Public Eye has learned the provincial Liberal's lead Indo-Canadian organizer in Surrey-Panorama Ridge Sukh Dhaliwal left the country yesterday, just six days before voters in that riding go to the polls. An insider told us the departure took by-election campaign manager Chris Gardner by surprise. But, in an interview earlier today, Mr. Gardner said he has known Mr. Dhaliwal would be going on vacation for the past three or four weeks.
He explained Mr. Dhaliwal, who ran as the federal Liberal candidate in Newton North Delta during the last election, has been "campaigning for a year. He started putting together his nomination bid in August of last year. He signed up 9,000 members himself. He won the nomination in February. Then he was effectively in the pre-writ period. And the federal election was in June. So the burnout factor (for him) was very high" - which is why he went on vacation.
Mr. Gardner added Mr. Dhaliwal's departure wouldn't impact the campaign, since his six lieutenants are still on the job. When asked where Mr. Dhaliwal had jetted off to, Mr. Gardner said "I know there was some talk of him going to India or China - doing both trips. I don't know what the final outcome of that was."
Mr. Dhaliwal, a professional engineer who runs Dhaliwal and Associates Land Surveying Inc., is an active member of the Surrey Chamber of Commerce and has a close relationship with city manager Umendra Mital. Mr. Dhaliwal seconded Liberal by-election candidate Mary Polak's nomination. Her campaign is currently operating out of Mr. Dhaliwal's office, in a building he partially owns.
Mr. Dhaliwal first made headlines in September 1999 when Vancouver Sun staffer Harold Munro reported he signed up 2,600 new Surrey Electors Team members, effectively seizing control of the right-wing civic party's nomination process. His takeover prompted team member and Surrey city councillor Edmund Caissie to announce he wouldn't be running again.
One month later, Mr. Dhaliwal's own political career took a tumble. His bid to become a Surrey city councillor failed after his support in the Indo-Canadian community collapsed. Mr. Munro cited sources who said, "some moderate Sikhs soured on Dhaliwal for perceived ties to fundamentalist Sikhs." Province staffer Jason Proctor also reported Mr. Dhaliwal's candidacy was hurt by an aggressive smear campaign.
At the time, Surrey Electors Team campaign manager and now Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said such campaigns were "par for the course in a divided community that takes its politics very seriously."