Thursday, March 11, 2004

March 11, 2004: Letter to the editor about Grewal's nomination style

Electorate will get wise to sign-ups someday

The Editor,

Re: "Grewals 'hedging bets,' Polak charges," the Now, Feb. 18.

Dear Mary Polak, welcome to Surrey. It would appear that Mr. and Mrs. Grewal are engaging in political manoeuvering that is similar to the 1997 federal election. During the nomination process for the federal Reform party, Gurmant Grewal showed up at the Reform office with hundreds of signatures of new members. The Reform party turned a blind eye and due to that, Lorna Dysart, one of the candidates, withdrew from the process.

I guess I still believed in the democratic way of doing things and I stayed in the race. Well, the nomination night arrived in due course and it was pure comedy. Grewal handily won the nomination.

Now Chuck Cadman is confronting this method of election strategy with Jasbir Cheema. Grewal says Mary Polak's complaining is "sour grapes." He said the same thing in '97 when I complained. Well, Mr. Grewal, sour grapes make good wine and wine, like the electorate of Surrey, will get better and stronger with time.

Mike Runte

March 11, 2004: The Now on Grewal's double candidacy

Rules meant to be manipulated in politics

Ah, politics.

Where else can players make so much noise about democratic principle while blatantly manipulating the rules in support of naked, unabashed personal ambition? And get others to take them seriously?

Surrey-Central MP Gurmant Grewal's manoeuvering to win a nomination for the new Conservative party has shone a spotlight on a startling weakness in the party's nomination process.

Both Grewal and his wife Nina filed nomination papers in Newton-North Delta and Fleetwood-Port Kells.

Grewal said he never intended to run in more than one riding, he just wanted to see membership lists before making a decision.

In other words, he wanted to see where his chances of winning were greatest before making a commitment.

About midday Tuesday, he finally made the jump and Newton-North Delta came out the winner. Sorry, Fleetwood-Port Kells, you didn't make the cut.

Grewal didn't break party rules; pragmatists would say he was just playing it smart and they'd be right.

But pragmatism will only take you so far. Politics is about principle; who stands for what and why - especially, to hear them tell it, in the newly-minted Conservative party.

Candidates should run where they have a connection - and a commitment - to the community; not where they simply stand the best chance of getting elected.

March 11, 2004: Grewal attempts to block competitor because of lack of citizenship

Candidate hopes to be Canadian by election day

Marisa Babic

A Coquitlam woman running against incumbent MP Gurmant Grewal for the Conservative nomination in the riding of Newton-North Delta is accusing Grewal of dirty politics by making an issue of the fact she isn't a Canadian citizen.

Anita Chetal said yesterday Grewal's camp is running a negative campaign and is trying to block her bid to capture the nomination. The nomination meeting was slated to take place tonight.

"It's definitely coming from my opponent's camp," Chetal told the Now.

Chetal says she's fighting for a seat in the Canadian Parliament to advance the cause of her constituents.

"He chose to block me. I did not choose to block him."

Chetal, who has lived in Canada for 27 years, said she is in the process of obtaining her citizenship and is confident she will have taken her oath by the time the federal election rolls around. Elections Canada stipulates candidates must be Canadian citizens.

Grewal admits he knew about Chetal's non-citizen status but says he didn't take issue with it.

"I was aware that she was not a citizen and I chose not to do anything about it, neither did I report it to the nomination committee nor did I mention it verbally or write a report to the headquarters," he said.

Grewal interprets the law to mean candidates should be Canadian when they file their nomination papers.

March 11, 2004: Grewal's nomination meeting marred by irregularities

Nominee threatens to sue party

Tom Zytaruk

Two defeated contestants in the Newton-North Delta federal Conservative nomination meeting last week claim there were serious irregularities in the voting process, resulting in a sham election. And one of the nominees, Anita Chetal, threatens to unleash a big-gun lawyer on the party if it doesn't fix the situation as she sees it. "I want the party to nullify this election," she told the Now. "This is a miscarriage of democracy."

Incumbent MP Gurmant Grewal handily defeated Chetal and Joginder Randhawa at the meeting last week at Seaquam secondary school, receiving 362 votes to their 15 and four, respectively.

North Delta resident Santosh Joshi, a supporter of Chetal, said her family and two others met at the school to vote, but were turned away after standing in line for two hours. "Something went wrong somewhere," Joshi said. "We paid the dues." She said her name was not on the voting list at the meeting although she bought her $10-party membership more than a month ago. "I would like my money back," she said. She also questioned how, if her name was not on the list, did Grewal's office know to phone her number and seek her support at the meeting.

Chetal, who has filed a formal complaint with the party, said she signed up nearly 500 members but only 20 of those were on the list. "Hundreds of supporters came out to vote for me and they were turned away," Chetal told the Now. "They said if your name is on the list, fine, if you're not then go home. Old people were there. Women were there with their young children. They stood outside in the rain for nearly two hours and they could not vote for us.

"Who slashed the names?" she demanded. "We have to find out."

Randhawa, a North Delta resident, voiced similar concerns. He said he signed up about 200 members yet "none of my members were on the list. Even my name was not on the list."

"Mr. Grewal's team players were overriding our team players and there was a complete mess of the ballot papers," an exasperated Randhawa said. "Some people were just carrying _ anybody picking up, throwing there in the ballot boxes, it was like a disorganized election. I have never seen even a Sikh temple election that's been like that. No scrutiny, no security. It was like a complete mess."

For his part, Grewal said many of his members were missing from the list, too.

"This is uniformly affecting our candidates," he said. Names are missing from lists in other ridings, too, he said, due to misspelled names, inaccurate postal codes and the like. "Many of my members, probably much more than hers were missing from the list."

