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Deepak Obhrai, the peacock of South Asian MPs

Deepak Obhrai had a moment of smug satisfaction this week. Poring over the election results, he noticed that he is now the ranking South Asian MP in the House of Commons.

"I am the elder statesman," he says with delight.

The other more senior South Asians were thrown out by the Canadian electorate. And so Mr. Obhrai, 60, wrote an email to his supporters - and to The Calgary Herald - to mark this occasion. He even suggested a few new monikers for himself.

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"Tuesday, I was sworn in to the 41st Parliament of Canada," he wrote. "This now makes me the most senior South Asian and African member of Parliament. In my birth country, Tanzania, I would henceforth be referred to by the respectful title of Mzee. In South Asia, I would receive the title of Pradhaan. This means I have now reached of the ranks of respected elders. I still look young!"

The member for Calgary-East was born in Tanzania and is Hindu. First elected as a Reform Party MP in 1997, Mr. Obhrai has served as the parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister. He's known in Ottawa for being a bit of a character.

In an interview with The Globe, Mr. Obhrai said he wanted people to know that "this is an achievement."

"It's not something I expected," he said. "It just happened I looked around and said, 'Guess what, I'm the old guy. Everyone else is gone. Everybody else went away.'"

By his count, there are nine South Asian and African MPs in the House now - just one fewer than in the previous Parliament. The Liberals lost all of their South Asian MPs, he said. The NDP, meanwhile, gained three.

"You never saw that with the NDP. You see that with the fluctuation that has taken place," he said.

He added that of the nine MPs he has identified - six in the Tory caucus and three in the NDP - eight are Punjabi and one is Tamil.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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