When 12-year-old Iqra Khalid emigrated to Canada with her family in 1998, little did she know that her journey would start at a butcher shop and take her to the Bar ...and maybe even Parliament.
Born in Pakistan, her parents moved the family to Canada by way of the United Kingdom. They invested in a small grocery/butcher shop and soon she got busy helping out at the cash till, after school. Al Ramzan Grocers soon morphed into a hub for all things Pakistani in the western corner of Mississauga, the sixth largest city in Canada which lies west of Toronto.
Not satisfied at being the cashier, Khalid had ambitions that extended far beyond the counter. She completed her undergraduate degree in Criminology and Professional Writing at York University in Toronto and set out to attain her Juris Doctor (JD) from the University of Michigan in the United States. She is currently employed as a lawyer for the City of Mississauga.
From the butcher shop to the bar, and now running for MP — Iqra Khalid is the new face of Canadian politics
Khalid has what is called a plum job; full-time, permanent, steady employment at the municipal level with generous benefits. These jobs are few and far between and it’s hard to imagine why a 29-year-old woman who is well on her way to a successful career would want to chuck it all for a vocation as precarious and perilous as politics.
She beat several contenders to win the nomination at the Liberal Party of Canada’s Mississauga-Erin Mills, a brand new constituency, part of which is held by the incumbent from the ruling Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).
The odds against her are huge, as Khalid is by all accounts a rookie candidate representing a political party which is not even the official opposition, but has been relegated to third party status.
I sat down with Khalid in the back of a SUV outside Al-Ramzan Grocers to talk about how her ethnicity will play out at the polls and why she is willing to give up her rather fat bird-in-hand job for an elusive one in the bush. (We had to conduct the interview under cover of darkness using my smart phone in the back of a vehicle as the area lost power in a freak late winter storm.)
“Less than two years ago when fresh boundaries were being drawn out to create an electoral constituency in Mississauga, my name came up in casual conversation to represent Mississauga-Erin Mills.” Second generation women of colour are grossly under-represented in Canada’s parliament and her peers thought Khalid would do well representing this constituency as a Liberal candidate.
While the city of Mississauga has the largest concentration of Pakistani families in Canada, with Punjabi or Urdu being the top non-official languages spoken after English, the political representation of Pakistanis at the federal level is quite dismal.
So despite not having any experience in politics, Khalid, with the blessings of her family, decided to take the plunge. Apart from the humanitarian work she’s done at the university level and as past president of the Pakistani Student Association (PSA) in Toronto, she has little political experience.
“I figured one has to start somewhere. You get out there and the more you listen and work toward fulfilling your obligation, the community will trust you,” she says.
As the pressure of recession is bearing down in Canada, social programs are being cut, especially in the areas of immigration and settlement. “My constituency has a majority of minorities and different communities live besides each other, but they don’t live with each other. We need to connect with our neighbours and I want to make that happen.” While still not ready to reveal her party platform, Khalid hints at “working to bring back social programs that benefit the middle class as the Liberal Party believes you need to spend money to make money.”
Even though the constituency she represents has a diverse and multicultural population mix, Khalid is aware that South Asian voters in general and Pakistanis in particular do not have a very good track record of electing their own. Might it be that her ethnicity may in fact work against her?
“Most voters are looking for quality candidates and not a person of a certain ethnicity and while new comers to Canada may have a negative view of politics in the light of their experiences in the home country and may bring their concerns and fears to Canada, I’m optimistic that the second generation of Pakistani-Canadian voters are educated in the electoral process to think otherwise.”
“As they get more familiar with the electoral process they might just feel more comfortable with it. It’s when they don’t see any substance behind the face, that is when they hesitate to take part and I think I have that substance and I hope they see it behind my face.”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 19th, 2015