Bardish Kaur Chagger — Canada’s new Minister of Small Business & Tourism — may be only 35 and fresh off her first victory as a rookie candidate in the federal election. But she’s hardly new to the sport of politics. Via: GREG MERCER, The Kitchener-Waterloo Record
She’s been at it for more than 22 years, going all the way back to when she was a 13-year-old volunteer with MP Andrew Telegdi’s campaign. Until now, Waterloo’s new MP preferred to work behind the scenes, and let someone else take the spotlight.
Not any longer. Get ready to see a lot more of the woman friends say is a natural-born politician.
“People were saying, ‘Bardish, put your name in.’ I was saying, ‘I don’t know, I’ll run someone else’s campaign.’ I’d been more of a backbone girl. And they’d say ‘No, we’re going to back you. Go do it,'” she said.
“When you have people believing in you, and wanting to be there, there’s nothing better than that.”
Young, ambitious and energetic, Bardish once hoped to become a nurse — but politics pulled at her. On October 19, 2015 she won the riding with a comfortable 29,752 votes, or 49.7 per cent, beating incumbent Conservative MP Peter Braid by more than 10,000 ballots.
Now in Ottawa, Bardish says she feels lucky to have a job that doesn’t feel like work. For her, politics has been such a big part of her life it’s almost a hobby.
“I love this stuff, I really do,” she said.
“Kind of like nursing, I’m still serving the people, and I’m still helping out. It’s kind of unreal right now, because people who know me were like, ‘You were meant for this.’ But never once did I think I’d be running.”
Bardish’s father, a Sikh-Canadian who came to Waterloo in the 1970s, got her into politics. She’s proud of her parents’ Punjabi heritage — but says her identity has always been Canadian-born.
“I’m a daughter and a child of this community. As much as I know we’re seeing the packages we’re coming in, I’m representing Canadian values and we’re a nation of immigrants,” she said.
“I’m a Canadian born-and-raised girl, and I don’t feel any different until someone tries to remind me. But I don’t allow them.”
When she was in grade 6, she got interested in pursuing a degree in science after attending an open house at the University of Waterloo. But it was her first-hand experience with Telegdi, who she later worked with as his executive assistant, which attracted her to public office.
After years of working for the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre, she hopes she can be an inspiration to other children of visible minority communities, too.
“The Waterloo I grew up in, you saw yourself as the help or the janitor, but you never saw yourself as the teacher or the principal. Now you can, and that’s what’s exciting,” she said.
“I’m excited to show that even in a small town like Waterloo, that’s turned into a decent-sized city, we are progressive and we see beyond colour.”
Her father Gobi — a Pierre Trudeau fan — joined the Liberal riding association and in 1993 allowed Bardish to tag along as they put up election signs. It was the start of a political awakening for his eldest daughter and soon she was challenging the father-knows-best deference of many traditional Punjabi families.
“I was 13. But I had a mouth,” she said. “In Sikh families, kids are taught to respect our elders. Nobody ever challenged my father, but he was having conversations I don’t think he ever expected to be having with his daughter. But as Canadian kids, we ask questions. My father used to say, ‘Don’t debate me at my kitchen table.'”
Today, Bardish calls her father “her backbone” and her “best friend.” He volunteered on her campaign, while her mother, less at home in the political arena, cooked vats of Punjabi food to feed the volunteers.
Bardish says she wants to be accessible and one who is open to constructive criticism and feedback. She wants to get away from the partisanship that has marked the House of Commons recently and do politics in a new kind of way.
“I hope that I can represent this area well, and hopefully be a mentor for future generations,” she said. “I’m young. I’ve got the energy and the know-how to do it. I really don’t want to go into politics to be the ‘same old,’ I really want to go in there and break ground for my community.”
Bardishr jokes that she doesn’t have much of a personal life, which makes her an ideal candidate for the high demands on a member of Parliament.
She’s also the product of a great immigrant success story. Her grandparents left India and built a new life in Canada, initially working in a Waterloo carpet factory. Her father came too, and “started working the day after he got here.”
She said she was motivated to run for office by Conservative policies she says turned immigrants into “second-tier” citizens.
“These people are Canadian. They don’t look at India as home. Here their Sikh and Punjabi roots are welcome, we all come with our different flavours, but everyone gets on,” she said.
In school, she joined the Young Liberals, and got behind issues such as same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana, issues that eventually evolved into the policy of the larger party.
She later worked on Justin Trudeau’s leadership bid in 2013, and said she was attracted to the incoming Prime Minister’s promise to keep politics positive.
Now, the real work begins for Bardish, who enjoys the policy side of politics as much as the public life.
As for her parents, meanwhile, their phone has been ringing steadily with congratulations. They know where their family has been, and they’re swelling with pride.
“On election night, my father was glowing,” she said. “When my grandfather first came to Canada, I don’t think he ever thought we’d do this. But we did it. And it’s a big deal.”
[Courtesy: Kitchener-Waterloo Record.
Via: Bardish Chagger