"I had about 150 people missing from my list." Grewal said yesterday, "the party has dismissed her complaint" and added he's satisfied the vote was fair. "She's simply whining," he said. "She's simply trying to stir the pot. She's not satisfied, I have no problem - I can probably defeat her with a bigger margin next time."

Brian Archer, the Conservative party's chief organizer for B.C., said yesterday that he hadn't seen Chetal's complaint and that any investigation would have to be done by the party's national headquarters in Ottawa. But he added other provinces are also grappling with missing members on lists. "It can be as simple as just a clerical overload where there are so many memberships coming in and just processing them all is just a tremendous challenge," he said.

Whatever the case, Archer doesn't believe the outcome would have been any different in Newton-North Delta. "That's the one thing that trumps everything. I don't think it would have had any impact on the outcome." Riding president John Connelly said an investigation is beyond his control. "It comes from Ottawa, they're the ones that sent us the list and the official list that they sent is the one we have to go by." The process, he said, was "fair as far as I'm concerned. We used the tools that we were given."

March 11, 2004: Grewal's town hall meetings on family values

Time to talk about values

Tom Zytaruk

Surrey Central MP Gurmant Grewal's town hall meetings on family values are drawing increasingly large crowds and heated debate over topics like same-sex marriage and religious freedom. About 150 people attended a meeting at Fleetwood Library Tuesday night to discuss these as well as child porn and embryonic stem cell research.

"Participants are expressing their dismay over how the family values they hold so dear are being attacked by Liberal politicians and the judges they've appointed," Grewal said. "They're fed up with judicial activism and politicians who refuse to stand up to the courts."

Grewal said his office has received more than 4,000 pieces of correspondence from constituents on family values issues. "Mostly they said I should stand up and fight the government eroding family values," he said. He added that about 95 per cent of those attending the meetings agree with his position that marriage should be between men and women, and that it's OK to conduct stem cell research but not for human cloning. "It's about human dignity," he said. "Human life should not be used as a tool."

But not everyone is cheering. Cloverdale resident Kim Forster, one of 85 who attended last week's meeting at the Cloverdale legion hall, wasn't impressed.

"I was disappointed," she said. "He really wasn't looking for finding out what his constituents' opinions were."

Forster accused Grewal of "fear mongering" over Bill C-250, a proposed amendment to the Criminal Code dealing with hate propaganda that would include sexual orientation among "identifiable groups" to be protected.

Grewal argues that the bill, which is expected to be voted on in a few weeks, curtails religious freedom and could even criminalize portions of the Bible, Koran, and other holy books which condemn homosexual activity.

"Religious institutions will be inhibited," he said. "Hindus, Jews, they will be affected. It will be widely affecting many religions."

Forster doesn't agree. "To me he's fear mongering. He's creating fear around Bill C-250, which I find offensive."

Grewal says that's not the case. "I didn't do any fear mongering." Moreover, he added, he gave Forster and others an opportunity to speak their piece. "If they have a contrary position, I want to hear their arguments," he said.

Grewal's third and final town hall meeting will be held 7 p.m. this coming Tuesday at the Newton Library, at 13795-70th Ave.

March 11, 2004: The Now: Grewals 'hedging bets,' Polak charges

Grewals 'hedging bets,' Polak charges

Ted Colley

Surrey school trustee Mary Polak pulled her bid for the Conservative nomination in Fleetwood-Port Kells yesterday.

Polak said she quit the race because Surrey-Central Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal and his wife Nina had both filed nomination papers in that riding and in Newton-North Delta, a move she called undemocratic.

"I'm done. This is just crazy," Polak said.

"They're hedging their bets, waiting to see where they have the best chance to win. The end of this book has been written."

Several hours later, Grewal announced he will run in Newton-North Delta and Nina in Fleetwood-Port Kells.

Grewal said they filed in both ridings because the party's national office was unable to supply membership lists before the filing deadline for nominations. He said so many new memberships were coming in, the party couldn't process them quickly enough. Grewal said the lists only became available late Tuesday morning.

"We never intended to run in more than one riding. We just needed that information before making a decision," he said.

That, said Polak, proves her point.

"They wanted to see where they could win instead of just filing in one riding and running a clean campaign," she said.

Grewal denied that and said Polak's charges were nothing but sour grapes.

"Mary Polak is simply finding an excuse because she didn't work hard. Of a total of about 1,100 members in that riding, Mary Polak had less than 100. That's why she quit, nothing else."

Polak called that nonsense, saying there's no way Grewal could know how many members she signed up.

"There's nowhere on there that says who signed up who. Gurmant's just trying to put a big happy face on all of this."

The two ridings were created when Surrey-Central was split. The Conservatives' Newton-North Delta nomination meeting will be held Feb. 28 and Fleetwood-Port Kells on Feb. 29.

Surrey-North MP Chuck Cadman also faces a serious challenge for his riding's nomination after his new rival Jasbir Cheema, a former TV news anchor for Channel M, reportedly signed up close to 1,500 members to the riding association, which currently has only about 268.

"It comes down to a numbers game, which is unfortunate because I don't believe that's how the process was initially designed to work," said Cadman, 56.

First elected to Parliament in 1997, Cadman said he only recently learned of several large membership sign-ups in Surrey submitted just before his party's deadline earlier this month. Cadman said the membership problem cuts across political lines since other provincial and federal parties have had the same situation.

"Unfortunately it looks like it comes down to who can sign up the most members," said Cadman. "I can stand up in front of a room full of 1,500 or 2,000 people right now and if somebody else signed up 1,500 of them I can talk about policy until I'm blue in the face and it won't make any difference."

Cheema, who doesn't live in Surrey-North, is a friend of Grewal, who said he advised Cheema not to run against Cadman.

- with files from Sterling News Service

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."