Harry Bains was born in the village of Hardaspur, near Phagwara in Punjab, India. After completing his college education in Phagwara, he moved to Canada in 1971. He landed at the Vancouver International Airport on June 15, 1971 and remembers how impressed he was at that time by the beauty and the cleanliness of Canada. This is when he made up his mind that he was going to permanently stay in his new home.
However, just like all immigrants, he had to go through a lot of struggles and hardships. Harry spent his first few years in Ontario, where he worked in a foundry. After he got his immigration papers, he moved to BC and started working in a sawmill. Harry shares that in those days there was a lot of open racism practised. There wasn’t even a single day where the community did not face any confrontation. Whenever he used to travel from Surrey to Vancouver, he was often confronted, shown the middle finger and verbally abused.
Harry shares that historically, when the first groups of immigrants started to arrive in Canada, laws were made in Victoria to discourage immigrants from coming to Canada. These also included prohibiting immigrants from purchasing land and housing in various parts of the cities. The right to vote was also taken away and career progressions were made difficult as well, for those who reached higher levels in their respective professions. After many years of struggle and involving themselves in politics, the community was able to resolve these major issues. He shares that the CCF party was very popular in the 1930s and its members worked hard to establish equality. Even though the labour movement people were apprehensive of new immigrants stealing their jobs, but still continued to support the movements for equality and bringing justice. Narinder Singh and Bhai Bhag Singh were one of the champions of this movement and worked with the IWA to form committees, support their endeavors and even travel with them to Victoria and Ottawa to lobby with the government to get equal rights.
These struggles continued over the years and Harry shares that many members from the community rose to power to occupy key positions, for example Niranjan Singh (ex-Mayor of Mission), Sethi Singh Pandekar (first South Asian to be elected councillor for Vancouver) and Mo Sahota (first South Asian to be elected in the BC legislative assembly). This opened doors for the rest of the community. He feels that it is because of these pioneers that he, being an immigrant who was born and raised in a village in India, has now got the opportunity to serve as the Minister of Labour and a MLA. He shares that these people and Canada adopted him and gave him the opportunity to sit in the same chair where earlier laws against immigrants were made.
Harry also shares an incident that he faced while working in sawmill in South Vancouver. It was one of the main factors that encouraged him to take up activism and politics. The sawmill was a large one, employing about 600 workers and boasted a work environment which was very racist. Harry recalls there being a big graffiti in the lunch room, which read “Hindu curry stinks – white men lunch room. Hindu’s stay out.” Harry found this very appalling and upon the recommendation of one of the workers there, he brought in the union chairperson and the manager to sort this matter out. Their taking an action against this wrongdoing gave Harry a lot of confidence and motivation that even the smallest steps and efforts can actually make a big difference. Harry still recalls the advice that the union person gave him that day. He said that “you (Harry) are making all kind of noises, you are asking so many questions and you are complaining about everything…you can choose to do that and stay there on the sideline, but then someone is going to make the decisions and decisions you make not like….Why don’t you get involved?” At first Harry didn’t like the idea, but he reflected on how he was able to contribute to solving the lunchroom problem. This gave him the confidence to run for the executive at the local union and become a full time elected official of this large union, which was 7,500 members strong. In his new role, he was responsible for dispute resolution and bargaining with the companies on behalf of the workers for their health and safety. This made the pathway to his political career and he became extensively involved with work to the point that he often had to sacrifice his family time.
In 2005, he successfully ran for the Surrey-Newton riding and was able to take the issues of his constituency and the community to Victoria to promote and resolve them. In May 2017, they were able to successfully form the government and Harry was offered the position of Minister of Labour by Premier John Horgan. He believes that this has given him the opportunity to do advocacy work on behalf of the working people and the community at large. He has already begun the work to accomplish his goals for solving the various issues that prevail today. Harry strongly believes that it is our duty and moral responsibility to work towards a better society for our next generations and return the favour to the ones who did the same for us.