B.C. premier John Horgan made history this month when his government celebrated the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi at the provincial legislature for the first time.
Every year, across the world, the Sikh community celebrate Vaisakhi to mark the birth of Khalsa, a movement of Sikhs created at the end of the 17th century.
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth master of the Sikh faith, had created Khalsa during the harvest month in 1699 to fight back against injustice and repression. This revolutionary force of dedicated Sikhs had come forward to fight against the oppressive Mughal Empire and lift up Dalits — a caste of so-called untouchables — who were being discriminated against by orthodox Hindu priests. Guru Gobind Singh wanted to raise an army of Khalsa by bringing those marginalized under a brutal caste system into his embrace to establish a just society.
It goes to the credit of Horgan that his government not only opened the doors of the B.C. legislature to Vaisakhi festivities on April 10 but also proclaimed the month as Sikh Heritage Month last year. He even went to a gurdwara in Victoria to give a helping hand to the volunteers at the free community kitchen inside the temple.
Most notable was his correct pronunciation of the word “Sikhs” during his address at the legislature.
“He pronounced Sikh the way we do in Punjabi,” said CTV’s Bhinder Sajan on Twitter. The word sounds more like “sick,” not “seek.” “Maybe a minor detail but I enjoyed it,” noted Sajan, who is Sikh.
This shows that Horgan is trying to educate himself. Such humility is a rare quality among most political leaders, who often carry a paternalistic attitude toward the masses they serve.
Horgan’s attempt to reach out to minorities in an inclusive way is not limited to the influential Sikh community. He joined Muslims for Iftar last year, which becomes more important in an era of Islamophobia and increased hatred against Muslim community.
In March, when 50 worshippers were brutally murdered at two Christchurch mosques by a white supremacist, Horgan rightfully described the incident as a case of terrorism.
He has also started a process to restore the B.C. Human Rights Commission, which was dismantled by the previous Liberal government. This extreme step by the B.C. Liberals had made the province the only one without such a body.
In a time of growing populism and right-wing politics all over the world, especially with the emergence of Donald Trump across the border and the recent electoral victory of the United Conservative Party in Alberta, people like Horgan give us some hope.
That said, Horgan needs to do more to win the trust of Indigenous peoples, who continue to face structural racism. It’s that he hasn’t done anything at all, but his government’s unacceptable decision to give the green light to the controversial Site C dam will have a devastating effect on the traditional and sacred lands of Indigenous communities.
While Horgan deserves appreciation for standing out as a people’s premier for making the life of working people a little more affordable and giving back to residents in the form of more public health services, schools and other social spending, he certainly needs to keep in mind the needs of the most vulnerable sections of the society, including Indigenous peoples, immigrant, and LGBTQ+ communities.
The real progress of any society isn’t complete until and unless the weakest of all benefit from it and get its dues. Horgan’s statements and actions against racism are a necessary first step on the road to a fair and just world.
A version of this column was also published in the Georgia Straight.