June 11, 2005: the Grewals' strange odyssey
The Toronto Star
June 11, 2005 Saturday
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A06
HEADLINE: Nina and Gurmant's strange odyssey
BYLINE: Daniel Girard, Toronto Star
SURREY, B.C. On the morning after the election last June 28, Gurmant and Nina Grewal were the toast of the country, reporters lining up to tell their story.
Having just become the first husband-and-wife team elected to the House of Commons, they invited journalists to their home in this city east of Vancouver and politely answered questions and posed for photographers like movie stars promoting a new film.
The Grewals were no less in demand this week when they returned from Ottawa. But rather than make themselves available, the couple stayed for more than an hour out of sight of the cameras awaiting them at the Vancouver airport, eventually getting an RCMP escort out a back door and being swiftly driven to their car in the parking lot.
One year on, the two Conservative MPs have gone from electoral novelties to the centre of a political storm that has rolled over Ottawa and much of Canada, with its sordid tales of secretly taped conversation, dubious job offers and allegations of immigration fraud.
The mess prompted Gurmant, 47, a three-term MP, to take stress leave this week. Meanwhile Nina, 46, a parliamentary rookie, has been dogged by questions about what she may have known about her husband's negotiations last month with senior Liberals, allegedly involving political rewards for the Grewals if they helped the minority government survive a non-confidence vote.
"The whole Indo-Canadian community was proud that we were the first people who elected a husband-and-wife team to Parliament," said Harjinder Thind, a talk-show host with Sher-e Punjab Radio, where the Grewal affair has dominated the daily call-ins.
"They have really disappointed people," said Thind, noting the overwhelming majority of callers are angry with the Grewals as well as Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, who appears on one of the tape-recorded conversations to be offering a deal for them to switch parties.
"Our Indo-Canadian people like to see honest politicians because they come from a country where politicians are very dishonest and do unethical things," Thind said.
The Grewals, natives of India's Punjab, had an arranged marriage in 1982. Shortly after marrying, the well-educated Sikhs moved to the West African nation of Liberia, where Nina's parents had once lived. He taught at the University of Liberia and they began a successful import/export business and raised two now-adult sons.
The Grewal family was holidaying in India in 1990 when the civil war in Liberia led to a revolt that resulted in the overthrow and assassination of Gen. Samuel Doe, who had ruled the country for a decade after taking power in a bloody coup.
The Grewals never went back to Liberia, but lived in several different countries before settling in Surrey.
A proud Canadian, Gurmant Grewal likes to boast that he has the record for the fastest ascent from landed immigrant to MP, accomplishing the feat in less than six years.
"This tells more about Canada than about us," he told the Toronto Star after he was re-elected last June in the new riding of Newton-North Delta and his wife won neighbouring Fleetwood-Port Kells. "It shows that the multicultural fabric of Canada is being strengthened.
"I lived in Africa for almost nine years and was not even able to participate in parliament. Canada is a wonderful country that has given me the opportunity to represent Canadians."
But Grewal, who along with his wife did not respond to requests for interviews for this story, is certainly no stranger to controversy during his decade on the B.C. political scene.
Grewal has faced questions about whether he actually advised Liberia's Doe and has been accused of dirty tricks in the nomination process, both of which he has denied. He was also taken to task last year for hiring - then firing after the media found out - a woman to work in his office when she was facing criminal charges for stalking. She pleaded guilty.
And, in the mid-1990s, he was involved in a controversy similar to the one now engulfing him. It involves tape recordings and alleged job offers in exchange for political favours.
"I have no sympathy," said Sandy Powar, president of the Surrey-Newton riding association for the British Columbia Liberal Party. "He deserves what he's getting now."
Powar was charged with verbally abusing and threatening Grewal in 1996 and was forced to resign as party secretary in a bizarre incident that capped Grewal's political debut.
In 1995, Grewal was hoping to run for the Liberals in an election expected the next year. He planned to contest a nomination against the party president but withdrew from the race following a meeting with Liberal brass, saying he didn't want to hurt party morale.
But Grewal later told the media he was set up. He alleged Powar tried to bribe him with a deputy minister post in a Gordon Campbell government if he stepped aside. He soon quit the Liberals, ran for the B.C. Reform Party and was badly defeated in the 1996 election.
Grewal said he received a threatening call from Powar on election night. On another line he dialled 911 so that the conversation would be recorded. The charges were dropped soon after.
Powar, who has always maintained that was not his voice on the tape and that he wasn't in a position to offer a top job to Grewal, remains bitter nearly a decade after the incident.
"I was his first victim, that's how I feel," Powar said in an interview this week.
But there are certainly those who see Gurmant Grewal as the victim.
"I stand by my Member of Parliament and I am not alone," said Jim Holt, president of his riding association, who said he's fielded many calls of support from constituents. He takes exception with the "assassination" in the media of his MP when the actions of Dosanjh, Prime Minister Paul Martin's chief of staff, Tim Murphy, and other Liberals involved in the tape controversy are not being nearly as closely scrutinized.
Former B.C. Liberal MLA Tony Bhullar, whose riding was in Grewal's, said the MP has an "excellent work ethic." But, he said, many in the Indo-Canadian community questioned his motives when he helped secure the Conservative nomination for Nina. With Gurmant's former riding being divided into two for last year's election, both Grewals filed nomination papers to run in each of the two ridings. After seeing how they fared in signing up party members, they each chose the constituency they would seek.
Opponents said they made a mockery of the process and some dropped out of the race.
GRAPHIC: Gurmant Grewal, a three-term MP, is on stress leave, while his wife Nina, a parliamentary rookie, is dogged by questions about what she knew about her husband's conversations with senior Liberals.Gurmant Grewal, a three-term MP, is on stress leave, while his wife Nina, a parliamentary rookie, is dogged by questions about what she knew about her husband's conversations with senior Liberals.