Bill Sundhu: Speech Accepting Federal NDP Nomination, KTC Riding

 

Bill Sundhu: Nomination Speech, Federal NDP Candidate:

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, August 9, 2014.

 

It is with humility and my deepest gratitude that I stand on the traditional territory of the (Te Secwepemc)) people and have the privilege of addressing you today.

It is an honour for me to stand here today. This day began with the nomination meeting in the Cariboo. It feels appropriate and right that we began there.

My father was the first South Asian to permanently settle in the central Cariboo. He was raised in small village in Punjab, his family was poor. My mother lost her entire family in the violence that engulfed the partition of India and Pakistan, at independence. My parents shared a love and a dream that life could be better.

They immigrated to Canada at a time when our country restricted immigration from India to 150 persons annually. But, they had a dream – that by hard work and perseverance, that Canada was a land for a better life – of peace, freedom and opportunity.

They worked in farms in the Fraser Valley, but when my mother was expectant with me, they knew they needed a more secure future. My father went in search of work, first in Clinton and then Williams Lake. He slept outside, alongside the PGE railway tracks for three days, before he got a job at a small lumber mill. My parents was so proud, when they could afford to buy a house, with running water and indoor plumbing.   Every second Saturday, we would go into town and he would proudly deposit his pay cheque at the bank. They believed in hard work and had a deep faith in the possibilities of this country.

They were uneducated and experienced the disadvantage of illiteracy. They imagined me and my younger sister going to good schools – even though they were not well-off, because they believed in a fair and generous Canada, that you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential.

And then, in one of those accidents were hear about too often, my father took a fall on some icy stairs. He was permanently incapacitated with serious brain injury. We did not have any disability plan or family income. My mother took up manual jobs as a dishwasher and cook to support the family. I was ten years old. Those were hard times. My father passed on after 10 years.

I stand here today, because my family was not crushed by the burden of medical bills, because of medicare. I had an education second to none – because of a good public education system. And, because post-secondary education was affordable and accessible, not because of the size of our bank account, but because I was prepared to work hard, because of a Canada where I could pursue my dreams.

In the summers between classes, I did not have the luxury to go work at a fellowship or institute, like some other law students – I piled boards in the lumber mill, and it paid well. You could get those jobs then; not anymore.  Back then and you could graduate without incurring crippling student debts.

After law school, I returned to practice in the Cariboo, making the law work for those in need and understanding that our cherished rights and freedoms depend on an informed public. It is here in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, working in the law over the past 30 years, that I am reminded of the essential decency of the Canadian people.

I stand before you today, having attended the best universities at home and abroad. I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage and knowing that the dreams of my parents live in my daughter and son. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the Canadian story – that I owe a debt to those before me.   It is the story of so many of us. It is etched into the soul of the Canada. There are few places on earth where my, our story is possible.

That is the greatness of Canada, that if you come from a poor family or working family, are an immigrant, that if you get sick or lose your job, you and your loved ones too can realize your dreams and contribute to your country, and keep the dream alive for those who come after us. Where each and everyone has a fair chance to get ahead, do their fair share and play by fair rules.

It is a story of the sacrifices and choices made by previous generations of Canadians to build a society based in fairness and equality of opportunity. Where our children are safe, fed, clothed, live in harmony, realize their full potential, and know that they can speak without fear, exercise freedom of conscience and vote freely.   Although, Harper did get some of the “Unfair” Elections Act through! As someone said, “That man is made of twisted steel, and no sex appeal”!

 

IMG_1422 IMG_1417

In the post-war years, a short, Baptist minister, named Tommy Douglas, had emerged on the national scene as leader of the New Democratic Party. He had led North America’s first social democratic government, that had uplifted and transformed Saskatchewan. They campaigned on a platform that came to be the next chapter in Canadian history. Their proposals included universal health care, old-age pensions, employment insurance, a Bill of Rights, bilingual civil service, progressive income tax that favoured low-income earners, a central bank, and foreign aid.

Tommy Douglas and the NDP stood alone in opposing the War Measures Act and the suspension of the civil liberties, just as the CCF had stood alone in opposing the war-time internment of the Japanese-Canadians.   New Democrats have been at the forefront in the struggle for equality: for women, minorities, and First Nations.   Other political parties either come to it late, resist, or engage in tokenism. Justice is not convenient; it is indispensable.

Tommy Douglas believed “Canadians should control their own policies regarding resources, finance, foreign affairs, and trade if the nation was to define its own identity.”[1] The rest is history, the NDP policies migrated into mainstream consciousness.

