Mr. Speaker, over the years I have risen to speak on many timely topics and pressing issues, including the pandemic we are dealing with, but today is different. Today will be the last time I address the House. I would like to share some reflections on my time in politics and what I have learned along the way as the member of Parliament for Mississauga—Malton.
I will begin by expressing how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to serve my vibrant community and this beautiful country for over 13 years.
First, I want to thank the people of Brampton and Mississauga, who put their faith in me as their federal representative on five separate occasions. I have tried to be worthy of their trust and never ever took it for granted.
As hon. members know all too well, politics is something that we do not do alone. It is a team sport, and I have been blessed with fantastic teammates throughout my career. I thank my colleagues in the House for their friendship and their guidance; my hard-working staff and our top-tier public servants; the relentless commitment shown by my riding association; and the hundreds of volunteers who donate their time to make this country a better place. I owe them more than I can express.
I would like to especially thank the Right Hon. Prime Minister for his confidence and friendship over the years. Serving as a member of his cabinet has been the honour of a lifetime. I am pleased to have had such a direct role in crafting economic policies and programs for all Canadians.
Politics is not easy on families. I want to single out my amazing, beautiful wife, Bram, and my remarkable daughters, Nanki and Kirpa, for all of the sacrifices they have made to make my service possible. I thank them very much. Their love and support have meant the world to me, and any possible reservations I have about leaving this place disappear when I think about spending more time with them together.
When my parents immigrated to Canada in the 1970s, they could never imagine in their wildest dreams that their son would end up here. My father moved to Canada from India, from a small village in Rajasthan. He spoke very little English and had five dollars to his name, but he came here for better economic opportunities. In a few years, my father learned carpentry from an Italian Canadian cabinetmaker who called him Vincenzo, which he thought sounded better than Balwinder. My father wore that handle as a badge of honour.
My mother worked the night shift at a cookie factory so that she could be home each morning to help make breakfast for my brother Harjot and I and help us tie our patkas, which is a head covering for young Sikh kids. She knew how important it was for me to play sports, and I loved sports. To do so confidently, I needed my patkas tied well. She worked all night but always made it home in time so that I could go to school feeling sure and confident about myself.
They both worked hard and did well, and my father eventually bought a cabinet company of his own and moved the family from Jane and Finch to Brampton. Even with that success, I do not think he ever expected our family to go from cabinetmakers to sitting at the cabinet table. Only in Canada.
My parents instilled in me at an early age the understanding that this country has been so good to us that we must give back to it. It was our responsibility to help create the same opportunities for others. That is not to say that I did not face my share of challenges. Looking a bit different as a kid, I had my share of unwelcome remarks and teasing. However, I grew up in the era of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For me, a pivotal moment was the Baltej Singh Dhillon case, where an observant Sikh RCMP officer was granted the right to wear his turban with his uniform. There was controversy, for sure, but for a young Sikh boy, the message I heard was that I belong and I can play a meaningful role in our institutions. Looking back, I can see that these changes were the realizations of an inclusive and multicultural society that was the hard-fought vision of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and many others. It showed a gradual willingness to accept, evolve and celebrate.
When I decided to run for office, I chose the party of the charter, the Liberal Party, as my political family. However, even there, I encountered those who felt I should hide my identity. “Don't put your picture in the brochure”, one very senior party voice told me. At that moment, I was taken aback, but I just took it in and stayed silent. However, I am pleased to report that my silence did not last too long and not only did I not take that advice, but I decided to put my picture in every single brochure. My view was that if I was going to be on the ballot, I wanted people to know the person they were putting their faith into. I was not going to hide my identity or conceal who I was. By the way, in case people were wondering, I won the first election with 57% of the vote, the widest margin in the region of Peel. It was not the first time I had stood up for equality, and it would not be the last.
Soon after my first election, the same-sex marriage debate tested my commitment to stand up. Many of my constituents did not agree with same-sex marriage, but to me the choice was clear: People love whom they love and we cannot decide what rights go to which people, end of story. I took a lot of flak for that position, but I am proud that I made it. For someone who has always looked different, I knew there was no other option. That is also how I defended it to those who would complain about their own discrimination in one breath while advocating discrimination against others in the next.
When I was appointed the Minister of Industry, I was acutely aware that I was the first person of colour to hold that role, and I was absolutely determined to leave the door open wider for others. While there were many initiatives that we took to create jobs and accelerate science and innovation, I am most proud of speaking up for equality and equity among decision-makers. I was proud to introduce the 50-30 challenge. This initiative asked that organizations in the private and public sector aspire to two goals: gender parity on Canadian boards and among senior management, and significant representation, at least 30%, among those same leaders representing under-represented groups, such as Black Canadians, persons living with disabilities, LGBTQ2S, and our first nations, Inuit and Métis people. To date, more than 1,000 Canadian organizations have taken up the challenge to move the under-represented into positions of economic influence and leadership.
While things are objectively better in this country for those marked as different, we still have a long journey ahead of us. I, like many Canadians, was heartbroken when I heard the tragic news about the 215 children found at a former residential school in Kamloops. It should remind all of us that there are still those on the outside looking in, and that Canada is very much a work in progress and we have much to do on reconciliation.
As we are dealing with this historic tragedy, we were horrified to see in London, Ontario that hate is alive and well. Hate is poisonous, and it is a thing that lashes out at those whose only crime is being different. I also wear my faith for the world to see, and that could have been my family.
While I know there is not a person in this House who would not condemn these crimes, we must remember that every time we stoke division, the seeds of hate are planted and watered. The country looks to us in these moments, but what we say and what we do in between these moments has just as much impact.
There are those in this country who claim to still serve the public interest by passing laws on discrimination and pitting Canadians against each other. That approach will end up failing, as it always has, but we need to make our leaders understand that this is not something that will be tolerated in today's Canada. Our diversity is our strength. To once again quote the former prime minister, “A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate”.
I requested an additional 30 seconds to make this final remark, so I am grateful for the indulgence.
I am tremendously optimistic for the future. I see that my daughters' generation already thinks very differently about these challenges, and it brings me hope. Politics has taught me that progress is not linear. It happens when enough good people fight long enough and hard enough to make things right.
The most important lessons are the ones we learn again and again, and that surprised me. The advice I have for my daughters, despite all my experiences, boils down to what my parents taught me, which is to be thankful for all we have been given and to return the favour by lifting others up. Believe in yourself, but remember it is not all about you. Be kind to others and understand that those without kindness are the ones who need it the most. Finally, in politics, as in life, try to leave things a little better than they were found.
I hope, colleagues, that in our service we left our community and country better off for our efforts. I am confident that those who sit in this chamber and those who will fill these seats long after we are gone will do the same.