Montreal: From Bangladesh to Tory candidate

The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec)
June 23, 2004 Wednesday Final Edition

>From Bangladesh to Tory candidate: ‘They’re very pleased that one of
their Muslim brothers is running to be an MP’


Mustaque Sarker ran as an independent in the last federal election,
and lost.

Now he’s running for the Conservatives and thinks he can win.

One reason: the ethnic vote, and specifically, the Muslim vote.

“They’re very pleased that one of their Muslim brothers is running to
be an MP,” said Sarker, an accountant from Bangladesh.

“I have had lots of calls supporting me,” he said as he set up his
Papineau riding headquarters this month.

But he’s only willing to play the Muslim card so far.

“I am a Muslim, yes, but I am first a loving, caring human being. And
in this riding, I must represent all ethnic communities.”

The ecumenical approach is the standard line among the federal
political parties these days.

“We don’t ghettoize anybody – every vote counts,” said Marie-Claude
Lavigne, spokesperson for the federal Liberals in Quebec, who have
traditionally counted on immigrants’ votes.

But the Liberals are in a tight race, and immigrant votes are not
necessarily a sure thing.

The Bloc Quebecois, for example, is trying to eat away at Liberal
support by going after mostly north African, francophone Arab voters
who are sympathetic to Quebec nationalism, oppose the war on Iraq and
complain of discriminatory hiring practices, said Francois Rebello,
33, a Bloc candidate in Outremont.

His generation has been more exposed to Muslims and Arabs than other
Quebecers and can better understand their differences, said Rebello,
whose father is a Christian from India and whose mother is

“It’s easier to break through into their milieus and segment them out
– Moroccans, Algerian Arabs, Algerian Berbers,” he said.

Sarker’s north-end riding, Papineau, is home to more than a dozen
ethnic communities. It also has the seventh-highest concentration of
Muslims in Canada – 9,630, or 9.3 per cent of the riding’s total

The riding is now held by federal health minister Pierre Pettigrew, a
Liberal who got an “F” on a pre-election “report card” issued in
April by the Canadian Islamic Congress.

Sarker came to Canada 22 years ago. He lives in Cote St. Luc and runs
his business in Park Extension. On one typical campaign day this
month, he stumped to fellow Muslims at the Islamic Turkish Community
Centre on Villeray St. in the afternoon, then moved on to a Hindu
centre in Mile End for an evening speech.

Local Turks back him because of what he isn’t: an MP who voted for a
resolution in April in the House of Commons that denounced the
Ottoman Empire for committing genocide against Armenians in 1915.

That resolution – backed by Liberal backbenchers, some Tories, and
the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois – angered many in Canada’s Turkish
communities who deny the genocide.

In Montreal, local Turkish leader Yilmaz Ekinci said in this election
his community has been told to vote Conservative. It helps that
Sarker is already a known quantity, too – he’s Ekinci’s accountant.

“I don’t care what he is, Muslim or not Muslim,” said Ekinci, who
runs a wholesale meat business.

“He just has to be a good guy. We like people to be honest.”