The bad news, after the first round of voting this weekend: The horse-trading is gaining speed — and looks dispiriting. Second-tier candidates are now poised to play kingmaker — or more precisely, queenmaker at Queen’s Park by seeking the quid pro quo of an influential cabinet post.
And here’s the biggest news from the weekend voting: Harinder Takhar, arguably the least-qualified candidate, emerged with strong backing that places him squarely in the second tier of candidates, just behind the two front-runners.
Takhar is the veteran politician who was demoted to a junior cabinet post in 2006 for violating the Members’ Integrity Act (flouting conflict of interest rules over a blind trust for his personal assets). That blemish will block him from becoming premier, but his real goal is a cabinet promotion thanks to his strong showing.
The story begins with a column I wrote late last year criticizing Takhar’s ethical lapses and ethnic tactics: He ignored the campaign requirement to quit cabinet until the last possible minute; and his almost exclusive reliance on South Asian support makes a mockery of multiculturalism (ghettoizing himself rather than broadening his base with multi-ethnic outreach).
In the aftermath, someone purporting to be me — who knows why — apparently called the candidate, raising suspicions by questioning Takhar’s tactics and support. When campaign manager Omar Khan got in touch the next day, I confirmed the call hadn’t come from me.
Curiously, the campaign next called in the police, filing a complaint of criminal impersonation. This weekend, two police officers from Peel’s Criminal Investigation Bureau came by to ask me for a statement verifying that I knew nothing about the call.
I confess it was a painful experience — not talking to the police, who were professional and polite, but watching the waste of police resources on a victimless crime that amounts to a campaign prank. But the impersonation allegation got me thinking about Takhar’s tactics, and then it hit me: Takhar is the impersonator — a politician who isn’t the person he purports to be.
At every opportunity in the campaign, this privately wealthy candidate has cast himself as a self-made man who arrived in Canada nearly four decades ago. Onstage in every debate, and in a steady stream of tweets, he repeats the line that he was the $ 7 man when he landed — conjuring up images of Frank Stronach or a Horatio Alger story.
“I came here with $ 7 from India, but my education is what made me successful,” he boasted in a typical tweet.
“How do you get people out of poverty? I came to this country in 1974 with less than $ 10 in my pocket. By any definition it will be, I will be in the poverty range, or maybe below poverty range,” he told host Steve Paikin with a straight face.
That compelling narrative comes as a surprise to his uncle, Dalbir Takhar, who telephoned me with his own version of events. The elder Takhar owned a comfortable, detached home on Hallam St. in Toronto in the early 1970s when he proudly sponsored young Harinder, his brother’s son, a new immigrant to Canada armed with two university degrees.
“He was not living in poverty, he was living with me,” insisted Dalbir Takhar, who worked as a highly-trained machinist with a good union wage at the Douglas Aircraft plant back then. “In our culture, we support each other.”
Harinder Takhar acknowledged in a telephone interview Monday — after we established that I was not impersonating myself — that his uncle Dalbir did, in fact sponsor him and provide comfortable shelter upon his arrival.
A few moments later, a man introducing himself as “Satwinder Gosal, counsel for the Harinder Takhar campaign,” telephoned to caution me about writing a column using any information from the uncle, because of previous litigation. I noted his candidate had just confirmed the information in question.
What does this all add up to?
They just deserve a better candidate.
In a leadership campaign that is all about renewal, Takhar is the man who would be premier. After Jan. 26, he doesn’t deserve to be in cabinet.