I was raised in a large and loving family. Every weekend we went to temple. All our meals and celebrations were focused on the home. Half my extended family lives in Ontario, the other half in British Columbia. Cousins and aunts and uncles financed my campaign for Parliament. They organized meetings and made calls and delivered signs. They wanted to come to Ottawa to witness my swearing-in, so I rented a bus.
My parents were poor Sikh farmers from Punjab. They owned a single acre of land and could hope for nothing better. In the 1970s in India, the rich stayed rich and the poor stayed poor. As immigrants to Canada my parents found life a struggle; the immigration system was slow and bureaucratic, and it was difficult to land work permits.
Mother once worked at McDonald’s. At 30 my father worked as a dishwasher at a golf course. At 30 I have an Osgoode law degree, an MBA from York University and I’m a Member of Parliament. I’ve lived the Canadian dream.
My family chased that dream right across the country. I was born in Calgary; later we moved to the Toronto area, and my grandmother joined us to care for three children while my parents worked. We all lived in a single apartment on Martin Grove Road. Grandmother taught us traditional values. Dad worked days and nights driving a rented cab; I rarely saw my father for weeks at a time. My mother worked the afternoon shift at a Hudson’s Bay warehouse in Rexdale, so we saw her once a day – at breakfast time. We thought our parents were superheroes. They always had energy.
Money was a persistent worry. I don’t remember my parents taking a vacation. When you are poor, with a family, just struggling to join the middle class is an extraordinary challenge that demands sacrifice and risk-taking. I remember when Dad signed a bank loan to buy a taxi medallion so he could pick up fares on the Pearson International Airport route. A cab medallion cost six figures. He worked and saved, and we bought our first family bungalow near a mall called Shopper’s World.
As children we were expected to make a contribution. In high school I landed a part-time job hoisting boxes in a factory. Our parents taught us values of work and thrift that I’ll never forget.
I share my Brampton home with my parents. My sisters are married now with families of their own. My closest friends are high school classmates, all Sikhs with university degrees and successful lives. If anybody ever complains, Dad reminds us of how our family struggled to achieve our Canadian dream.
And the best part? There is nothing extraordinary about my family’s story. Believe me, it happens every day.
(Editor’s note: Mr. Grewal is a former securities lawyer, and newly-elected Liberal MP for Brampton East, Ont.)