Douglas and the NDP were on the cutting edge; they blended the practical with the principle.   “They changed how we came to see ourselves as citizens, how minorities are treated, how we think of immigrants, how we look after each other, how we imagine ourselves as a people. They believed, that society should be structured so that people could make life better for one another.”[2]   And, that’s why he was voted the greatest Canadian in history. I am able to stand here today because of leaders like Tommy Douglas and the New Democratic Party of Canada!

Much has been accomplished, much remains to be done, and much is at risk – in the struggle for a fairer and just society.

 

All of us know what the challenges are today:

–      Factories and sawmills closed, minimum wages, families struggling paycheck to paycheck despite working hard as they can;

–      lack of affordable child care;

–      Young people burdened with student debt and having a hard time getting their foot in the door to a steady and good paying job. We risk becoming the first generation in our country’s history where our children’s economic opportunities are worse today than we were growing up;

–      Canadians worry about aging parents in declining health and struggling to keep them in dignity; and about inadequate retirement and pensions;

–      Corporations have hoarded savings from tax cuts rather than reinvesting in the economy to create good jobs;

–      Lower union membership makes good jobs harder to find; it has weakened the middle class;

–      Turning workers against workers, the private sector against the public sector, distracts from the real abuses and misuse of power at the top;

–      After all these years, women still only make 77% of men – that has to change!

–      Minorities and First Nations are unrepresented and excluded from the benefits and opportunities to realize their full potential and contribute to their country;

–      We face a changing climate that threatens the planet and future generations;

–      A growing inequality;

–      And, an “all eggs in one basket” approach to resources and the economy that makes us vulnerable and jeopardizes the future economic well-being of Canada.   The most significant infrastructure program of the Harper Conservatives is the creation of a pipeline – that pipeline flows directly from the offices of the Calgary Oil Barons rights into the Prime Ministers Office!   They roll back environmental protection, attack and spy on those who disagree, they create a narrative of – jobs OR the environment.   They’re wrong. We saw that with the disaster at Mt. Polley – jobs and the environment, go together.

We have talked about the many challenges for years. There is not an absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What has stopped us is the failure of leadership.

The Conservatives are dismantling the Canada we have come to know and love.   They are motivated by the politics of resentment.   A political culture and ideology that borrows from the US Republican playbook, by the federal Conservatives, has brought cynicism and a meanness that diminishes parliament, and democratic governance – one that divides Canadians into “us and them”, of attack ads, and contempt of parliament.

They are eroding our democracy and rights – the checks and balances that are indispensable to a healthy and vibrant democracy – from disrespect of veterans to attacks on the judiciary, the manipulating the elections laws, omnibus bills and muzzling scientists.

They use the Canada Revenue Agency to harass Canadian charities and humanitarian agencies; instead of going after tax loopholes and the billions stashed in off shore tax havens. A Conservative MP accuses the Charter of Rights & Freedoms of “taking rights away from the majority to protect the minority” citing opposition to the Charter as one of the reasons that he became a Conservative.   Watch out, folks – for our hard fought freedoms and human rights.

They are ruthless and arrogant. They engage in an Orwellian assault on reason, of wedge politics, where anything goes. They are disempowering citizens.   It is about control. The lessons of history are clear – you don’t know what you’ve got til’ its gone.

The real needs and problems of Canadians are ignored or trivialized.

We stand at a crossroads.   We risk squandering the legacy – the sacrifices and choices of previous generations to build a country based on fairness and opportunity. With the right choices and leadership, we can be – the most prosperous country in the world, with good jobs and a fair economy, the first truly global and universal country, strong in diversity – showing the world a way forward out of old prejudices based on religion, ethnicity or colour – using our bountiful resources wisely and responsibly for future generations, helping to save the planet from overheating and the conflicts and suffering that will flow from a failure to deal with the reality of climate change, being a force for universal human rights, restoring our international reputation for fairness, balance, and peace in the world.

The alternative is unthinkable.   Inequality and the diminishment of the middle class, attack on unions and working people is a grave threat to the stability of our democracy.   Let’s be clear, we believe it is not enough that just some prosper.

We’re all connected…a child that can’t read or goes to bed hungry, it’s about me. A senior having to decide between food on the table or prescription meds, it’s about me.   The over-incarceration of aboriginal or poor persons, it’s about my human rights too. We choose to build child-care spaces, instead of wasting billions on prisons.

