New Canadian Media

As multicultural as his constituents: MP Joe Daniel

Written for  New Canadian Media Sunday, 14 October 2012 19:43
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Joe Daniel, the MP representing Don Valley East outside Toronto, has a remarkable personal narrative. With a name like Joe Daniel, there are few who would connect him with South Asian origins. But that is where he comes from. But it’s more complicated than that. The accurate way to describe his heritage might be: A Tanzania-born South Asian, with a clipped English accent and a British passport. Mr. Daniel landed in Canada as a permanent resident in the early ’90s.

But his immigrant journey began a long way back when his parents decided to leave the comforts of their home state Kerala (India) to look for work in the British colony of Tanzania. Born in Dar-es-Salaam, which being a British colony at the time gave him his British citizenship, his father was a stickler for education and insisted that all six of his children make the best use of access to institutions.

So at age 10, Joe Daniel was sent to Lushington, a missionary run school in Ooty, India, where he learned to speak ‘Propah’ English. He completed his ‘A’ levels in England, and later a degree in electronics engineering, “winging” his way through books given that he was more interested in sports.

He worked for Westland Helicopters where his job was in development engineering. He did extremely well in his job and was promoted to principal engineer in two and half years. Mr. Daniel attributes this to the fact that he is a very creative and practical person. Any project that was assigned to him was completed in time and under budget. While he was busy with his career in England, his parents decided to migrate to Canada. They moved to Windsor, Ontario in the 70s.

The would-be MP could not move with them since he was over the age when he could accompany them as a dependant. However, he was a frequent visitor to Canada because of his job with Westland Helicopters. He was involved in the contract to sell the helicopters to Canada in 1987, during the Mulroney government. His travels all over Canada prompted him to apply for Permanent Residency in the 90s.

When he arrived here the Canadian economy was going through a depressive period, and he found it difficult to get work in his field. He started a desktop publishing business, but getting consulting work was hard. He was eventually recruited for Celestica, an IBM manufacturing plant in Toronto.

Mr. Daniel always had a yearning for politics, but his mother was scandalized when he told her about his plans, predicting that he would not win since there was no politician in the family. Even as a student in England, he was involved in politics, often the sole Tory in a sea of Labour-supporting students. In 2005, his friends in Canada told him to run for office or to stop mouthing his strong opinions. He had joined the Conservative party in 2003, because he found their values similar to his and ran for nomination in 2005, but did not win.

Instead, he became campaign manager for Eugene McDermott who lost to Yasmin Ratansi in the 2006 federal elections. There is no better teacher than personal experience, the newly-minted MP says, recalling that he was a lousy campaign manager since he had no idea what he was doing. But that experience taught him how not to run a campaign and what needed to be done in order to win an election.

The MP whose complicated heritage comes from three continents attributes his success as a first generation immigrant to several reasons. One of those is his ability to speak English the way he does. He points out that to succeed as an immigrant in Canada, it is key to “learn to speak English well.” Growing up in India, Africa and England, and living in different cities throughout Canada, has helped his political career.

He makes friends everywhere he goes. Mr. Daniel also points out that persistence is key to immigrant success. The riding of Don Valley East has over 65 per cent first-generation immigrants. He helps several immigrants with their résumes, and the advice that he gives them is to always do it the “Canadian way.” Understanding what Canada is all about is integral to immigrant success. Another piece of advice he regularly gives to immigrants is to volunteer their time. This would give them the experience of working in Canada and there are several charities that could use immigrant skills.

As a first generation immigrant, Mr. Daniel also understands the struggles that immigrants go through to get their credentials recognized. He is a member of the Standing Committee of Human Resources and Skills Development and is working on a way to get foreign credentials of new immigrants recognized faster in Canada. He is actively involved with several charities including those that help with breakfast programs at schools, and another enterprise called Human Endeavour which helps immigrants to find work, especially those with language problems, to seek alternate ways of employment like making and selling arts and crafts. He is co-chair of the Canada-Korea Friendship Society.

New Canadian Media asked the MP, what is the federal government doing to integrate immigrants into the Canadian mainstream? Joe Daniel believes that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is taking the right steps. Mr. Daniel himself is working on the credentials issue which he believes will help new immigrants. The government is partnering with Canadian universities to offer distance education which will enable potential immigrants to gain Canadian degrees while they are still living in their home countries. This will ensure that they do not face hurdles in getting their degrees recognized once they arrive in Canada.

Mr. Daniel was the first Canadian MP to visit Sri Lanka in recent times. He was surprised at the rebuilding work, construction and rehabilitation work that is going on in the country. He points out that he met a lot of Tamil women who were managing some of these programs, convincing him that work is not completely dominated by the Sinhalese community. The tourism industry is also booming there.

MP Daniel wants to be a voice to help Sri Lanka, adding that the relatively rich community in Canada could help the island nation. His riding has a small Tamil community. The majority of immigrants in Don Valley East are from the Chinese, Armenian and Egyptian communities. His riding is just as diverse as his own background.

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