New Canadian Media
Friday, 25 August 2017 18:40

Sikhs Make World Go Round in Oliver

By: Bhupinder S. Liddar in Oliver, BC

Nestled in the scenic and stunning rolling dry desert hills and mirror lakes of Okanagan Valley in beautiful British Columbia is the town of Oliver – the wine capital of Canada!

Oliver’s population of 5,000 is made up of about 1,000 Sikhs. If one drives along the town’s Main Street, one is bound to see a turbaned Sikh or a Sikh lady in Punjabi dress, as well as the Sikh Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship). And as one proceeds through the scenic Okanagan Valley one is struck by the greenery of wineries and fruit orchards, and depending on the time of the summer, one will drive by cherry, peach, apple, and perhaps prune trees all along Highway 97. 

Oliver’s Mayor Ron Hovanes describes his town as an “authentic farming community.” Other than driving along the fruit-tree-lined highway, one can pull into one of the many wineries for tasting, buying, or even a meal.

The Sikhs started migrating and buying orchards and vineyards in Oliver and the Okanagan Valley about three decades ago. Farming is in the Sikh genes. Their ancestral home state of Punjab is the breadbasket of India. Sikhs are also successful farmers in Australia, Kenya, Fiji, among other countries.

The Sikhs bought orchards/vineyards predominantly from the Portuguese, who had migrated here in the 1950s. Mayor Hovanes explains the origins of Oliver are in the irrigation canal built in 1926 under British Columbia Premier John Oliver, after whom the town is named. The intent was to settle returning British veterans of the First World War.

The British migrants were followed by Germans in the 1930s and Hungarians in the 1940s and 1950s. Sikhs own about 70 per cent of orchards and wineries. The average holding is about 10–12 acres, and according to farmer Bhupinder Singh Karwasra, an acre generates an income of about $8,000 to $10,000. Prices of land have doubled or tripled since Sikhs first bought land at $4,000 an acre.

Apart from farming, Sikhs are venturing into other trades and commercial enterprises. Paramjit Singh Chauhan owns and operates East India Meat Shop on Highway 97, down the road from Oliver. Similarly, Surjit Singh Aulakh this month set up a hairdresser shop on Oliver’s Main Street.

Oliver-born Baljeet S. Dhaliwal, a graduate of Simon Fraser University, is now a manager at one of BC Tree Fruits packinghouses. Others, such as Toor twin brothers – Randy and Jessie, have set up an 80-acre, state-of-the-art Desert Hills Estate Winery on what was once an apple orchard. They are the second Sikh family to settle in the area, in the footsteps of Major Dhaliwal. The Toor brothers, from Village of Ucha Jattana, immigrated from India to Canada in 1982 and settled in Winnipeg. On the urging of their sister Lucky Gill, who is involved in the hospitality industry, they moved to Oliver in 1988. Randy Toor was elected to one term on Oliver Town council in 2005.

Oliver’s major communities – indigenous, Portuguese, Caucasian, and Sikhs live in silos, with little or no informal social interaction other than in schools, shopping centres and workplaces. Mohinder Singh Gill, president of the Sikh Gurdwara, attributes this partly to lack of English speaking skills among Sikhs. For instance, the Sikh seniors meet at the Gurdwara instead of going to the central seniors centre.

The indigenous Osoyoos people, almost all live on a reservation adjoining Oliver.

Punjabi was offered at Oliver High School until recently and the search is on for a Punjabi instructor.

Fortunately, days of ugly racism are almost over, though I was told of schoolyard fights among indigenous, Sikh and white students.

According to Mayor Hovanes, there is “no overt racial tension,” and former Town councillor Randy Toor observes there is “very little evidence of racism and it is fading away.”

The future looks promising for the Sikh community in Oliver, though many young Sikhs are opting to head to urban areas and into professions other than farming. But for now, most Sikhs make up a dynamic, vibrant and growing community in Oliver and the Okanagan Valley.


