Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system of Canada during the last federal election campaign a year ago. Now that he is prime minister with a parliamentary majority, there is an expectation from opponents of that electoral system that he will deliver on a promise that he should never have made.
Opponents of the first-past-the-post system advance romantic ideas of better representation of the range of opinions of Canadians to make their case, but romanticism does not make for good policy. Fact is there is already more than adequate representation in Parliament of the diversity of Canadian opinions, and at the same time, groups on the extremes cannot easily dictate to the majority. (Under the current system, the candidate with the most votes is declared elected in every riding.)
In the current debate on electoral reform, the positions taken by the four national parties do not represent any romantic ideas of democracy. They represent nothing but their own best interests.
The Green Party and the NDP, who always elect a smaller percentage of Members of Parliament (MPs) than their shares of the vote, want proportional representation (a system under which the number of MPs would mirror a party’s popular vote).
The Conservatives, who have benefited from the first-past-the-post system and who know that no other system would work better for them, reject any electoral reform.
The Liberals, who know that they would benefit from preferential balloting since it favours middle-of-the-road parties (it is a system under which a voter ranks all candidates by order of preference), are said to support this system, although they have been careful not to admit it publicly.
If partisan interest is ignored, it is abundantly clear that the current system is not only good enough, but that it is the best possible system.
Just ask any immigrant if they prefer the Canadian system or the system used in their country of origin. Our voting system is why many immigrants come here.
Reflecting popular will
When it is convenient to them, politicians tell us that Canada is the best place in the world. We certainly are one of the best places, and that is because we have a political system that is able to govern Canada efficiently through changing times, while remaining representative of the general will of Canadians.
Proportional representation exists in other countries, and it certainly delivers on the promise to elect politicians that represent diverse opinions. However, it does so at a high price.
Smaller parties with narrow interests often become essential in forming government coalitions and are able to dictate their narrow agendas. This phenomenon is very visible in Israel, a country that uses proportional representation, as Haaretz explains in “Ultra-Orthodox Parties Are Back in Power and Israelis Aren’t Thrilled About It”.
The first-past-the-post system does not prevent politicians with minority opinions from being elected, but to be elected, they usually have to work within a party that has broad appeal. For example, the Conservative party includes MPs who wish to ban abortion, even though that is not the policy of the party. Under this system, MPs who hold minority opinions must convince others to support them, which is a good democratic practice. They cannot ram through unpopular changes by being power brokers.
The first-past-the-post system also does not prevent the emergence and the viability of third parties, although it does require them to have broader support than they would need under proportional representation. Five parties are currently represented in the Parliament of Canada, a consistent pattern over the last few decades, including the NDP, the Greens, the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois.
While it includes minority representation, the fact that the first-past-the-post system usually results in majority governments means that it offers the advantages of political stability and the ability to make tough choices. The Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (later followed by the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA) is now seen by all political parties as beneficial to Canada, but that agreement would not have occurred under proportional representation since the Conservative party was at that time the only party supporting it.
Preferential balloting could be seen as a reasonable compromise, since it would likely maintain the benefits of majority governments while giving voters the feeling that their votes are more influential than under first-past-the-past. However, there would be a diminished diversity of opinions represented in Parliament. Under preferential balloting, centrist views would gain an advantage since this is typically the second choice of people on either side of an issue. Therefore, less mainstream opinions would have a harder time being heard.
Delivering on election promises is typically good politics, but it is not good politics when the promise itself was foolish. Prime Minister Trudeau should do what is best for Canada, not what is best for his party – keep the electoral system as it is because it is the best in the world.
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lives in Ottawa. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at Gatestone Institute, The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Online, and Jerusalem Post.
Commentary by Ghadah Alrasheed in Ottawa
This year was marked by important elections around the world. Here in Canada, the Liberals leaped to a majority government, bringing Stephen Harper’s decade of power to an end.
And last month, in Saudi Arabia, women voted for the first time in municipal elections, not long before the nation made international headlines for increased tensions with Iran.
The 2015 municipal elections were the third in the history of the kingdom; previous elections were held in 2005 and 2011, and were open only to male voters and candidates. The polls for 2,100 seats at 284 municipal councils across Saudi Arabia ended with roughly 47.4 per cent voter turnout.
The most prominent feature of this year's elections was the presence of women as voters and as candidates.
