It’s been more than half-a-year since Gagan Sikand last opened his laptop to take part in Canada’s virtual legislature. The Mississauga–Streetsville MP has been on an approved long-term medical absence from Parliament since October 30, but questions about how his departure is being handled have been met with silence.
In February, The Pointer first reported Sikand’s medical leave of absence.
The move has been approved by the Liberal Party’s Chief Whip and bureaucratic staff are still being employed to handle the day-to-day management of the MP’s office. That’s the only information his staff or party will reveal and the lack of explanation has begun to frustrate the very residents who voted Sikand into office in the first place.
His absence, without a return date, means just over 118,000 Mississaugans are without direct representation in Ottawa, reliant on bureaucrats to respond to their needs. None of their concerns or positions on issues are currently being represented in the House of Commons or within the Liberal caucus.
Sikand has not spoken or voted in Parliament since October 29, according to records maintained by the government and Open Parliament, an independent, non-governmental website that tracks votes, speeches and committees in Parliament. Sikand’s online presence has been slightly more active, with the MP using Twitter to share messages with residents until the beginning of 2021.
On January 21, the MP congratulated U.S. President Joe Biden on his inauguration, his last tweet to date. Since January, Sikand has not been active on his public accounts at all.
Unable to get the answers they need from his office, two separate constituents reached out to The Pointer for help. They did not want their names used.
One resident has struggled to claim back-payments for the Canadian Recovery Benefit (CRB), an employment benefit for workers impacted by COVID-19. The issue goes beyond the currently legislated rules and, as a result, the Streetsville resident needs to speak to Sikand to lobby his party to amend the rules.
Another local resident voted for Sikand in 2019 based on the Liberal’s promise to increase pensions to widowed seniors by 25 percent. The promise is yet to be fulfilled and the resident said Sikand needs to be held accountable by his constituents. Both residents were unable to get answers from Sikand’s office and have found themselves with nowhere to turn.
Faced with difficult questions, Sikand’s staff and the Whip’s office have chosen silence.
The Pointer sent questions to Charles-Eric Lepine, chief of staff for the Liberal government whip. He was asked how residents in Streetsville are being represented, if local MPs are helping to cover the legislative gap and if Sikand is still receiving his full salary and benefits. Lepine was also asked if Sikand would run for office again in the next election.
“All incoming calls and emails received by the member’s constituency office are monitored and triaged,” he wrote in a short email response. “Response times and the overall level of service provided to the constituents of Mississauga–Streetsville remains at a very high standard.”
Follow-up questions were ignored.
Similarly, staff at Sikand’s office have offered no information to put the minds of frustrated constituents at ease. Since the publication of February’s story, The Pointer has sent six separate emails to the MP’s office with additional questions about how work is being handled, the concerns of constituents and plans for future elections.
“Unfortunately, I have no new information to share at this time regarding MP Sikand's medical leave,” Andrew Lui, a staffer at Sikand’s office, wrote in an email on March 24. “If you have any additional concerns, please don't hesitate to let us know.”
Lui did not respond to an offer to discuss the issue over the phone or multiple attempts to get clarification. Calls to Sikand’s constituency office have gone unanswered and his Ottawa number appears to redirect to an unregistered voicemail service.
Inquiries to Amardeep Sandhu, chair of the Liberal Party’s Streetsville riding association, about Sikand’s candidacy for the next election were also ignored.
Finding evidence of Sikand’s absence online is difficult. The MP does not appear to have shared the information on his social media and his website does not feature any news updates. The homepage of his website features a placeholder blog post entitled “Hello world!”
It states that Sikand is “committed to advocating for the community that he grew up in.”
When residents email Sikand’s office, the automatic response does not inform them their MP is away. “Our office is experiencing a high volume of inquiries at this time,” a short response explains. It makes no reference to the fact MP Sikand has not been at work since October.
The automated phone message for his constituency office is equally uninformative. A cheery voice tells callers in a 21-second voicemail greeting that Sikand’s office is operating remotely. For those who leave a detailed message, staff are “ready to support you remotely”.
The reason for Sikand’s medical absence and how long it could continue remain unclear. Regardless of the MP’s personal situation, the residents who contacted The Pointer said constituents deserve a thorough explanation of how they will be served in his absence and if their elected representative will ever return to his seat or run for re-election.
It’s unclear why questions are being dodged and residents who contact the constituency office are not being notified of their MP’s absence. If the MP decides not to run again, and a federal election is not triggered early, residents might be best served if Sikand steps aside to allow a local by-election.
In Canadian federal politics, there is no process to recall a politician. If Sikand continues to simply ignore his local residents, there is little they can do until the next election is called.
Before his medical absence, Sikand’s parliamentary record was unremarkable.
The MP was first elected during the 2015 Liberal red wave, when Justin Trudeau’s party took every seat in Brampton and Mississauga. Sikand was given a renewed mandate in 2019, beating his Conservative rival, Ghada Melek, by almost 10,000 votes.
A lawyer by training, Sikand worked for the Ontario government’s attorney general before he made the leap to federal politics.
Speaking after his victory in 2019, Sikand said his “number one priority” would be dealing with gun violence. After returning to Ottawa, he did not utter the word “gun” once in Parliament or committees, only referencing gangs once for a committee motion he was forced to withdraw.
At the end of October last year, he stopped speaking altogether and has been absent ever since.
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Isaac Callan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer