STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

My writings were largely focused on Pakistan and the sub continent. In the last few posts I am writing on Canada. I have been asked why? Here is my answer. I have lived in the East and the West. I believe I understand both cultures, values, sentiments, feelings, thought processes and ways of life. I am sensitized to the pains and joys these diverse societies bring into their lives.

Humans are the same all over the world. The negative traits of greed, hate, injustice are common. So are the positive values of opportunities, compassion and care. So as an incurable romantic, I write on matters that impact lives of those around me.

These days I am consumed by the ongoing electoral process in Canada. They will impact our lives and those of our future generations that call Canada home. The campaign is led by party leaders but each of 338 ridings count. I chose to write about candidates with whom we share ancestry or belief. I focused on first generation Canadians that landed with little else except their dreams, and the will to make them come true.

Today I met one such person who is seeking re-election from Scarborough Centre, Ms Salma Zahid. We recapped her fascinating journey. She was born in England while her father was on a training course. He was an educationist serving in the Pakistan Army. Her childhood was spent in Abottabad, where I grew up too. Army families move around a lot. Her father retired as a Brigadier and went onto serve as Director General of Army Educational Institutions.

Salma completed her MBA in 1994 and went onto earn a Masters from UK. She married a banker Salman Zahid in Pakistan in 1997 and moved to Canada in 1999. That is when her struggle started which every new Canadian faces unless you have a ton of money! Her husband faced the challenges of re-entering his profession. “Canadian experience” is the biggest choke point in a fresh start.

Salman finally landed a job in banking. They were blessed by two sons. His take home salary was $1600. The Zahids moved into a one bedroom apartment in Regent Park. The rent took $800. Try raising a family of four in $800! They lived there for five and a half years.

Salma has two brothers. A serving Brigadier and the other is a PHD in economics teaching in Islamabad. After a few years as a stay at home mom raising her sons, she got involved in the education sector. Her passion for education came from her father. She recalled his motto “no one left out” when he accepted deserving students into his private school whose parents couldn’t pay the fees.

Salma participated actively in her community school in Regent Park. Her two sons studied there. Seeing her passion and hard work, she was made the School Chair. Those were the days of Provincial Conservative Government. Cuts in education sector were the order of the day. She joined the protests at Queens Park. Her MPP was George Smitherman who sat on Liberal opposition benches.

Salma recalled how she approached Mr. Smitherman on a wintry February day with snow all around, accompanied by her two young sons. She protested against the injustice being meted out to students and parents. He was supportive but explained his limitations as an opposition MPP. He suggested moving a petition while he raised the issues at Queen’s Park. Salma started the effort. She evolved from a stay at home mom to a social activist. Political activism soon followed.

Salma supported the Liberals in 2003 elections passionately. Smitherman was re-elected. She was invited to work in the Constituency office. She worked there for eight years. Meantime Salman grew in his profession. They were able to purchase their first Condo. In four and half years they bought their first house on Warden Ave. Steeped in politics, Salma joined Justin Trudeau’s bid for Liberal leadership in 2013. She was impressed by his ability to motivate the grassroots. In June 2014 she decided to run for MP from Scarborough Centre. She was elected in 2015 as MP.

Salma’s inspiration came from her father as a man of strong principles and values. George Smitherman was her political mentor. She overcame her doubts as a South Asian female and was fired up by Justin Trudeau’s positions in support of minorities and gender equality. Her greatest challenge came mid-term. She was diagnosed with a stage 4 lethal cancer. She underwent treatment relying on her belief and determination and survived. During her treatment, ruthless Conservatives started robo calls seeking support for a by-election in the event of her demise!

Upon recovery Salma donned a head scarf. This act came under strong right wing attack stating she was seeking Sharia rule! Despite these challenges she continued to be a strong voice for Scarborough. She was able to double summer job positions for youth in her constituency, raising $1.2 million for organizations that employed them.

Salma worked tirelessly with team Trudeau as a member of Standing Committee on status of women, citizenship and immigration.

Here are some of team Trudeau’s achievements:

• Reduced spousal visa wait time from 32 months to 12 months.

• Parental visa quota was increased from 5,000 per annum to 20,000.

• Pakistan was included in Direct Student Stream (DSS) program, where upon fulfilling the requirements, student visas would be issued in 21 days.

• Invested $26 million in Pakistan for girl’s empowerment through International Development funding.

• Created 1 million new jobs.

• Canada has the lowest unemployment rate ever.

• Lifted nearly 900,000 Canadians into middle class and increased child benefits.

• Lowered taxes for 9 million middle class Canadians.

• Put a price on pollution, committed to zero pollution by 2050.

• Will plant 2 billion trees in next 10 years.

There is a lot more to do. We need to re-elect Team Trudeau on October 21st. We need to stand up against the Trumpian onsluaght.

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