Thursday, April 17, 2008

A word about hope...

It is a rare privilege indeed to be able to watch a longtime political colleague make their maiden speech in the Alberta Legislature. I will actually get the opportunity several times this session after a number of people I am pleased to call friends were elected on March 3rd.

First up, though, was Manmeet Bhullar, the new MLA for Calgary Montrose. Based on word count alone, Manmeet has probably done more for his constituents in his opening speech than had been done in the previous 13 years. The content, context, and exceptional passion in his speech, though, is what made it truly memorable.

You can watch his maiden speech thanks to the Legislative Assembly's online video archive here (he speaks from the 2:47:20 mark to the 3:05:08 mark). And while the words alone don't give Manmeet's delivery justice, I am pleased to share them with you below:

Mr. Bhullar: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Let me congratulate you on once again assuming the position and being elected to the position of Speaker. You, sir, are an ambassador for Alberta values, and I salute you and I thank you.

It is a profound pleasure for me to stand today and second the Speech from the Throne. It is an honour to have been asked by the Premier. It is especially an honour because we are the government that has a vision that will take Alberta to new frontiers. This, sir, is a moment that I will forever cherish.

As the Member for Calgary-Montrose it will be an honour to servethe community in which I was born. I was born in Penbrooke in 1980, and I was born in a family of immigrants, a family of individu-als that came to this country with not more than their dreams. I, like many of my constituents, am the product of the hard work and the determination of so many immigrants. I am the product of people that came to this country, leaving back a very comfortable life for a life of struggle, for a life of hard work, all so their future could have a better life.

My constituency is composed of Penbrooke, as I said, Abbeydale, Applewood, Marlborough Park, and Monterey Park. It is a very diverse area. It is diverse with respect to ethnic and religious backgrounds. It is diverse in socioeconomic conditions. Almost 32 per cent of my constituents are first-generation immigrants. Theseare folks that have come to this country with their dreams, just like my parents came.

Sir, we have come to this country, all of us. Some were born here, some families have been here for many generations, and others have just arrived, but the one common denominator is dreams. Every-body has come here with dreams. It is my hope and my pursuit toensure that new Canadians fulfill their dreams for their families and for future generations to come, but it is also my hope and my pursuit that they engage in Alberta, they engage in Canada, and they take an active leadership position in this country to help shape the future of this province and this country.

Beyond the external diversity of my constituents there are great similarities. There are grandparents, there are parents, there are siblings, there are many children, all of whom want the same things in life. Mr. Speaker, I’m proud to say that the young families in my constituency will be delighted to know that this government is working to create 14,000 new child care spaces in this province. Calgary-Montrose is composed of hard-working people, peoplethat do their part and expect the government to do the same. We have proved that we are sound fiscal managers of this province, and that is why we are able to get rid of health care premiums in a fiscally responsible manner. That is giving back to our constituents. The many mothers and fathers who I spoke with during thecampaign that spoke about and expressed their concerns about safety in Calgary-Montrose, that expressed their concerns about crime andgrowing violence: these folks will be pleased to know that we are working to ensure that we get a hundred new front-line policeofficers this year and 300 over the next three years.

Sir, the single mother from Calgary-Montrose that I met whoworks in a factory and has high hopes for her children to get a university education will take comfort in knowing that this government is committed to ensuring that we have a great post-secondary education system.

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned before, this is very personal for me. That constituent is very similar to my mother. You see, my mother worked in a factory for many, many years. My mother worked in a factory for many years so that I could have opportunities that she never had. She had to leave school at a very young age in India because her mother passed away and she was left to raise her siblings. Upon coming to Canada, she’s worked many jobs, two jobs at a time, whatever it took to ensure that I and my siblings had opportunities they were never given. So this, sir, is so personal for me, and I will do everything I can to encourage young people in my constituency to complete high school and to get a postsecondary education.

Mr. Speaker, as you may know, I’ve devoted much of my time to working with young people. I have found that what young people often need is a mentor, a positive role model, someone that believes in them, because as Marianne Williamson once said, “ Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Sir, I had one such mentor, a humanitarian like none other: Bhai Jasbir Singh, a humanitarian in India who started health care initiatives, who started four hospitals where the rich went because it was the best treatment and the poor went because they could pay whatever they could afford. He was a testament to true service. It is easy for us to stand and say that we are public servants, but he received no salary for his public service. He received no benefits for his public service. In my pursuit I hope and I pray that I can just do an ounce of what he was able to do in his life.

Mr. Speaker, I see hope all around us. That hope we need toinstill in our young people is all around us. The volunteers who give so tirelessly give us hope. The police officers and firefighters and EMS personnel that lay their lives on the line every single day give us hope. The teachers who see potential in children that children don’t see in themselves and in some cases potential that parents don’t even see in children: that gives me hope. The nurses who take an extra minute to comfort a patient give me hope. The single mother who doesn’t let the fatigue of a long day of work at home and outside of the home prevent her from reading to her children every night gives me hope.

Sir, the woman I met door-knocking who is raising her grandchildren because, as she put it, her daughter was not ready to grow up – this woman fought for legal custody of her grandchildren so that she could give them some opportunity, give them some hope – she gives me hope. Now, the beautiful part of that is that we chatted for some 15 to 20 minutes at her doorstep, and I said: “ You know, I applaud you. I applaud you for being so strong.” She said to me: “ You know, most days I don’t feel strong. Most days I actually feel quite weak, and some mornings I wake up thinking I don’t know if I can carry on with this.” I wasn’t quite sure what to say, but as I looked in her eyes, I could see the tears.

