OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau’s Liberals plan to unveil a “star” candidate in Vancouver South, a man who could be described as a war hero, who was portrayed as a role model in Ottawa’s latest Welcome to Canada booklet for immigrants, and who is first Sikh to command a Canadian Army regiment. But Lt.-Col. Harjit Singh […]

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau’s Liberals plan to unveil a “star” candidate in Vancouver South, a man who could be described as a war hero, who was portrayed as a role model in Ottawa’s latest Welcome to Canada booklet for immigrants, and who is first Sikh to command a Canadian Army regiment.

But Lt.-Col. Harjit Singh Sajjan’s expected candidacy in the federal riding, a former Liberal stronghold won by Conservative Wei Young in 2011, won’t necessarily be smooth sailing.

Sajjan, named in 2011 as commander of the reserve B.C. Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own), was showcased at the recent Liberal convention in Montreal.

The military has strict rules against overt political activities that raise questions about the military’s impartiality, though reservists like Sajjan have far more latitude than soldiers in the regular force.

If Sajjan seeks to become a candidate in the scheduled 2015 election, he will need permission from his superiors, according to the National Defence Department.

The former Vancouver police officer, decorated after serving once in Bosnia and three times in Afghanistan, could be in for a difficult fight for the nomination.

The other expected candidate is Barjinder Singh Dhahan, a successful businessman, philanthropist and past-chairman of the Canada-India Foundation.

Both men appear in photographs on Gov.-Gen. David Johnston’s website — Sajjan while receiving a Meritorious Service Medal last year for his “critical” intelligence-gathering efforts against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Dhahan after joining Johnston on a state visit to India earlier this year.

The nomination could also shape up as a battle between the two major camps in the South Asian community.

Sajjan is supported by leading members of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, like former WSO president and veteran Liberal power-broker Prem Vinning.

The WSO consists of fundamentalist Sikhs and is a harsh critic of the Indian government. It was created after Indian troops launched a deadly assault against Sikh separatists at the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984.

And Sajjan’s father, Kundan S. Sajjan, is a former WSO executive who was the leader of the losing side in a 1998 battle between Sikh fundamentalists and moderates over whether to allow tables and chairs at the Ross Street Temple.

However, his son’s political backers say Harjit Sajjan has never been involved in temple politics.

Dhahan, who doesn’t wear a turban, is former chairman of the Canada India Foundation, which was set up to foster stronger Canada-India relations. He also helped finance the Canada-India Centre for Excellence at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Dhahan, head of the Sandhurst Group that operates a number of Esso and Tim Hortons franchises in B.C., has along with his father established a hospital, a public school, and a nurse training program in India.

There has been speculation that Sajjan is a Trudeau favourite after he was chosen to introduce an even higher-profile Liberal recruit, retired Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, at the Montreal convention in February.

That raised questions about whether the Liberals will take steps to ensure Sajjan, if he becomes a candidate, gets the nomination.

The Liberals have in the past used its so-called Green Light Committee to bar candidates who stood in the way of the leader’s attempt to recruit stars or bring in more female candidates.

Because of this, as well as the eyebrow-raising after Sajjan appeared at the Liberal convention (he wore civilian clothes), neither man was made available for an interview.

Neither has registered with the party as candidates, but Dhahan said by email that he will seek the nomination.

And the Vancouver South riding president confirmed that both men are expected to be candidates.

“I’m very happy with both of them, they have excellent resumés who would make I think a lot of Liberals proud and would make their constituents very proud to represent them in Ottawa,” said Stewart McGillivray.

He said he hopes for an open race.

“Having a contested nomination brings more attention and excitement to the process,” McGillivray said of the riding, which was Liberal red 1962 to 1972 and then from 1993 to 2011.

Former federal Liberal minister and ex-B.C. New Democrat premier Ujjal Dosanjh won the seat over Young by just 20 votes in 2008, but lost to her by just under 4,000 in the last election when the Liberal vote plunged across Canada.

If demographics is a factor in the next vote, however, the advantage would go to Young.

Statistics Canada’s data says there were 121,380 residents in the riding in 2011, with 70,670 identified as immigrants.

Among visible minorities, Chinese were by far the highest total at 51,245. The South Asian community total, including immigrants from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, totalled just 18,800. Broken down by religion, 12,085 were identified as Sikh.

Liberals who want Sajjan as the candidate are counting on his credentials as a Canadian patriot. While a member of the Vancouver Police he joined the B.C. Regiment in 1989, and in his first Afghanistan deployment in 2006 he played a key role in intelligence-gathering in advance of a 5,000-troop NATO offensive against the Taliban.

In a written evaluation Maj.-Gen. David Fraser said Sajjan, who used his both his police and language skills (Punjabi is similar to Urdu), was “nothing short of brilliant.”

Sajjan, who told The Vancouver Sun’s Daphne Bramham in 2011 that he experienced dozens of “close calls” during combat operations, was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal last year.

The citation read, in part, that his knowledge of local culture and tribal dynamics, and his willingness at “every opportunity” to enter danger zones, “provided critical situational awareness and reduced the Taliban’s influence in Kandahar province.”

Sajjan, if he formally enters the race, would likely have to leave his post as B.C. Regiment commander, or face severe restrictions.

Rules limit the ability of reservists to use their military experience as a “promotional factor” in their candidacy, defence department spokesman Daniel Blouin said in a written statement Wednesday.

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