- Thirty-two-year-old Akaash Maharaj is, at first glance, an unlikely
candidate for the President of the Liberal Party of Canada.
“I am, for a wide variety of reasons,
out of mould. Age and ethnicity, are two obvious ones, but also
the fact that I aim to make it an activist position,” says
Maharaj, Who has been the National Policy Chair of the Liberal Party
for four years.
At the heart of Liberalism is the belief that
liberty is the highest political good. The core value of Liberalism
is that liberty is essential for the promotion of human rights and
human welfare. That is the intellectual reason for the Liberal Party
being the party of his choice. On an emotional level, Maharaj says
he has always thought of himself as a child of Pierre Trudeau and
has thus been drawn to his policies and his party.
Maharaj chose to run for leadership of the party
rather than contest for provincial legislature or federal parliament
because he feels that in a democracy, it is vital that people of
conviction speak freely. That they neither seek a favour nor fear
the wrath of the powerful.
“In the voluntary side of the party, one
can have the absolute freedom to represent the interests of many
rather than those of a few. My ability to give a voice to the views
of ordinary Canadians is important.”
How does he plan to deal with carious special
interest groups and lobbies within the party?
Maharaj feels as National Policy Chair he has
been reasonably successful in dealing with people who have held
very strong views.
“The key is in recognizing that in a complex,
pluralistic society, views will conflict. One has to broker a resolution
on all important public policies, stand up for the right thing,
specially when it is unpopular. One must be willing to be judged
by history and not by the next election.”
How is he viewed within the party? As too young?
“The President of the Party is elected
by delegates from across the country at the National Convention
in February 2003. Because I’ve been National Policy Chair,
I’m well known nationally. My position and thinking are recognized.”
Maharaj describes himself as a practical idealist
and would rather lose as an idealist than win as a cynic.
“Both those who support me and those who
may have misgivings about me can see I’m an idealist. My supporters
see the higher qualities I seek to bring to the position. My critics
say politics is no place for an idealist! I disagree. One has to
hold on to one’s ideals even when being stripped of illusions.
“I hope there is a positive response to
someone who wishes to change politics rather than be changed by
In an interview with Desi News in 1999, Maharaj
had stated that though he was born in Toronto, He traveled a path
well trodden by immigrants when he went to study at Oxford.
Would he say he identifies more with immigrants
because of the experience? Does he see himself as someone representing
the immigrant community?
“My objective is to represent all Canadians.
But certainly, both my experience in England and as a first-generation
Canadian have shaped my perspective.”
What impact does he think he would have on the
ongoing changes to immigration laws?”
“The same as on a full range of public
Maharaj wants to see decisions reflecting the
needs of the people and not of Ottawa. “The Liberal belief
is that government should not be by a group of elite but by the
Maharaj had told Desi News in 1999 that his
main domestic policy would be eradication of child poverty.
As the National Policy Chair, he has been working
on that front for the past four years and is proud of the fact that
the stated centerpiece of the last speech of the throne was eradication
of child poverty. However, he admits enough progress has not been
“In 1999, one in five children lived in
poverty. We’ve halted that figure. But there is no reason
we should not have been more successful.”
He sees the resistance of child poverty to eradication
measures as a rebuke and attributes it to a failure to eradicate
family and parental poverty.
“There are the age-old political issues
of the relationship between the federal and provincial governments.
We have to institute more results – driven programmes. There
has to be more mutual accountability. Not so much a case of ‘Where
did you spend the funds?’ but ‘Did you achieve the results?’”
If elected President of the Liberal Party, what
would be Maharaj’s single-most important task?
“To transform the Liberal Party into a
more robust organization. To make it the first port of call for
all Canadians who want to make a difference. To involve Canadians
in the political process not only at elections but also between
elections. To make the Liberal Party the most effective national
organization in rallying together ordinary people of conscience
to advance the public good.”
What’s his position on the whole Chrétien-Martin
“I think the breakdown of the relationship
between the two is a huge loss to the nation. They made a fabulous
team precisely because they had such contrasting styles. Regrettably,
it doesn’t look like there will be a reconciliation and one
side will prevail. The party will decide which one and as Party
President, it will be my role to enforce the will of the Party.
At this point, I can’t prejudice the result by coming out
for one side or the other.”
Maharaj is also President and CEO of Concordis,
a Canadian not-for-profit group that works on international peace
and conflict resolution.
Their main areas of focus are the Arab-Israeli conflict, Kashmir
and Sri Lanka.
“Right now, we are busy with the Arab-Israeli
conflict. We try to bring together Arab Canadians and Jewish Canadians
to foster mutual understanding. These people have direct insight
as they are from the regions. They also, as Canadians, have the
benefit of a different perspective. We work with that to promote
a better understanding,” he says.
Maharaj grew up with his grandparents in Toronto.
“They taught me more by example than by
rote. One of the main things I got from them was the belief that
each of us is nothing if not living memorial to all the men and
women who have come before us. We have to justify their struggle.”
What does being Canadian mean to Maharaj?
“The Canadian identity is perhaps the
most debated. No nation has more angst over its identity than we
do. I see that as a good thing. We should be proud of what we have
achieved. Being Canadian means having the freedom to be who I am.
I can be Canadian and who I am at the same time. I don’t have
to conform to anyone else’s vision of a Canadian.
“Canada was created not by accidents
of history or the determinism of geography but by ordinary people
with extraordinary vision united by the single article of faith
that we could be stronger together not in spite of our differences,
but precisely because of them.”