In India, Harper shores up political gains back home

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India in November, 2009. Harper...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India in November, 2009. Harper is back in India this week and will visit other Sikh and Hindu holy places, part of his effort to connect with more than 1 million Canadians of Indian origin. (DAVID AKIN/QMI Agency)

David Akin, Parliamentary Bureau Chief

, Last Updated: 1:23 PM ET

AGRA, India -- Twenty three years ago, Devinder Shory left India for what he thought would be a brighter future in Canada.

He couldn't possibly have known how bright it would be.

On Sunday, Shory - now the representative of the 150,000 good people of Calgary Northeast in the House of Commons - returned to India for the second time in the company of his adopted country's prime minister.

"It's really, really exciting," Shory said on the long plane ride from Ottawa to Agra, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's first stop on his six-day tour here in the world's largest democracy.

The Shory story is a classic immigrants' tale but it also illustrates how the federal Conservative Party is slowly but surely supplanting the Liberal Party of Canada as the party of immigrants, particularly among recent arrivals from south Asia.

These six days in India will be the longest single stretch Harper has ever spent in one country since becoming PM in 2006, a signal not only of his hopes for the future of the Canada-India relationship but also a recognition of the political influence of the nearly one million Indians now living in Canada.

Shory was born and grew up in the northwestern Indian province of Punjab near Chandigarh, a city Harper will visit later in the week. He came to Canada when his parents arranged for him to marry a bride - Neetu - in Montreal.

"The only thing I knew (about Canada) is that it's a good country, a peaceful country," Shory said.

In India, Shory had been a lawyer but his legal credentials were not recognized in Canada.

He and Neetu started their lives together in Montreal before moving to B.C. and finally to Calgary.

Shory worked hard, saved some money, and invested in the B.C. housing market. Then the market crashed. Shory lost it all.

He and Neetu picked themselves up and, while raising a young family, Shory ran a video store, drove a cab, unloaded linen trucks in a warehouse, all the while studying Canada's legal system so he could become a lawyer here, something he finally achieved in 1998, nearly a decade after his arrival.

"I never lost my focus. That was the key," Shory said.

He says he'd been a small-c conservative all his life and when he arrived in Calgary in the late 1990s, he was caught up in the excitement of the establishment of the Canadian Alliance.

Then, when longtime MP Art Hangar decided to hang it up just before the 2008 election, Shory, a Hindu, won a tough nomination battle in Calgary's northeast, home to a thriving Sikh, Hindu and South Asian community, and went on to become the MP.

"I'm very thankful to God. I'm blessed," he said.

Harper had made it a top priority to break the political chokehold that federal Liberals had on Canada's immigrants.

Jason Kenney, now immigration minister, became the party's point man in Canada's cultural communities, earning the nickname Minister Curry-in-a-Hurry.

Conservative outreach efforts took time to take hold but are now paying off with electoral success. Conservatives now hold some of Canada's most ethnically diverse ridings in Calgary, in the suburban ring around Toronto and in Vancouver.

And so Harper now finds himself in India - hopeful of moving forward some important trade and commercial deals - but also, with photo ops Sunday at the Taj Mahal and later at holy Sikh and Hindu places, with an eye to securing the political gains his party has made with Devinder Shory and the million other Canadians born in India.

 


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