We care for each other; we are in this together. Our country and future is too important for those games. They are amassing big money, planning to divide us, with fear and scapegoating. That is not the Canadian way.   We have an answer for them: We are one people.   That is what the next election is about.   We will offer hope in the face of cynicism.

We are not naïve idealists. We can turn the crisis of global warming into an opportunity for innovation and job creation. It is a not just a moral imperative; it is good business.   Despite all the concessions and tax cuts for big business, where are the leading world-class Canadian companies?   Canadian workers and families have been asked to make sacrifices, tighten their belts and do with less. It’s time for Canadian business to show us the results and step forward – to meet the challenge of the times. Canadians are ready for a new kind of leadership; and a fair economy that serves all Canadians.

Let’s be clear. It is unacceptable and disgraceful that a country as rich as Canada has child poverty. There are children in our midst that go to bed or to school hungry. Charity is a virtue, but it is not a substitute for responsible government policy. Conservative Minister James Moore said, a neighbour’s hungry child was not his responsibility. Conservatives are waging a war on the poor and vulnerable.

Liberals and Conservative government’s have paid lip service and a quarter century has gone by since parliament promised to do something about child poverty.   It is time, now – not some vague time down the road – to eliminate hunger and child poverty.   We, New Democrats will put an end to child poverty – once and for all!

And, we will bring in universal child care so that children and families can get ahead, women can enter the workforce and earn more, help their families, and contribute to national wealth.

I wish to address Canada’s treatment and history of its First Nations peoples. We would not occupy this land and enjoy the opportunities we have had were it not for the generosity and assistance of the First Nations.   Canada will not be a truly complete country until there is reconciliation and justice for our First Nations.   I am proud to say that some of the most meaningful work in my life has been the honour to stand with and work with First Nations.  We Canadians must step forward and be just, for a better future together.

I am not running to hold a seat in parliament; I am running to serve and help transform our country – for justice and opportunity.

We are all in this together. In the words of the poets, “My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of the same poverty.”[3]

“Let the promises and hopes, the deeds and words of my country be true…

Let the lives and hearts of the sons and daughters of my country be one…”[4]

“Give us the strength never to disown the poor or bend our knees before insolent might.”[5]

That we are our brother and sisters keeper;

“That is our purpose here today, and that is why I am in this race.”[6]

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives do not respect history, how this country works. They do not respect cooperation and conciliation. Je suis fierte de Quebec et notre histoire ensemble. Sans Quebec, nous ne aurient pas notre pays (“na-tre payee”). Mon Canada compris Quebec! Ensemble, nous gagnerons notre vision et le gouvernment.

We will reach back into the “can do” spirit, the big dreams, the audacious ones that built this country; a national dream of the type that built the national railway. The spirit and beliefs that built a great country, one that punches above its weight and is a force for good in the world.

Oh yes, the naysayers will be there, the skeptics.   And, we will slay the negative politics and propaganda, of “can’t do”, the ones that always shoot down ideas, including the ones who say, “how are you going to pay for that.”  We will pay for it the same way we paid for the railway, for health care – and we will modernize and reform health care.

We will do it the same way we paid for a world-class public education system – the great leveler and bedrock of democracy and equality. Tommy Douglas, used to say, Dream No Little Dreams. And, that’s why I am running for parliament!

I have a great belief in the Canadian people, in their decency, fairness and hopes. We will go beyond the elites and take our campaign directly to the people. This campaign will be about us – what we can do together. Of our common hopes and dreams.

It will require your time, efforts, resources and advice – to move us forward. It is about reclaiming citizenship, faith in each other, and a unity of purpose!

We will stand up against the dimming of our common humanity, and shine the light on the hard issues, inspire others, and move the country forward.

We will be the gatekeepers of rights and justice.   That is what progressives have always stood for. We will be our brothers and sisters keepers.

As Canadians, we can make it happen. Together, we can make it right.

That is our vision.

Thank you. Let’s go win an election!

 

[1]Tommy Douglas, by Vincent Lam, Penguin Canada, 2013, p. 204.

[2]ibid, p. 212.

[3]Jorge Luis Borges, “Boast of Quietness”, form Selected Poems, Viking Penguin 1999.

[4]Rabindranath Tagore, My Country, The Heart of God, ed. by Herbert Vetter, Tuttle Publishing 1997, p.42

[5]ibid, Strike At The Root, p. 56.

[6]Barack Obama, “Change We Can Believe In”, Three Rivers Press, 2008. p. 201.

Leave a comment