A historic day for Saudi Arabia
Thousands of Saudi women headed to polling stations across the kingdom, from the largest urban centres to smallest rural areas, in order to give their voices.
Twenty women won seats in the Saudi councils, some in what are known to be the most conservative areas of the kingdom, such as Qassim.
Although the 20 candidates represent just one per cent of the total seats across the 284 councils, this is seen as a significant step for wider women’s suffrage and democracy in Saudi Arabia.
Out of 130,000 registered female voters, 82 per cent cast ballots in comparison to approximately 50 per cent on the male side. This reveals Saudi women’s determination to take opportunities to prove their presence and influence on the level of politics and civic participation.
An important step for women’s empowerment, it also has the potential to expand the democratic experience in general and affect citizens’ propensity to engage in politics.
Before the day of the election, for example, a Saudi woman made a video called “Banat Baladi” (“My Country’s Daughters”) that explained the significance and the process of the elections.
Giving women a chance to vote may not only increase women’s participation, but also the wider society’s propensity to engage in politics and awareness of citizen responsibility.
The decision to allow women to participate was made by the late King Abdullah, who also appointed 30 women in the Saudi Shura Council.
Under King Abdullah, women had been given bigger roles, such as sending more of them to universities – some of which are in Canada – and opening more opportunities for employment. Many hailed these steps as part of his legacy.
It is encouraging now to see King Salman fulfilling Abdullah’s commitment to integrate women into the political space, continuing his careful reform of women’s rights.
Challenges to voting
This is not to suggest that the elections were without hurdles: reports of women facing difficulties surfaced.
Bureaucratic measures made providing proof of identity and address challenging. A conservative group distributed flyers renouncing women’s presence in the elections and asking voters to refrain from voting for women.
Other difficulties related to transportation, an issue that prompted Uber, in collaboration with a Saudi women’s empowerment group, to offer free rides to polling stations on election day.
Despite these challenges, many received the elections with celebration. Saudi women took selfies after they voted. Some voters brought their moms and others brought their kids, which made the elections a cross-generational event.
Saudi men and women rushed to the Twitter accounts of the women candidates to congratulate them on winning the elections.
Among the first elected was Rasha Hefzi, who received many congratulatory tweets. One tweet said, “You entered history.” Similarly, another applauded Hefzi’s “entrance into history” stating, “Congratulations to us, to Jeddah. How lucky we are!”
Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist, called the women’s elections a historic day for Saudi Arabia.
A victory with substance?
But is it really a victory, taking into consideration the fact that the powers of the municipal councils are limited to local planning and development issues such as public parks and trash collection?
Regardless of the subject of the powers of the councils, I believe women’s participation in the civic realm is a positive small step in terms of wider women’s participation and empowerment.
It provides a healthy model for future generations and normalizes women’s presence on both the social and political levels.
It also reveals, in opposition to the dominant discourse centred on deep-seated cultural impediments to women’s participation in Saudi Arabia, that the Saudi society, like any other, is ready for change.
Ghadah Alrasheed was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She finished her bachelor’s degree at Princess Nora University, Riyadh. She has been in Canada for about 11 years and is currently doing a PhD in communication at Carleton University in Ottawa. She is a contributor to New Canadian Media and Saudi-based Al Hattlan Post and Sofaraa.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
In the weeks leading up to the Oct. 19 federal election, Rabia Khedr started to feel like she didn’t belong in Canada.
The executive director of the Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities says she, along with many other Muslim Canadians, felt targeted as extremist and socially backward.
“I have no other home,” says Khedr, who was born in Pakistan and came to Canada when she was four. “I cannot function anywhere else, with my kids half Pakistani and half Egyptian.”
Her family feared the Islamophobia they felt was brewing during the recent federal election. “It was a nightmare for us.”
This sentiment may have contributed to what Dr. Salha Jeizan, a professor who teaches online in the education department at Capella University in Minnesota, U.S. and mentors PhD students, calls a strategic vote on behalf of Muslims.
“People have voted strategically [knowing that] if I vote for NDP, I vote for Conservatives,” Jeizan explains. If enough votes had been split between the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Liberals, the election outcome could have been in favour of the Conservatives.
Malaz Sebai, who works for Lifeline Syria, an organization working to resettle 1,000 Syrians in the GTA, says he was happy to see true leadership in the form of Liberals has resumed.
“Strategically, yes – Muslims from different communities came out and voted,” he explains. “There were more than three different groups encouraging Muslims to vote; I guess that was the strategy.”
One of these groups was The Canadian-Muslim Vote, a non-partisan organization with the goal of encouraging civic engagement amongst the Muslim community.
Muneeza Sheikh, communications director for the organization, says that while the anti-Harper sentiment may have fuelled many Muslims to vote, it may not have been their sole motivation for heading to the polls.
“One can’t assume all of these issues are important to Muslim Canadians for the same reasons,” says Sheikh.
“On the niqab issue you may see increased voter turnout because Muslims are concerned about many of the same issues in relation to the niqab as non-Muslims – i.e. Charter rights, freedom of religion, minority rights, women’s rights, et cetera.”
Jeizan says fear of the Islamophobia created during the Harper era may have been a great motivator as well.
“Actually, [Muslims] have realized that if we don’t come out and vote, something worse can happen, and where would that lead us?” says Jeizan, adding that the Conservatives’ divide-and-rule approach of singling out Muslims to gain support from other religious communities backfired.
“Harper’s calculations proved to be wrong.”
Political engagement increasing
Although the exact percentage of eligible Muslim Canadians who cast a ballot on Oct. 19 is not available yet, anecdotal evidence speaks to a higher level of engagement.
“My younger daughter voted, as she turned 18 last month, and my elder daughter has volunteered at a riding and told me that lots of hijabis came out to vote,” says Jeizan, who is originally from Yemen.
Highlighting the efforts of The Canadian-Muslim Vote, Sheikh says she is thankful to the hundreds of volunteers who helped to increase civic engagement in Muslim community.
“We engaged them in a great deal of door-to-door canvassing – it is important to connect on an individual level with Muslims in the community and to build relationships.”
Khedr says she believes things were changing even prior to the federal election. Earlier this year she ran in her Mississauga ward’s byelection and, though she lost, she doesn’t believe it was a failure.
“I stood at number five out of 26 candidates. It’s a step in the right direction and a proof that the stereotype is breaking,” she says, highlighting that Muslims’ involvement in politics is on the rise. “It is our religious and civic duty to vote, because Islam demands us to stand up for what is right.”
It is Jeizan’s hope that political engagement in the Muslim Canadian community only increases.
“The momentum should not stop even after election; it needs to continue for municipal, [for] provincial and, later again, for federal elections.”
Build in-roads with new government
As the new government gets settled into office, Muslim Canadians will be watching particularly for how it handles legislation like the Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51) and Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24), both of which many community members opposed.
“Stripping of Canadian citizenship is unfair,” explains Jeizan. “Returning to their countries is impossible in many cases, as those countries don’t exist anymore, like Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine.”
“What is needed, rather, is to rehabilitate misguided young people,” she says, and a reframing of terrorism as not a Muslim faction.
During the campaign run, both the Liberals and the NDP promised to repeal C-24. The NDP said it would repeal C-51, while Trudeau and the Liberals only said it would be amended.
Jeizan says the community will be calling on the NDP to ensure accountability within the new government.
“NDP members will hold [them to] what they promised,” she says with optimism. “Laws can be reviewed, repealed or amended. It’s not written in stone.”
Khedr agrees. She says just because the Conservatives are not in leadership anymore doesn’t mean the work is done for the Muslim-Canadian community.
“We need to continue lobbying – clear and loud – against this fear [of Muslims],” she says. “Send messages to our leaders by building relationships with them.”
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by Samantha Lui in Toronto
As Canada gears up for the 2015 federal election on October 19, the Conservative Party of Canada has launched a Chinese-language website as a strategic move to win the Chinese vote.
But although the site attempts to speak to issues that will affect Chinese-Canadians, members of the community say that they’re not swayed by the party’s tactics.
Melissa Fong, a Ph.D. candidate in geography at the University of Toronto, says that while she agrees that different languages should be represented in political parties’ platforms, she sees the website as being “really more about pandering to votes than content.”
The website, which includes a statement by multiculturalism minister Jason Kenney translated in Chinese, mentions the Conservatives' history of serving Chinese communities.
Such examples include the Conservatives having the first Chinese-Canadian Member of Parliament in 1950 (Douglas Jung) and when Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants in 1885.
