Raj Chouhan becomes first Indo-Canadian Speaker of the B.C. Legislature
Longtime MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds served as deputy Speaker in the previous legislative assembly
Raj Chouhan, five-time MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds, has been chosen Speaker of the B.C. Legislature, becoming the first Indo-Canadian to serve in the position in Canada.
"I am truly grateful to have been entrusted with this role by all members of the legislative assembly," Chouhan said.
"As a proud member of the Indo-Canadian community, I am tremendously proud of this historic occasion and honoured to continue my public service in this new role."
Chouhan was first elected in 2005 and served as deputy Speaker in the previous legislature.
He immigrated to Canada from the Punjab in 1973 and started working on a farm.
According to his MLA biography, "Raj was greatly impacted by the plight of other immigrant workers and the wide disparity between the rich and poor in a prosperous country. This contributed to his ongoing advocacy for community and social justice for workers."
Former NDP cabinet minister Moe Sihota called Chouhan's selection "a historic day for British Columbia."
"We are in awe of Raj's accomplishment and what it says about ethnic communities in general, and the degree with which we are beginning to take our place in society," Sihota said on CBC Radio's The Early Edition.
Chouhan is founding president of the Canadian Farmworkers' Union and served as the director of bargaining for the Hospital Employees' Union for 18 years.
He replaces a retiring Darryl Plecas as Speaker.
Chouhan's selection was the first order of business Monday as British Columbia politicians returned to the legislature for a brief session after the October election that gave the New Democrats a majority government.
Premier John Horgan says they'll use the session to make good on an election promise to provide one-time, tax-free payments of $1,000 to eligible families and $500 to individuals to help people get through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Horgan says he expects the session, which will start with a throne speech, will last about two weeks.
The premier says the pandemic recovery payments will stimulate spending and help the B.C. economy.
Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond says her Opposition members will push the New Democrats to address troubles beyond the pandemic recovery fund, especially on the issue of the province's finances.
Horgan's New Democrats won 57 of the 87 seats in the legislature, while the Liberals lost more than a dozen seats, prompting Andrew Wilkinson to resign as leader.
With files from Canadian Press