Thursday, March 11, 2004

March 11, 2004: The Now on the Grewals' double candidacy

Running in the family

Tom Zytaruk

Some people are shy about discussing politics around the dinner table. But not the Grewals.

"Not only that, but we eat, breathe and smell politics at home," says Gurmant Grewal, MP for Surrey Central.

Gurmant and wife Narinder (Nina) share the distinction of being Canada's only married couple so far to win MP candidacies in side-by-side ridings. Fortunately for their union, they're running for the same political party.

The couple handily won their Conservative nominations this weekend, with Narinder being acclaimed in the new Fleetwood-Port Kells riding and Gurmant vanquishing his two rivals in Newton-North Delta with 362 votes to their 15 and four apiece.

But Narinder wants to make something clear, right off the bat: "Though I happen to be the wife of our MP currently representing Surrey Central, I'm also a citizen with independent thoughts, experiences, feelings, desires, rights and responsibilities."

Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark and his wife Maureen McTeer ran together, but didn't succeed. "I want to break that record again," says Gurmant, an MP since 1997.

Gurmant is the first Canadian of Indian decent (he doesn't like the term Indo-Canadian) to be elected in Surrey, the MP to deliver the most speeches in the House of Commons and the only Reform-Alliance-Conservative MP to have a private member's bill made law. He also has the distinction of going from landed immigrant to MP in the shortest time ever, within five years and eight months of first stepping on Canadian soil.

Gurmant and Narinder met in Chandigarh in the Punjab in their early 20s. Narinder's dad placed a matrimonial ad in the Tribune and Gurmant answered.

"It was love at first sight," he said upon their first meeting. "We chatted about so many things."

Narinder was schooled at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Simla, and has a BA in English and history. Gurmant holds an MBA as well as a B.Sc (honours) in agriculture.

Six months after their wedding, the Grewals moved to Liberia, where Gurmant was an assistant professor of management at the state university. They lived there from 1983 until civil war broke out in 1989. Gurmant recalls seeing piles of human skulls and people eating the leaves off trees to survive. The suffering they encountered there fanned their desire to be politically active.

Gurmant caught the bug when he was eight, after meeting U.S. vice-president Hubert Humphrey in India. The cameras flashed on as Humphrey opened a much-needed hospital there.

"That's how I had a candle burning in myself," Gurmant said. "How much impact a politician can have in a community. It was a very momentous occasion in my life."

The couple moved from Liberia to England to California to here, and settled in Surrey in 1991. Interestingly, Narinder's great-grandfather was a mill worker in the Lower Mainland and died here in 1906.

Also of note, as they settled into Surrey Narinder was considering running for politics.

"I saw those taxes, and that was too much," she said.

But she decided to stay home to take care of their sons Jay and Liv, now 21 and 19.

"When I made my decision to run politically, it was my wife who was going to run before me," Gurmant said. But she stepped aside after his father noted the importance of being around for the kids.

"We had our family discussions about it," Narinder recalled. "But for the sake of our then school-going kids, I postponed my desire and sacrificed my political aspirations for our family. Now that they are grown up and have gone off to university, I feel that it is the time to join our Conservative team as a candidate and help make changes in the direction of our country. As the saying goes, better late than never."