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Sri Lanka:
Sri Lanka, Tamil Tigers conclude first direct talks in 3 years

Geneva: Representatives of the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have agreed to hold further talks after two days of meetings -- the first direct talks in three years -- near Geneva.

Ujjal Dosanjh is appointed Minister of Health; only Indian Canadian in Cabinet
By Ela Dutt

The newly apppointed Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, second from left. Also seen in the picture are, from left, his wife Raminder, the new Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, Gurbax Malhi, and his wife Devinder. (Photo: Courtesy, Gurbax Malhi)
Ujjal Dosanjh, former premier of British Columbia, Canada, believed he would have trouble finding the bathrooms in the country’s parliament building when he came to join the new Liberal Party-dominated government for the first time. But Prime Minister Paul Martin on July 20 gave him a much weightier load to carry, appointing him the Minister of Health, perhaps the top cabinet post in Canada currently. Dosanjh is the only Indian Canadian in the cabinet though many Indians have been elected from various parts of the country.

The Ministry of Health is under fire from a disenchanted public which is demanding the socialized system be raised to a higher standard.

Dosanjh, who spoke to News India-Times when he was elected on June 28 from Vancouver South riding (district) had conceded that the minority government of Prime Minister Martin would have a tough time, is in many ways an ideal choice since he was once a leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) but became a Liberal before the election. Martin needs the extra 20 parliamentary votes of the left-leaning NDP if he is to make his government function smoothly.

“Politics in times like this is not for the faint of heart,” Dosanjh had told News India-Times. The former labor union activist and attorney who braved significant opposition for positions he has taken in the past, including physical attacks from Sikh fundamentalists in B.C., is certainly not faint of heart.

Now he has a whole disillusioned country to deal with as far as health care is concerned.

“I think that this is going to be an interesting time for the country and for me. I have to go to Ottawa and try to find the washroom,” Dosanjh had said. “But for the country –– we have a minority government –– its going to be very challenging. We have to work harder to make sure that issues that Prime Minister Martin faces are resolved –– that includes health care, national child care scheme, a national pharma care program, and a home care program nationally. Those as well as our commitment in Kyoto –– the environment.”

Dosanjh was once the attorney general in British Columbia and has a reputation for strong progressive values. His appointment is important in other ways as well. Regionalism in Canadian politics has put Western provinces like British Columbia traditionally at odds with Ottawa, and Dosanjh could act as a bridge to the Central government.

“Right now, obviously there is a view in Canada that we need to privatize health care. I am strongly against that and we as a party are strongly against that,” Dosanjh told Canadian Broadcasting in a nationally televised interview on July 20. His success, he said, would be judged when the waiting time for citizens wanting health care is reduced and medication and treatment is available on time and anywhere. “But the federal government cannot do this on its own. It needs help from the provinces. You cannot be on a collision course with the provinces,” he emphasized.

A veteran in politics and public service for 30 years, Dosanjh worked as a mill worker and an assistant editor of a Punjabi newspaper prior to completing university. He also taught English as a second language to new Canadians at Vancouver Community College. Dosanjh served as an elected member of the British Columbia Legislature for almost 10 years and as a recognized community activist on social justice and equality issues for the rest.

Born in India in 1947, Dosanjh went to Britain at the age of 17, where he worked and learnt how to speak English. After immigrating to Canada in 1968, he worked as a mill worker and continued his education through evening classes. He graduated with a political science degree from Simon Fraser University, followed by a law degree from University of British Columbia in 1976 and was called to the British Columbia bar in 1977. In 1979, Dosanjh established his own law practice specializing in family and personal injury law.

In 1991, he left a very successful law practice to pursue politics and was elected as the member of the Legislative Assembly for Vancouver-Kensington. In 1995, he was appointed British Columbia’s Attorney General and in 2000 became the 33rd premier of British Columbia.

Following the 2001 British Columbia election, he returned to private life and his law practice. Dosanjh was encouraged to seek public office by Prime Minister Martin, who sought him out amid controversy that he (Martin) had bulldozed the normal nominating process to get his candidate into the running.



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