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Politics

Few Sask. immigrants seeking office despite growing population

WATCH: Despite immigration being the biggest contributor to Saskatchewan's population growth, proportionally fewer people from the immigrant community are seeking public office.

Immigration is among the biggest reason Saskatchewan’s population is growing, but only a handful of federal candidates in the province are immigrants.

Among them are Liberal for Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lannigan Cecilia Melanson from Ecuador and Regina-Lewvan NDP nominee Jigar Patel from India.

Several other candidates from all parties boast volunteer work for immigrant and refugee organizations on their resumes.

Still, immigrants make a much smaller proportion of federal candidates than they do the province’s population. As of the 2016 census, Saskatchewan’s immigrant population makes up 10.5 per cent of the provincial population.

Saskatchewan’s climbing proportion of immigrants based on census data.
Saskatchewan’s climbing proportion of immigrants based on census data. Global News

In Patel’s view, everyone has the right to serve their community. They just have to pursue the opportunity.

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“They have to come out and work for the people that is the thing that I’m expecting from any community, and I’ve liked to work for the people since my childhood so that’s why I’m into politics now,” he said.

Earlier waves of immigration into the province were characterized by Europeans. In recent history, immigration trends have shifted to the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

READ MORE: Just 0.3% of irregular migrants in Canada found to have serious criminal past

Between 2011 and 2016, the fastest growing immigrant populations in Saskatchewan were from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, China and Bangladesh.

Changes in Saskatchewan’s immigrant populations between the 2011 and 2016 census.
Changes in Saskatchewan’s immigrant populations between the 2011 and 2016 census. Global News

Even with growing communities, entering public life can be a daunting prosect. This was the case when Regina-Pasqua MLA Muhammad Fiaz, a Pakistani immigrant, first considered entering provincial politics in 2012.

“I was actually very nervous, I’m going to be the first immigrant person and first Muslim running in Saskatchewan, but friends, family they supported me a lot, and I’m happy to be here. It’s a great honour of course,” he said.

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Fiaz was elected as the province’s first Muslim MLA in 2015. He plans on seeking re-election in 2020.

He is currently the lone immigrant in the 61 seat legislative assembly — 1.6 per cent of the representation.

Regina city Coun. John Findura, originally from Poland, said he heard a great deal of outreach and support from the immigrant community when he first threw his hat in the ring for council in 2006.

READ MORE: 14% of Canadians say immigration a top election issue: Ipsos poll

Much of the sentiment revolved around the idea that ‘if you can do it, so can I.’

“Members of the immigrant communities are rising up and saying I can achieve some of these things — giving back to the community and maybe even into the political realm of things,” said Findura, who is also president of the Regina Multicultural Council.

“You can see that more and more, whereas 20 years ago, 25 years ago it was a different climate around here.”

Findura won his seat as the Ward 5 representative council in 2009, and has held it ever since. With 10 council seats, council’s immigrant representation is 10 per cent not counting the mayor.

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