Bhupinder S. Liddar is a Kenya-born Sikh and a retired Canadian diplomat. This piece was republished under arrangement with the Oliver Chronicle.

Published in Top Stories
Saturday, 29 October 2016 14:47

CETA Hold-Up has Lessons for Brexit

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

When about a week ago, Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland cried in Brussels, her sniffles were heard around the world.

The Times of London carried a story on October 22 headlined, “Trade deal failure reduces Canadian minister to tears”. The story reported that “a tearful Canadian minister declared that the European Union was incapable of reaching an international trade deal” after the Canada-European Union free trade agreement floundered, after seven years of negotiations.

The Canadian minister’s tearful display was soaked up by both British and Europeans, who were closely monitoring developments as Canada and the EU attempted to rescue the deal. This last-minute hurdle is perhaps instructive in the run up to complex negotiations that will accompany an exit plan for a member state.

The British voted in a referendum in June to leave the 28-country common market of 500 million.

Amidst the swirling British Brexit drama, The Times story also contained a stark warning: “The failure to agree the EU-Canada deal – vetoed by a single Belgian region – indicates the pitfalls Britain will face as it attempts to forge a new commercial relationship with the EU.”

Parlez-vous Brexit?

In another twist familiar to Canadians, Michel Barnier, the French lead negotiator for the European Commission, suggested that he expects his native tongue to be used at meetings and in documents that will determine Britain’s future relationship with the EU. 

Fortunately, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped in to offer a compromise, suggesting there need not be an “official language” for the talks at all. All of this transpired while British Prime Minister Theresa May was on her first visit to the EU.

Negotiations for Britain’s exit from the EU will be complex, as it is the first time that a country has decided to leave.

As the British pound tumbles on foreign exchange markets, its economy showing signs of slowing down and financial institutions and international companies looking to leave Britain and relocating their European headquarters, and with no real political strategy to exit, Britain is living in a vacuum.

It was evident to me on a recent visit that the country is engulfed by confusion and uncertainty of unprecedented magnitude, arising from no one really expecting or predicting the British to vote to exit the EU.

Faced with uncertainty and grim economic forecasts for the island-nation economy, the British are getting cold feet and are unsure what to do next. The options appear to be: set in immediate motion a mechanism to leave the EU, try to negotiate terms of departure in the hope of retaining some benefits of a common market, or try to delay the exit for as long as possible. Currently, all three are being tried.

Wanting it all

However, almost four months since the referendum, there is no exit strategy. The Prime Minister, the governing Conservative Party and the political leadership remain clueless. Britain has to invoke Article 50 to start negotiations to leave the EU. This process will take two years.

For instance, Britain wants to restrict free movement of European workers, while wanting to keep intact its tariff-free trade advantages. It is unlikely the Europeans will oblige.

Some want Parliament to vote whether Article 50 should be invoked. But, others argue this will be subverting the will of the people who clearly expressed their desire to “leave” the EU.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has declared her intention to present a Bill to the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum to separate from the United Kingdom. Scotland will then apply for EU membership.

A majority of Scottish voted to stay in the EU in the June referendum.

The only bright sign is that, with the pound plummeting almost 20 per cent since the Brexit vote, tourists are flocking to London for Christmas bargain shopping. But, that too is temporary.

While Minister Freeland may have shed a tear or two in vain and Canada is going ahead with signing the Canada-EU Trade Agreement, Britain is far from getting such a result. After all the negotiating is done and deals made, what may be left of a United Kingdom or Great Britain may well be just “Little” England!

 

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a retired Canadian diplomat and former publisher/editor of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine and can be reached at bsliddar@hotmail.com or visit www.liddar.ca

Published in Commentary
Monday, 04 July 2016 12:49

The Bad and Ugly Brexit

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

Most divorces end bad and ugly, needlessly. Brexit's fate is no different. 

After almost four decades Britain decided to walk out of a relationship with Europe.

However, one must recognize that Britain was always the problem child in the European Union family. With one foot on the island and the other on the continent, it was going to be difficult to juggle the strained “long distance” relationship.

