCanadawho’ve finished their degree and are having trouble finding a job, for example teachers. So with that federal program, we’re still bringing in more teachers and it makes no sense at all. So why not bring in people that we need for the economy? If the immigrant is successful, the country will be successful. So we need to look at people in trades as well,” says Minister Uppal.
When we talk about South Asian immigrants, there are many trades’ people who work but they don’t have any qualifications for it. What about that?
“Then why are we as South Asians saying they can’t do it? There’s no reason why they cannot pair up with a school here, set up a certification program inIndia, Pakistan etc. for people to take those courses, get the certification and have equal access once they come here. I think people in South Asian communities are educated and capable enough to do this; we shouldn’t sell them short,” he responds.
Are you hearing that people are having a difficult time passing the citizenship test, we asked. Minister Uppal’s answer was that he is hearing about it more from the media than from the actual community.
Harper government has been criticized by the Opposition for appointing booted out politicians in the Senate and to other significant roles. Isn’t this hypocritical, we asked the Minister of Democratic Reform.
“The position in the government and the Senate is based on merit, and just because you did not win an election, doesn’t mean you cannot hold a position. These people are all very qualified for the job and especially in the Senate we appointed people who are committed to senate reform. So we need that support,” he said.
Conservatives are well known for their attack ads against Opposition party leaders. Shouldn’t Conservatives spend their supporters’ money on better things than attack ads?
“I think political parties should do what is in their best interest and if Canadians don’t like it, they can vote that way. I have seen that if ads give a certain kind of information then people appreciate that they wouldn’t have heard that information anywhere else,” said Minister Uppal.
In the South Asian community, there is an interest in Canadian politics but if an Indian politician comes, they seem to be more important. Are we still too attached to things back home?
“They [South Asian politicians] become stars and people want to go hear what they have to say..they [South Asian community] take an interest in politics here as well as back home. I don’t think that’s a bad thing as long as their focus is on Canadian politics because we don’t want to mix the two,” he responded.
How important is the Canada-India free trade agreement?
“I think it’s very important to business in the country and consumers.Indiais on of the largest economies and super powers and we need to have ties with them.”
But isn’t it a protectionist measure to say Canada’s supply-management is off the limits?
“In some ways that is,” Minister Uppal concedes.
Have you been to India while growing up and then afterwards?
I have been to India a few times. I actually went more after being elected because I went with the PM, then with Jason Kenney, and my brother’s wedding. So I’ve been there a few times since then. I really enjoy it and plan on going in December again.
Here in Canada, we talk a lot about multiculturalism, yet we have seen schools like Khalsa Community School being vandalized. What more can be done to prevent such incidents.
“In some ways, we’ll probably never fix everything and everybody; there will always be some vandalism etc. But what we can do is as communities, be more open and even as individuals. Just to get to know people. As a government we need to do and what we are doing is, to put resources towards programs that integrate people and promote shared values.. we can communicate in the common language. That is why English is so important, and French if you’re in the Quebec area. If you learn English, you will have more success and be better integrated into the community,” shares Mr. Uppal.