The answer was that she is stronger than most of us because in spite of fear, she acts. In spite of being terribly afraid, she acted. In spite of being terribly afraid for the future of her children, she acted. I applaud her for her strength and courage to take such a bold step. She is the sort of individual that gives me hope.Yesterday’s Speech from the Throne offers hope for the present, hope for the future, and hope for taking advantage of all that Alberta has to offer. The government is putting forward an ambitious plan that appeals to Albertans’ wants and needs. This is a track that delivers on promises and offers an ever-increasing quality of life.

My constituents are going to be pleased with the new ring road around Calgary because that’s more time they get to spend at home instead of in traffic. By making it a priority to improve the effi-ciency and the effectiveness of health care delivery and providinghospitals to meet the needs of a growing province, we are demon-strating, sir, that the government has the right plan for health care. What gives me great pride to be an Albertan is the fact that one-quarter of new jobs created in this country are because of us. Thatis a profound thing. I am absolutely proud to be an Albertan, to contribute so much to this country. But that, sir, means that we must continue on a path of solid economic management and growth in innovation.

To ensure that we remain prosperous, the government is working on adding value to our exports and broadening our economy. As Canada’s largest producer of wind power and petrochemicals our energy resources afford us much prosperity, but we must strive to be as entrepreneurial as possible and to make the most of our skills and innovation. Just today I learnt of some of the great innovations coming about because of our nanotechnology strategies. We will be a leader in this field by 2020. This is solid vision, this is true leadership shown by the Premier, and, sir, this will make sure we have a place in the international community forever.

There’s one more story that I must share, and it’s of a constituent I met during the campaign. My volunteer knocked on her door and said, you know: I’m here with your candidate. We heard somerustling, and after about a minute the door opened. I was shocked to see a young woman standing before me in tears. I said: “ My apologies. I don’t mean to interrupt you. You seem to be going through something.” She said: “ No, I wanted to open the door for you. I’ve just lost somebody, but I still wanted to meet you.” That moment touched me because it shows us the great position we are in. The people of this province and the people of Calgary- Montrose have entrusted us with such a position. We shall never take this for granted. This shows me the importance of public life, something that we should remember when we take every action, something that we should consider every time we make a decision and have to consider whether it’s a decision for greatness or if it’s just a political move.

I want to inspire young people in my constituency. I want to inspire a generation of young people, and if I can inspire just one of them to get a postsecondary education, I will have done my job. In order to inspire young people, though, we need to ensure that instead of our young people feeling inadequate, we must instill in them the understanding that they have the seeds of greatness implanted in them. Instead of our young people feeling limited because of the financial means of their parents, we must express to them that they have unlimited potential and unlimited opportunity in our great province.

Instead of people seeing divisions and borders between people of different faiths and cultures, we must provide a venue for young people to experience human unity. Instead of our young people being marginalized by the way they dress, the music they listen to, or the one mistake they’ve made, we must accept them, we must love them, and we must give them a chance to change. Instead of teaching our young people to judge others, they must learn to bring out the best in others. Instead of young people feeling that beauty is based on shapes and sizes and that love is conditional, they must see and they must feel that they are beautiful and they are loved. Instead of our young people hearing that one person just can’t do anything or witnessing prejudice and judgment, they must know that the ability to do great things, to uplift humanity, to serve, to prosper, to contribute, to live in harmony with fellow human beings is their potential.

The greatness of humanity, the greatness instilled in every human being, the greatness of serving is to be realized and developed. That is my hope, that is my dream, and that is why I am the MLA for Calgary-Montrose. Thank you, sir.


  1. As one of his consitutents, I just wish he actually resided in Alberta. I wish he had diverse focus rather than just immigrants and youth. To be effective, you have to represent all of your community, not just your own demographic.

    I wish him luck and genuinely hope he does well, but at the moment I am somewhat skeptical.

  2. Thanks for reading, Annie.

    While your comment about him residing in Alberta is misinformed (he's an Alberta boy who was only in Ontario for law school), your point about demographic representation is fair.

    Try to see it from another perspective, though. Each MLA represents a broad variety of people, but cannot help having their own perspectives based on their unique backgrounds.

    The beauty of an Assembly is that it allows so many different backgrounds to converge with and learn from each other.

    As for Manmeet's own background, I can assure you that he will be a strong voice for his entire constituency. He isn't solely representing those from a Sikh background, just as Genia Leskiw isn't solely representing retired Ukrainian teachers or as Raj Sherman isn't solely representing ER physicians.

    I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with your new MLA.

  3. He isn't solely representing those from a Sikh background

    Actually, I didn't think he would only represent the Sikh community, I said "immigrants". And, I say that not believing that to be a bad thing, I'm thrilled that new Canadians can have a voice in government, many of them for the first times in their lives. No, my criticism would be the same if he were focused on 'seniors' or 'dogs in the street'. Having only one or two interests does not do the whole much good. Calgary Montrose elected him to see to their collective needs as a whole, of which there are many along socio-economic lines without segregating by age or culture/ethnicity.

    I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time (I don't count the doorstep as 'meeting' someone) at the Abbeydale AGM yesterday. I was impressed with him. He is energetic, well spoken and obviously enthusiastic about his new role and responsibilities. A very engaging young man.

    However, the caution still remains. When one's only public face and speak is on immigrant issues and youth, that leaves out a portion of the population that one claims to represent as equally as the rest. A community is a broad base of people who have issues that cannot be summed up in 'where you come from' or 'how old you are'. I believe by segregating those issues from the others, one does one's overall community a disservice.

    Again, I remain open minded and wish him nothing but the best in his political career.