“The overall tone feels like the Conservative government is attempting to "guilt trip" Chinese voters to vote for their party based on those past deeds which were intended to strengthen relations between the government and the Chinese community,” says Calvin Tsang, a 23-year-old social work student from Toronto.
The effectiveness of the site
While she says having a website dedicated to the Chinese may be enough to get votes, Avvy Go, the clinic director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, hopes that voters will choose a government that will take leadership on issues that will affect their day to day lives.
“[The website’s] not about speaking to a particular issue the community is concerned about. Like for instance, how are we going to address unemployment rate amongst the Chinese? How do you ensure newcomers have their international training accredited in Canada?” she says.
“I think right now, the parties either ignore us or they use tactics such as reflected in the Conservative website and try to play up superficial kinds of things as opposed to trying to address issues that really impact our community.”
For Fong, the recent government’s policies say more than the creation of a website ever could.
“The Conservatives are not good for racialized Canadians, not good for newcomers and not good for people of colour,” Fong says, giving mention to the Conservatives’ focus on the niqab, Anti-terrorism Act, second-tier citizenship and Harper’s recent reference to “old stock Canadians.”
She continues, “If they really cared about people of colour, Chinese voters, it would be demonstrated in the policy.”
But strategies like the Conservatives’ website are not new in the world of politics. According to Nelson Wiseman, the director of the Canadian Studies program at the University of Toronto, ethnic communities have always been targeted with specific messages for them.
Having a Chinese-language website doesn’t mean it will have an impact on how the Chinese will vote, he explains.
“Let’s say you’re Chinese and on the Internet. Why should you go to that site? There are an infinite number of sites that you can go to. Just because anybody can put anything they want on the Internet, it doesn’t mean it captures any eyeballs,” he says.
The Conservatives have targeted the Liberals and the New Democrats on their website, but members of the latter parties agree that it detracts from discussing issues important to immigrants such as the economy and the well-being of their families.
Arnold Chan, who’s defending his seat as a Liberal MP in the Scarborough-Agincourt area, says he feels the Conservatives’ Chinese-language website is just another example of the party's divisive campaigning.
“At the end of the day, it looks like this is a desperate measure by a desperate team,” he says. “This is part of a continuing narrative of negative campaigning.”
Olivia Chow, who’s running for a seat in the Spadina-Fort York area as an NDP, wouldn’t speak much on the subject.
In an e-mail statement, a member of her campaign wrote, “Like many Conservative tactics, it distracts from important discussions like affordable childcare, protecting the environment, and investing in transit.”
The Conservatives, who have 10 Chinese people running for office, could not be reached for comment after multiple requests to speak with several of their candidates.*
Real engagement with Chinese-Canadian communities
But while the accessibility of language is important in a diverse country such as Canada, having a website isn’t enough to educate the Chinese to be politically involved, according to Fong.
She stresses the importance of parties hiring people that can communicate in different languages.
“I think it’s really important for representatives to hire people that speak multiple languages, and not expect it of people that they should know English or French. Canada was founded on many more languages than English and French.”
Organizations such as the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) also offer programs such as the civic literacy project, which educate participants about the election process, how governments work and how to engage the community through civic engagement activities.
Chase Lo, the executive director at the CCNC’s Toronto chapter, says the group even holds field trips to local MPs' offices within the Scarborough-Agincourt area so people can ask questions directly about specific election issues.
In doing so, he says he hopes he can help ethnic communities such as the Chinese go out and vote.
“People have the choice to be involved and [...] their voice matters,” he says. “If they want to see change, if they want to see that there’s injustice in terms of how things are operating, they have the power to be able to come together with other people and influence some change.”
*Requests for comment were made to Conservative candidates Bin Chang, Alice Wong and Andy Wang.
by Maryann D’Souza in Mississauga, Ontario
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ‘old stock versus new stock Canadians’ comment during a political debate could very well cost him the election. His political opponents and the media would not let him live it down and seized the moment to brand it as divisive politics and racist.
Was he intentionally creating the ‘them versus us’ scenario or was it a slip? Come Oct. 19 Canadians will have their say.
From the peegate to homophobia, radicalization to the niqab, this federal election campaign has put ethnic candidates and immigrant communities in the spotlight.
