She was defeated by Conservative Parm Gill in the 2011 federal election.
Dhalla was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba to an immigrant family from Punjab, India. She first attracted international attention in 1984, when she was ten years old and living in Winnipeg's north end. When Indian soldiers took part in military actions at Punjab's Golden Temple, Dhalla wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, advocating for peace and justice.
"Dear Prime Minister I am writing you after watching the violence on TV and seeing so many Sikhs get killed. Please have the government solve this peacefully so Sikhs are not killed and the Golden Temple doesn't get attacked. Instead of violence and killings maybe sit around the table and talk with each other for a solution. You can settle all of these things, I hope as soon as possible, If I can help in any way please let me know.”.
Gandhi personally replied to Dhalla's letter and referred to it at a press conference held in the months before his assassination. Inviting Dhalla to visit India however Gandhi was assassinated before Dhalla arrived. Dhalla was an honors student and academically gifted. She attended McMaster University for her 1st year of University on a full scholarship. Dhalla then resumed her remaining studies at the University of Winnipeg and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry with a minor in Political Science from the University of Winnipeg in 1995 and was also short listed as a Rhodes Scholarship Nominee from Manitoba. She instead moved to Toronto in the same year, and graduated with a Doctor of Chiropractic from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in 1999. Upon graduating she started a chain of multidisciplinary health care clinics in the Greater Toronto Area. Dhalla has also pursued a career in acting, working in India for six months and playing a leading role in Kyon? Kis Liye? (translated as Why? and for Whom?), a Bollywood-inspired Hindi-language film shot in Hamilton, Ontario. She finished second in the Miss India Canada pageant in 1993.
Dhalla was politically active from a young age and volunteered for Winnipeg Liberal candidate David Walker in the 1988 federal election, and later became a prominent member of the MANITOBA Young Liberals. Dhalla worked on numerous political campaigns co-chairing different election committees and volunteering in many provincial and federal political campaigns in 1998, she was elected as youth representative the liberal part of Canada's standing committee on multiculturalism at the annual policy convention. Dhalla was elected as a delegate to the 1992 Liberal Leadership Conventin and was one of the first young liberals in Manitoba to support Paul Martin. Dhalla again supported Paul Martin's bid to become Liberal Party leader in 2003.
In May 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin nominated Dhalla as the Liberal candidate for Brampton—Springdale in the 2004 federal election. This decision was opposed by the local Liberal Party riding executive, who had favoured Andrew Kania for the nomination. The deputy campaign director for the Liberal Party defended Dhalla's selection, describing her as a star candidate who would be beneficial to the party. Even though the Liberal Party was reduced to a minority government Dhalla as elected by a comfortable margin on June 28, 2004 and made history as one of the first woman of Indian origin to get elected in Canada as a Member of Parliament. Her victory was also historic as she was the woman of Indian origin to get elected in the world outside of India. Given her health care credentials and business experience Dhalla was appointed to the Standing Committee on Health. In Parliament Dhalla became to be known as an articulate and aggressive speaker on issues affecting her constituents, minorities and women.
Dhalla was a prominent organizer of the "Canada for Asia" benefit concert in January 2005, along with Senator Jerry Grafstein and singer Tom Cochrane. The event raised money for victims of the previous month's tsunami disaster in southeast Asia. She travelled with the Prime Minister to Sri Lanka and India in 2005 on a trade mission visit to promote trade between both nations. In October 2005, Dhalla organized a relief effort for victims of an earthquake in Pakistan. In parliament Dhalla introduced her first private members bill to create a secretariat for foreign credentials recognition. This bill was passed in the House of Commons thus assisting recent Canadian immigrants in gaining professional employment.
Dhalla voted in favour of Canada's same-sex marriage legislation in 2005, on the grounds that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must confer equality on different groups in society.
In late 2005, The Liberal government was defeated by a motion of no confidence, and a new election was called for early 2006. Dhalla officially launched her re-election campaign in early December, with Bollywood actor Arjun Rampal as a star attendee. Conservative candidate Sam Hundal attempted to use same-sex marriage as a wedge issue among recent immigrant voters, but was unsuccessful. Dhalla was easily re-elected, while the Conservatives won a minority government at the national level.
After the election, Dhalla was appointed as the Liberal Health Critic in the Official Opposition. In June 2006, she criticized Health Minister Tony Clement over a possible conflict-of-interest relating to his ownership of shares in Prudential Chem Inc. The following month, she described Prime Minister Stephen Harper's refusal to attend an international AIDS conference in Toronto as "an embarrassment for Canada on the world stage".
In June 2006, It came to light that Conservatives had tried to convince Dhalla to cross the floor and join the party, as part of a campaign to win the support of youth, women and ethnic voters. She turned down the offer, saying that the Conservatives do not represent her values. She later criticized Wajid Khan for crossing from the Liberals to the Conservatives. (Khan was defeated in the 2008 federal election.)
Paul Martin resigned as Liberal leader after his party's defeat in the 2006 election. Given her ability to speak, outreach initiatives and her youthfulness, Dhalla was urged by many party members to initially considered enter the contest to succeed him. Dhalla launched a platform to encourage youth and women to participate in the political party and leadership process with voices.ca. Eventually Dhalla gave her support to Michael Ignatieff. And was announced as the Ignatieff Leadership Campaign's national co-chair, alongside Senator David Smith and Member of Parliament Denis Coderre. Ignatieff was defeated by Stéphane Dion on the final ballot of the 2006 Liberal leadership convention.
