It was the last undecided race in the country. At nearly 1 a.m., almost six hours after polls closed on Oct. 19, Liberal Jati Sidhu knew only a few percentage points would decide if he or Conservative Brad Vis would be the winner of Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon.
The recently retired head of a large-scale berry-growing operation and a fixture in the local Indo-Canadian community, Sidhu clinched it by just over 1,000 votes out of 44,000 at nearly 2 a.m.
It was a long time coming for him. A staunch Liberal for nearly two decades, he ran in the Dewdney-Alouette riding (now known as Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission) in 2000, only to be steamrolled by Alliance incumbent Grant McNally.
Two months after being elected, the often-quiet Sidhu shows no decline in enthusiasm. He’s nearly settled in in Ottawa, and ready to take on being the Central Fraser Valley’s voice in government.
“I made a comment [to Harper], I said ‘You’ve done a great job for Canadians for the last 10 years.’ He said he tried. It can be a different style, but at the end of the day, we’re all here to serve Canadians,” said Sidhu.
He continued, “It’s not awkward, we all understand …there are no hard feelings.”
His experience in farming in the community has led him to request a seat on the agriculture committee, as well as seats on the committees on infrastructure, immigration and First Nations issues.
“My background is in agriculture. I’m concerned about the sustainability in the area,” he said. “And infrastructure, since we had made an announcement, the largest ever [infrastructure investment] in the history of Canada.”
Locally, he’s met with councils and mayors in Abbotsford and Mission, and he’s keen on bringing area priorities to Ottawa. There’s been a big push for highway improvements in both Abbotsford and Mission in recent years, the area’s economy relies on farming, and helping the homeless has become a large concern. These are some of the main issues he hopes to push for at the federal level.
“Infrastructure is the main one,” he said. “We have the desire to work with homeless issues, affordable homes … [And] we’re going to be working very closely with the farming industry.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement negotiated by the previous government, has the potential to seismically shift the market for local dairy, egg, and poultry producers who rely on federal supply management programs.
“I want my stakeholders sitting around the table before we sign any agreement … They need to know, at least …. They need to know what we’re getting out of it.”
Sidhu recently met with the federal chicken farmers’ association, and will attend the annual meeting for the B.C. dairy industry next month.
“The farmer needs to know the government is buying their quota – is it worth their while? If they put their all into farming, are they going to be able to continue on with it?”
Homelessness has been a major discussion topic within the Liberal caucus, Sidhu noted, as many are concerned the current landscape of social programs for seniors will cause some to fall through the cracks as a major population cohort reaches retirement age.
Advocates for the homeless in Abbotsford are making the sustainability of co-op housing programs one of their top lobbying priorities at the federal level, and Sidhu says it’s imperative that co-op housing programs continue.
When in his riding, Sidhu will work out of a main office in Mission – “only 10 minutes” from the Abbotsford portion of his riding in Matsqui, he says – and host regular meetings with Fraser Canyon constituents in Lillooet.
The schedule of being in government has been exhausting for him so far, he says, with 12-hour days and mandatory events after hours.
“It’s funny. Mrs. Sidhu made a comment when she was in Ottawa. She said, ‘Seems like this is your full-time job.’ And I laughed and said, ‘Yeah, not even full-time. I’m working overtime.’ ”
But despite the pace, he’s overjoyed to have won the position to represent his community.
“I love it,” he said. “Anything I can do to improve the lives of Canadians in my part of the woods, I’ll do that.”