In the end, Britain decided to walk away from the EU home.

France – not once, but twice – advised against entering into such a relationship. In 1963 and 1967, France’s President Charles de Gaulle vetoed United Kingdom’s entry into what was then known as European Economic Market.

He alluded to the British sense of arrogance and self-importance. It was only after de Gaulle’s fall from power in 1969, that the U. K. applied and became a member on January 1, 1973.

Straightforward question

The referendum question was straightforward and simple, as were the two choices:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" 

  • Remain a member of European Union
  • Leave the European Union”

So, where was the confusion? Was the decision to walk away based on economics, social, political, or some other reason? No one really knows, including those who voted to exit and now want to change their minds.

The British facade of a tolerant, inclusive society, cracked, flaked and crumbled. Thanks to social media, the insular British island’s latent, long-simmering, ugly underbelly surfaced immediately after the vote to leave the EU. 

The British facade of a tolerant, inclusive society, cracked, flaked and crumbled.

Brexit turned bad and ugly!

The reaction to the exit vote quickly led to xenophobia, racism, and intolerance. Coloured Britons were verbally and physically abused. There were reports of their businesses torched. A Polish Cultural Centre was vandalized.

Issues that were not on the referendum question reared their head: latent racism and xenophobia, hallmarks of British society in 60s and 70s, suddenly manifested in ugly acts of violence and hate. Britain’s police reported a 57 per cent increase in hate crimes after Brexit vote.

Intrusive EU bureaucracy

Britain’s population has been frustrated by dictates from EU headquarters – from regulating the size of bananas, to incursions into what the British consider their private lifestyles. Britain, too, was cautious in moving too close to Europe.

For instance, it stayed away from the Euro monetary union and constantly spurned EU regulations citing a threat to British sovereignty. It resisted moves to implement the free movement of peoples across Europe’s borders, so it could pick and choose those who could get in.  

As a requirement of the free movement of goods and people, a significant number of immigrants from former Eastern European countries, such as Poland, headed to Britain to work and live. Like all immigrants, they worked hard, but the British were always suspicious, accusing them of taking away their jobs.

Britons forgot that the borders of other 26 European Union countries were open to them, and that many of their fellow-citizens had moved to work there.

On the other hand, zealous Eurocrats perhaps moved too fast, dreaming up of a Euro army and one Euro foreign policy.

The British were told of millions being siphoned off from the National Health Service to be spent on immigrants and refugees. The media carried horror stories of immigrants and refugees being housed in luxury hotel-style accommodations. Anti-Europe/Eurosceptics, right-wing politicians, jumped at the opportunity to whip up hysteria among the public against perceived waste.

Lesson on referendums

Unfortunately, not-so-recent newcomers also joined the anti-immigrant wave. They bought into the argument that the relative latecomers were stealing jobs, tha there was no room in the country left for any more immigrants and refugees. They were a burden on health care and social security and other social services.

Ironically, the British could go, conquer and impose their lifestyle on countries on all continents during the days of their empire, but do not wish to see the faces of their former subjects in Britain.

Ironically, the British could go, conquer and impose their lifestyle on countries on all continents during the days of their empire, but do not wish to see the faces of their former subjects in Britain.

There was also an element of anti-Muslim bias too. Right-wing British politicians promised to save the island nation against the hordes from Europe and elsewhere. Leading up to the referendum, Leave side politicians made covert references, equating leaving the EU to putting an end to immigration and stopping the flow of refugees.

So, what transpired was a carefully calculated political manipulation. 

If anything, the Brexit exercise has proved that referendums are the lowest form or instrument of democracy. The public is manipulated and swayed by politicians on emotional matters, issues that may not even be central to the basic issue.

It is not the end of Britain. It will find its own way forward.

But, Britain will never learn to drive on the right side of the road!

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a former Canadian diplomat and founder-publisher/editor of Diplomat & International Canada magazine. www.liddar.ca

Published in Commentary

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