Straight Talk
CHRISTINA BLIZZARD - Ontario Liberal leadership contender could be first Sikh premier

Credits: Dave ThomasToronto Sun/QMI Agency


TORONTO -- He's one of the least known yet most controversial candidates in the Liberal leadership race to replace Dalton McGuinty.

Harinder Takhar has been engaged in a running skirmish with Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn, who's been scathing in his criticism of Takhar and recently questioned his claim that he came to this country with only $7 to his name.

It's not the first time Takhar has tangled with the media.

Shortly after he was elected to Queen's Park, I wrote about his visit to the offices of a business he owns -- even though that business was supposed to be kept in a blind trust and at arm's length as long as he's in cabinet.

Integrity Commissioner Coulter Osborne released a report in 2006 saying Takhar had broken the Integrity Act and called Takhar's actions "egregiously reckless."

Of the six candidates vying for the leadership, Takhar is the only one who turned down my request for a sit-down interview in his riding, only reluctantly agreeing to a phone interview -- with no pictures.

I asked Takhar about the rumours he's a stalking horse for another candidate -- that he'll throw his support to one of the frontrunners in return for a plum cabinet post.

"These are the rumours people make up," he said.

"I'm not committed to anyone at this time. I'm here to win and that's exactly what I intend to do."
And he sticks by his story of coming here with $7 in his pocket, pointing out that currency restrictions imposed by the Reserve Bank of India at the time prohibited him from taking more than $7 out of the country.

Takhar came here 38 years ago from Punjab and worked for Consumers Distributing for $1.85 an hour while he took accounting courses.

He was wed in an arranged marriage.

"I think I met her (his wife, Balwinder) only a day before the marriage," Takhar recalls.

"It's not typical anymore, but that used to be typical in our country.

They've been married for 35 years and have two grown daughters, who are successful in their own careers.

His struggles as an immigrant help him connect with average folk, Takhar believes.

"I worked hard. I built my business. So you can actually realize your Canadian dream right in this province and in this country," he said.

"As a government, we just have to facilitate some of these things for them."

Why does he want to be premier? Simple, he says. He's the best guy for the job.

"If you look at my resume and compare it to the others, I think it will be very obvious," Takhar told me.

He cited not just his business experience running a company but also his background as the CFO of a school board, as chair of a hospital board and chair of the Peel United Way as proof he has the skills to run the province.

"You compare that to any other leadership candidate and I think the answer will be obvious," he said.
No question Takhar has had a remarkable career in this country.

He's broken many barriers for the South Asian community and was the first Sikh cabinet minister in this province.

And he showed surprising strength in the election of delegates last weekend, coming in fourth.

Conventional wisdom says we're on track for our first woman premier, Jan. 26.

Those pundits could be wrong. It's not a question of ethnicity. It's one of integrity.

If delegates are prepared to ignore the damning report of the Integrity Commissioner, they may just elect our first Sikh premier i

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