Bill Sundhu remembers how his mother washed floors and took in laundry after his father suffered a serious brain injury, at a time when there was no disability plan.
Everything about Sundhu’s life experience and that of his family informs his drive and passion to be a candidate for a second time for the NDP, in the federal riding of Kamloops — Thompson — Cariboo.
“I used to bring in the firewood when I was 10 years old after school, and feed my Dad, and put my four year old sister to bed, and do my homework.” He recalls the racism he experienced growing up, but also remembers dreaming of becoming a lawyer and later a judge because of supportive teachers and a good public education system.
“Everyday of my lived experience made me a better and wiser person,” he said in an interview.
Today, Sundhu knows issues of racism and lack of access to public services are being felt more acutely than ever — even moreso than when he first ran in 2015:
“Our democracies are being challenged by forces of hate and fear and division. We see extreme inequality. We see climate emergency, child poverty, we see more and more people being left behind and more wealth in the hands of the few. The decisions we make this year will affect us for decades. That’s why I felt it important to step forward and run and fight for a vision that’s based on social justice and human rights.”
Campaigning in 2021 isn’t without its challenges.
Like other candidates, Sundhu finds many people aren’t focused on a federal election right now — though he hopes that will change after Labour Day.
“It’s been a summer of wildfires, closed highways, and travel alerts in the B.C. interior. That makes going door to door more challenging.” In Kamloops — Thompson — Cariboo, it’s a close race, in an open seat previously held by the Conservatives.
“Here, it’s neck and neck with the Conservatives and we think we can win this riding,” Sundhu said.
“We are hearing from people that after twenty years of the alliance [with] the Conservatives…are questioning who they have been working for.”
Sundhu — motivated by his deep sense of social justice and human rights — is counting on his deep roots in the community and the riding’s hunger for a new direction to help make him part of the New Democrat team headed to Ottawa.
When he’s not running in the federal election, Sundhu spends one week every month at Haida Gwaii to represent and defend his clients, most of whom are of that nation.
“I fight in the trenches every day,” he said, advocating for justice and restorative justice.
Early in the campaign, he visited the unmarked grave sites of children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.
“We spoke with the chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation twice, and paid our respects. He knows the historic injustices and the reality of unmarked graves. Sundhu continues to listen and learn the “fundamental imperative of being truthful” for reconciliation. “We embrace the responsibility to return the spirit of every child to their home.”
He’s fully engaged and excited about his campaign, despite noting that a swath of his campaign signs were knocked down in what appeared to be a targeted incident. He’s not fazed, however,and sees it as a sign that his campaign is a threat to his competitors.
Sundhu’s broad legal experience, including with the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and the Canadian Bar Association, have only reinforced his on-the-ground approach. As a lawyer, he experienced the Harper years in Ottawa and helped oppose harmful legislation. These days, he wants to use his legal experience globally and locally to make things better for people.
“I see the global structure and I see the local too. I see what people are facing: lack of housing, lack of medicine, clean drinking water, poverty, and cultural genocide. These issues are national and manifested locally.”
Sundhu said he sees the interconnectedness of issues and embraces the complexity of Canada — he’s trilingual in English, Punjabi, and French.
“We are citizens of the world and Canada needs to play a more constructive role for justice in the world because we have really shirked on our responsibilities internationally. We have not met a single target on meeting our greenhouse gas emissions.”
Most of all, Sundhu wants to take on the challenges — whether global or national — and make it count for his community, the people he hopes to represent, and his family.
“My parents could not have imagined that a son or daughter of theirs could stand for Parliament. They thought it a unique gift that someone could go to school and finish grade 12,” he said. He sees it as a responsibility to be worthy of the trust voters and his community have placed in him.
He wants the people of his riding to know they should expect more from their Member of Parliament.
“When I see a senior struggling with their medication, when I see someone trying to make ends meet, or an Indigenous person telling me their struggle of residential school, to engage people and hear their hopes, their fears, their dreams, their struggles — that’s a privilege but it’s also a responsibility, and it motivates me every day to feel closer to people.”
Libby Davies was a member of Parliament for 18 years (1997-2015) and became House Leader for the federal NDP party (2003-2011) and Deputy Leader (2007-2015). In 2016 Davies received the Order of Canada and in 2019 published Outside In: A Political Memoir.
Image credit: Bill Sundhu/provided