Dion announced his new shadow cabinet in January 2007, and reassigned Dhalla from Health to Social Development. She criticized the Conservatives for canceling the Martin government's national day-care plan, and spoke against the prospect of large, for-profit foreign firms taking over the industry. She also wrote an opinion piece for the Toronto Star newspaper in early 2008, calling for developed countries to invest the necessary resources to target tuberculosis in the global south. In Parliament Dhalla founded the HAT (HIV, Aids, Tuberculosis) caucus for parliamentarians of all political parties to bring greater awareness on the issues.
Dhalla opposed the Conservative government's changes to Canada's immigration laws in early 2008, wherein the government set an annual limit on the number of cases to be heard and gave the Immigration Minister the discretion to fast-track some applicants. Dhalla suggested that the Conservatives would show favouritism to immigrants from certain communities. She was quoted as saying, "I think they're really picking and choosing for political purposes which communities they want to work with, and that is why there is a fear among these communities that the immigration laws being proposed right now are going to have an impact on them." Dhalla also was successful in lobbying the Government to allow Sikhs whose last name is Singh or Kaur to not have to attach an additional last name to immigrate to Canada.
Dhalla issued a Private Member's Bill in April 2008, calling on the federal government to apologize for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which a ship with 376 mostly Sikh immigrants was denied access to Canada. The bill was unanimously passed the following month.
In 2008 Dhalla faced a difficult re-election in 2008, and ultimately defeated Conservative candidate Parm Gill by a small margin amid a provincial swing from the Liberals to Conservatives. This contest was marked with the Opponents (Parm Gills) brother being charged with the slashing of Dhalla's signs. In the 2008 election the Conservatives were re-elected to a second minority government on the national level. Shortly after the election, a Toronto man was charged with making death threats and stalking Dhalla.
In Parliament Dhalla continued to raise issues affecting women, minorities and youth and worked to promote trade between Canada and emerging economies.
Dhalla traveled to the Indian state of Punjab in January 2008. While attending a Non-Resident Indian (NRI) seminar, she called on the state government to introduce more stringent laws to prevent the abuse of married women. She later visited her parent's village of Mullanpur.
During this trip, a member of Dhalla's staff had a purse stolen by two children. Allegations later surfaced that the children were beaten by the police after being apprehended, and a local television station ran an out-of-context quote from Dhalla that seemed to imply she condoned the violence. The station later issued a full retraction and acknowledged that Dhalla's comments had been presented out of context. Dhalla clarified that she condemned any type of violence against children and called for an investigation into the incident.
Stéphane Dion stepped down as Liberal leader after a very poor showing in the 2008 federal election, and Dhalla was mentioned as a possible candidate to succeed him. The Toronto Star listed her as an outside contender, noting that her national profile was not very strong. Before she was able to make her decision, other prominent candidates withdrew from the contest and gave their support to Michael Ignatieff. In December, Dhalla announced she would not be a candidate. Ignatieff was duly acclaimed as interim leader in January 2009, and was officially confirmed as party leader later in the year.
In January 2009, Ignatieff appointed Dhalla as the Liberal critic for Youth and Multiculturalism.
On May 5, 2009, the Toronto Star newspaper ran a front-page story with allegations that two caregivers hired to look after Dhalla's mother had been illegally employed and mistreated. The caregivers alleged that their passports had been seized and that they had been forced to do several chores outside their job description. A third caregiver later came forward with similar charges. Dhalla responded that she was "shocked and appalled" by the allegations and that the caregivers had never been abused. She later released a statement indicating that she had no involvement with the hiring or supervision of the women.
Dhalla stepped down as the Liberal Youth and Multiculturalism Critic on May 6 and called for a federal ethics investigation to clear her name. She held a press conference two days later in which she described the allegations against her as a coordinated attack on her reputation. A subsequent Globe and Mail article suggested that she had few supporters within the federal Liberal caucus, and that other MPs considered her a "high maintenance" self-promoter, demanding on her staff and unwilling to engage in the mundane details of parliamentary life. Some Liberal MPs have publicly defended her, however, including Judy Sgro. Dhalla's lawyer suggested that the controversy was part of a partisan smear campaign orchestrated by her political opponents. Her lawyer later informed the media that one of the caregivers had made unfounded charges against another employer in the past.
On the day after Dhalla's appearance, Agathe Mason, the executive director of a Toronto support group for immigrant women called Intercede, testified before the Commons committee that she had called Dhalla (rather than her brother) when one of the caregivers complained about her passport being withheld. Mason said that she informed Dhalla she was breaking the law and had 24 hours to return the passport, and that to her recollection the passport was returned the following day. Dhalla had previously rejected Mason's accusations, saying that she had never spoken with anyone at Intercede.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney denied the suggestion of political interference, saying he had no personal knowledge of the matter until it was reported by the media. His ministerial assistant Alykhan Velshi was later seen handing out documents at a meeting of the Immigration Committee in a bid to discredit Dhalla. Some believe Velshi's actions caused a chilling effect among civil servants in Kenney's department, preventing them from reviewing the case in a fair and open manner.
Ultimately, no charges were filed. Dhalla asked the public and media to "hold judgment and give [her] family privacy".
Dhalla organized a press conference on October 5, 2014 with the intention of declaring her candidacy to be the Liberal nominee in Brampton—Springdale for the 2015 federal election but she instead announced that, "After much thought and much reflection, I will not be running in the next federal election". At her announcement she was surrounded by election signs that had the name of the Liberal Party blacked out. She later told CTV News that after scheduling her press conference she was contacted by Liberal officials who tried to convince her not to run but she subsequently denied this, claiming instead that Liberal Party did want her to run, but that she decided at the last minute that she couldn’t commit to serving as an MP again.
All electoral information is taken from Elections Canada. Italicized expenditures refer to submitted totals, and are presented when the final reviewed totals are not available.