News East-West Desk
OTTAWA: The national celebration of Diwali is a symbol of Canada’s embrace of pluralism and diversity, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the 12th annual Diwali festivities, organized by Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the national capital on Thursday.
After lighting the traditional lamp at a glittering ceremony at the Government Conference Centre, across from Parliament Hill, the prime minister congratulated the Indo-Canadian community and more than 600 people, including cabinet ministers, MPs, Senators, diplomats and others, for coming together for the celebrations of the Festival of Lights.
Diwali is a reminder that “Canada’s embrace of pluralism, is not just an act of faith, but it is a product of experience. It further reminds us that Canada welcomes immigrants from everywhere on earth and provides to all a chance to get ahead, to make better lives for our families, and to contribute to our communities and our country,” the prime minister said.
He said, “The success of Canada’s Indo-Canadian community is a testament to this fact. It is almost a million strong, you are leading Canadian doctors and lawyers, professors and teachers, public office holders, successful business men and women, and hard-working employees. All across Canada, you have prospered.’’
Harper said Indo-Canadians “have brought and continue to honour the tradition of charitable giving that is such an important part of Diwali.’’
Giving the example of the generosity of the Indo-Canadian community towards the Trillium Health Centre Foundation in Mississauga, the prime minister said, “I’d just like to briefly recognize and talk about one particularly fine example of this that’s happening in Mississauga and the surrounding area. There, ten years ago, the South Asian community there approached the Trillium Health Centre Foundation with a partnership idea.
“Could the foundation and the community jointly host a Diwali fundraiser to benefit local hospitals? Well, the thought became the father of the deed. In that first year, six hundred people attended and raised more than one hundred-thousand dollars.’’
The prime minister added, “Since that first event, Trillium Diwali has raised almost five million dollars for critical projects at sites such as the Credit Valley Hospital and the Trillium Health Centre. This year’s gala was held in Brampton two weeks ago. More than eleven hundred guests attended this year, all responding to the theme: Eat, Play, Give.
“If I could just quote what President Hoscheit, who is the President and CEO of the Trillium Health Centre Foundation said about his feelings about this event, he said: `That generosity is a true testament to what the celebration of Diwali is all about. There is no greater gift than the gift of health. We could not be more grateful to our Trillium Diwali supporters for all they have done in support of health care excellence in our community’.’’
The culture of sharing, symbolized by Diwali, is a very welcome Indian addition to the Canadian calendar, the prime minister said.
“For that, I’d like to congratulate all of you. You are spreading goodwill between the cultures. In fact, half the people who attended the gala I talked about this year were not Indo-Canadians. The recognition of Diwali here is also part of building the bonds of contact and friendship between us and that great nation, India.’’
Referring to his upcoming visit to India, Harper said, “In just a few days, I will be visiting India, as has been mentioned, for important talks with one of Canada’s good friends and partners, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Our countries relations have been developing and deepening rapidly in recent years.”
The prime minister said Canada-India relations are “based on a solid foundation of things such as language, a federal system of government, a commitment to democracy and pluralism, and the shared cultural experiences like the event we are sharing this evening. There is, however, a lot of room for the relationship to grow, especially in areas of trade and investment.
“Friends and partners we are indeed, Canada and India, but friends we should also be doing more together. So, I look forward to another productive visit to India.’’
Lauding Deepak Obhrai for organizing the annual Diwali celebrations at parliament, the prime minister said, “Over the years, nobody has worked harder than Deepak to bring together Parliamentarians and Indo-Canadian leaders to mark the age-old celebration of Diwali, right here in the nation’s capital. So, we all thank and we congratulate Deepak for making this a great new Canadian tradition.
“And it’s getting bigger and bigger every year, we’re going to have to get bigger venues, now when they get that new football stadium finished, Deepak, we’ll have to have it there some year.’’
Addressing the gathering, Deepak Obhrai said: “We have come a long way since I inaugurated this event back in 1998. As I stand here for the 12th year and look around this large auditorium with an overflowing crowd, I can be happy that we have achieved what we set out to do.’’
He said, “Today, Diwali is truly a national Canadian celebration. People have travelled from all across the country to be a part of this national celebration. We had a guest list of over 800 people registered to attend the event. I had to request our community organizations to prune their lists, because this hall cannot accommodate all the people.”
Thanking the Prime Minister for attending the event six times since he took over in 2006, Obhrai said, “His support has kept this dream alive. The credit goes to the Prime Minister for making this the National Diwali Celebration.”
More than 26 Hindu temples and community organizations sent representatives to the event, according to Obhrai.