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Highest ever number of Muslim Canadian MPs elected in new House


Highest ever number of Muslim Canadian MPs elected in new House

People got a little concerned about the negativity against Islam, says Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi.


The Liberals’ landslide majority elected a record number of Muslim MPs last month, including some who say they decided to run to fight a negative stereotype of Muslim Canadians communicated by the last government and say they will offer positive and valuable input as federal legislators in the new House.

Of the 11 Muslim MPs elected in the last election, 10 are Liberal and one is Conservative. The Liberal MPs are Omar Alghabra (Mississauga Centre, Ont.), Iqra Khalid (Mississauga-Erin Mills, Ont.), Salma Zahid (Scarborough Centre, Ont.), Arif Virani (Parkdale-High Park, Ont.), Majid Jowhari (Richmond Hill, Ont.), Ali Ehsassi (Willowdale, Ont.), Yasmin Ratansi (Don Valley East, Ont.), Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.), Maryam Monsef (Peterborough-Kawartha, Ont.) and Marwan Tabbara (Kitchener South-Hespeler, Ont.). The lone Conservative Muslim MP is Ziad Aboultaif (Edmonton Manning, Alta.).

In Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) Cabinet unveiled on Nov. 4, Ms. Monsef, an Afghan refugee, was appointed the minister for Democratic Institutions and president of the Queen’s Privy Council.

Up until the last election, the highest number of Muslim MPs ever elected was in the 2006 and 2011 elections. Each time, four Muslim MPs were elected.

The Liberals won a majority government with 184 seats in the Oct. 19 federal election while the Conservatives won 99 seats, the NDP 44, the Bloc 10, and the Green Party won only one seat.

In the Red Chamber, there are two Senators from the Muslim community, including British Columbia Liberal Sen. Mobina Jaffer and Toronto Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan.

In the newly-elected 338-seat House of Commons, there are 17 Sikh MPs, six Jewish MPs and three Hindu MPs. It’s estimated the rest would be Christian, (or of no faith) but it’s unclear because Parliament does not track religion and Parliament is secular. However, a more diverse group of federal legislators is seen as a better reflection of Canadian society. According to the 2011 National Household Survey by Statistics Canada, there are more than one million Muslim Canadians, 498,000 Hindu Canadians, 455,000 Sikh Canadians, 330,000 Jewish Canadians. There are about 22 million Christians, including 13 million Catholic, three million other Christian, two million United Church, 1.6 million Anglican, 635,840 Baptist, 550,690 Christian Orthodox, 478,185 Lutheran, 478,705 Pentecostal, 472,385 Presbyterian and 7.9 million Canadians did not disclose any religious affiliation.

In interviews last week, MPs, political insiders, and academics said the newly-elected legislators from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds will bring unique perspectives, community feedback and different life experiences to the table which will prove to be valuable in the overall legislation and policy-making process at the highest level of government. They also pointed out that these MPs are not just token representatives of their respective communities but people who have solid credentials in a variety of professions including law, medicine, and business.

“Every Member of Parliament will bring their values to the debates and values are shaped by religion, by experience, by the community that they come from. So, it will shape their values and values will shape what they have to say and their positions, no question,” said Prof. Donald Savoie, the Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance at the Université de Moncton and one of Canada’s leading experts on public administration, in an interview with The Hill Times.

He said Muslim MPs and MPs from other religious backgrounds will have important input in Parliamentary debates in the new Parliament.

“They will have very important points of view that need to be heard,” said Prof. Savoie, adding that Muslim MPs should also not be stereotyped.

“Let them come and debate the issue and let’s hear what they have to say. What they will have to say is as important, as relevant, and ought to be listened to, as much as a white MP from Newfoundland, or from British Columbia.”

Meanwhile, pollster Greg Lyle of Innovative Research said that MPs from different cultural and religious backgrounds will offer valuable input in legislative debates on social and economic issues that affect all Canadians.

“When you are in the room, you don’t have to wait for someone to think about you. You’re right there to bring your concerns front and centre,” Mr. Lyle said.

He said that newly elected MPs from a variety of demographic groups won their ridings because they were the best candidates. Using the example of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver Granville, B.C.), Mr. Lyle said she is an indigenous woman who ran in a riding that has almost negligible presence of aboriginal people, but won by a margin of about 9,000 votes.

 “In a lot of cases, people are just nominating the best person for this job and they happen to come from different backgrounds,” Mr. Lyle said.

“When you look at their resumés, they’re not getting appointed as tokens. These are people who have really impressive stories to tell,” Mr. Lyle said.

Muslim MPs interviewed for this article said that the previous government’s Anti-Terrorism Bill C-51, the so-called Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act Bill C-24, the niqab debate, and the barbaric cultural practices snitch line affected the Muslim community directly and motivated it to get engaged a lot more actively than in past elections.

“The community is reaching a new level of maturity, overall. The Muslim community in Canada tends to be a newer community. It’s going through various levels of growth and sophistication, maturity as a newer Canadian community,” said Mr. Alghabra who represented the riding of Mississauga-Erindale, Ont., from 2006 to 2008, lost the two subsequent elections and was elected again on Oct. 19.

“This was a new milestone in that growth process. There’s a greater level of sophistication, greater level of awareness about the importance of getting involved. It was demonstrated through various groups and organizations and individuals,” said Mr. Alghabra.

Ms. Ratansi, who represented the riding of Don Valley East from 2004 to 2011, lost the 2011 election but was re-elected last month, also reiterated that the divisive issues that the Conservatives pushed in the campaign made the Muslim community get involved more actively.

“People got a little concerned about the negativity against Islam. A lot of intelligent people who are lawyers, [legal scholars] who teach law in universities, who are accountants, businesspeople like me, got a little fed up with this constant badgering of Muslims as if we were a homogenous group and we all work the same way. We don’t,” said Ms. Ratansi, adding that unlike the impression portrayed by some in the last government and some news organizations, the Muslim community, overall, is a peaceful hardworking community trying to make the world a better place.

Carleton University Prof. Howard Duncan, who has conducted extensive research on immigration integration theory, multiculturalism theory, globalization, and migration, in an interview, predicted that the election of MPs from different religious and cultural backgrounds will encourage those who did not participate in this election to get engaged in the political process.

 “What you’re going to find as time goes by is that immigrants from other countries and other religious and ethnic backgrounds are also going to participate more in politics,” said Prof. Duncan.

Andrew Cardozo, president of Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy, told The Hill Times that in the current international political scenario, a number of political conflicts are religion based. He said he hoped that the newly-elected MPs from different religions will prove they can all work together.

“If you think of it in global terms, the biggest division that’s taking place amongst people in the world is around religion. It’s good when you have a country that’s religiously diverse. It’s good to have so many religions represented. With many of them in the same caucus, there should be room for discussion and accommodation when there are differences,” said Mr. Cardozo.

Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal (Surrey-Newton, B.C.), who served for two terms between 2006 and 2011, but lost the 2011 election before he was re-elected last month, said the new House with MPs from various cultural and religious backgrounds better reflects the true picture of Canada.

 “When we look at the Parliament now, that is the true face of Canada and credit goes to Justin Trudeau,” said Mr. Dhaliwal.

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