As far as trips abroad at taxpayers' expense go... Deepak Obhrai is quite familiar with them. The MP from Calgary East has quite possibly chocked up more Airmiles than many cabinet ministers... The rotund MP hails from Calgary East - by way of East Africa (although he is very hazy about his background).
In his riding of Calgary East, Obhrai is a bit of an enigma. Opponents have run campaigns pointing out Obhrai's complete lack of presence in the riding, and his trips abroad, but with little success. Even a riding like Calgary East - which claims 25% "foreign extraction" in its' voter base, is in the Reform-Conservative heartland of Calgary. Door knocking the riding in the past few years, I come to the conclusion that the riding has about 3 types of demographic groups that stand out: 1) 75% - White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant; 2) 25% - Various recent immigrants (Eastern European, Vietnamese, East African, East Indian, Pakistani, South American, etc.); 3) Young people of the first generation of all these groups. There is also a very distinct breakdown of what they like and don't like: each other. Knocking doors you find either people who "like people", or those who don't... There really wasn't much in-between. People seemed to like to point out minorities as their scapegoat for neighborhood issues. A very polarized neighborhood indeed.
The geography in Calgary East is basically flat... The Bow River loops through the riding on the West, and flat plains run off into the distance (all the way to Ontario) on the East... The West edge of the riding is actually a tall ridge above the banks of the Bow, and arguably has the best views in all of Calgary - both mountain AND the downtown of the city - along with some river. None of the more "exclusive" neighborhoods of the Southwest, West, or Southeast have such great views. Much of the riding was built in the 60s and 70s. There are some newer areas to the far East and in the South of the riding. In one area - Lynnview - Imperial Oil had dumped millions of tons of oil refinery by-products years ago. Homes were built overtop, and when the health problems and poisoned soil became "news" people lost their homes and the associated values... Residents pursued Alberta Environment - without any help from their federal MPs (who would never say anything against Big Oil, would they). Obhrai was never heard from during the crisis...
Calgary East has the bulk of Calgary's warehousing and industrial lands. A large part of the populace works in the industrial areas - versus the gleaming Big Oil office towers of downtown. Some of the biggest challenges in the area include serious drug abuse problems, drug trafficking, youth prostitution (in Calgary wealthy businessmen are routinely caught picking up underaged prostitutes along the underaged stroll around 17th Ave SE)... We had a campaign office on 17 Ave SE, and routinely saw hookers out our back door.
Deepak Obhrai has pretended to represent this riding through the last several elections. While there have been some serious battles for him to get the nomination, he managed to court a huge effort by ethnic communities to get out the vote. South Asian bus and taxi drivers picked up voters throughout the day, and he worked very hard to pack the nomination meeting with people of various ethnic groups - further angering some of the hardcore Reformers, who could only stand by and watch... Attempts have been made - even recently - to dump Obhrai from the riding, but he has become somewhat "entrenched" as a sitting MP - even as far back as he is in the back benches.
As one CBC feedback provider noted: " I am very disappointed to see that no representation is given to the South Asian community in this cabinet. Where are Nina Grewal, Rahim Jaffar, and Deepak Oberoi? All these people have been working hard for the party for many years, still Mr. Harper does not see any fair representation in the South Asian Community. Canada is a multicultural country and South Asian people are playing very active role in building the strong and prosperous Canada."
So, is Mr. Obhrai in the wrong party? Doesn't seem like his party seems to think much of him (or anyone of a similar persuasion - South Asian, that is). Perhaps he's only in it for the notoriety - in India... Yup, that's right, back in South Asia these foreign MPs of South Asian heritage are real celebrities. Doesn't matter that they're not cabinet ministers. Does not matter that a few of them are basically just "window-dressing" to court the minority vote by their party... How else can one explain the 3 MPs of South Asian heritage who sit in the Conservative back benches, keep quiet, and seem to have nothing much to say? I laughed when I saw images on TV of Harper at a "suburban Toronto" rally this week. Behind him on stage was a veritable "rainbow coalition", while the audience looked like the complete opposite... Could they be "planting" these folks up on stage with Harper as "window dressing"? The party that "misinterpreted" the election financing laws wouldn't do THAT, would they?
Deepak Obhrai ... our latest "Most Useless MP"... Tomorrow we'll discuss Laurie Hawn.