Today’s voter, however, is more politically aware and active no matter the length of time they have lived in Canada, which means candidates must pay careful attention to their election speak.
New Canadian Media spoke with three experienced campaign advisers about what candidates should never say to immigrant voters both now and in future elections.
Neethan Shan is one of the two first Tamil Canadians to be elected to any public office in Canada. He was a public school trustee with the York Region District School Board and former president of the Ontario New Democratic Party.
Abbas Baig has worked with a cabinet minister, a member of Parliament (MP) and a member of provincial parliament (MPP) and as a campaign adviser. He is now a licensed immigration consultant and works on citizenship and immigration issues.
Sarbjit Kaur is a long-time political strategist who has worked in journalism and at Queen’s Park. She is currently working with several Liberal candidates in Brampton and Mississauga.
You’re different from the other Canadians:
“Doublespeak is disrespectful,” says Kaur. “Never say something different to the community and the general public or mainstream media with respect to your policies. Their concerns are the same as the other Canadians.”
“There is no such thing as old stock and new stock Canadians. Everyone has the same concerns about health care, jobs and the economy,” adds Baig, who says that it is comments like those that “drive a wedge between Canadians.”
“When issues arise, be honest,” advises Kaur. Voters are more politically informed thanks to plethora of ethnic press and media channels. “A lot of the news is available in their own language so they know what’s going on,” she adds.
Thank you for coming to Canada:
“While this might not be intentional, it is a condescending type of comment where the host and guest type of dynamics gets reinforced. It implies that this is your space while we are supposed to believe that everyone is here to build the country together,” says Shan.
“It would be preferable to acknowledge contributions in a manner that would not limit social engagement.”
I can help solve your community’s problems:
Both Baig and Kaur agree that it is not a good idea to try and appease a niche group. They warn candidates not to compromise on the party’s principles, or their own, just to get votes.
“In trying to appease one group you could lose another,” says Kaur. “So keep the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in mind.”
Baig acknowledges that there might be some issues that are specific to certain groups like spousal sponsorship and family reunification. “At this time it is important to use the party policies and platform as your guide,” he advises.
“Diversifying outreach efforts and using different types of media, for example, might be a better approach,” Shan says. “After all people within a particular community can also have different needs on account of generational differences.”
Vote for me because I have the same background as you:
“There is nothing wrong in organizing communities to have people who are reflective of their interests so long as the individuals are not seen as working against the interests of those communities,” says Shan.
“But don’t take votes for granted just because you are from the community,” cautions Kaur.
“There are no short cuts. While people would like to know that a candidate understands their issues, you still have to make your case, earn the credentials and show that you are involved in the community.”
Shan agrees.“People understand that candidates might look like them, but their interests may not be same,” he says.
I don’t like you:
This is a rule for life not just politics – never indulge in a personal attack.
“It will affect your reputation for the rest of your life,” says Kaur.
“It’s not worth getting carried away and ruining relationships on account of the elections. Take the higher road whether it is a voter or your opponents.”
I promise to get this done for you:
Both Baig and Kaur advise candidates against overpromising and overstepping lines of jurisdiction.
For instance, the new sex-ed curriculum is a burning issue in many ethnic communities in the Greater Toronto Area and a few candidates have used this as leverage, though not openly.
This is both misleading and dishonest. “Any results earned by overpromising can only be short-lived,” explains Kaur.
Shan has a different point of view though.
He says that candidates are clear about their limitations in the three levels of government and there is nothing wrong in saying they can advocate for a particular issue.
However, Shan does agree that, “it is wrong to make promises and leverage a particular issue for political advantage.”
As political leaders and their candidates pull out all the stops over the final weekend of campaigning, voters are reminded to evaluate their platforms in terms of what will benefit the country as a whole. More importantly, Canadians – new and old – are encouraged to exercise their democratic rights and vote in what could be one of the closest elections to date.
by Maria Ikonen in Ottawa
Many new Canadian citizens will be casting their vote for the first time on Oct. 19. For them, understanding how to cast a ballot and finding the suitable candidate might seem like a daunting task.
Samara Canada, a non-partisan organization established in 2009, helps people reconnect with politics and newcomers to become active in their communities and work for democracy.
“Voting can feel mysterious or intimidating. It can be different in different countries,” says Samara Canada’s executive director Jane Hilderman.
While the steps to the ballot box are not as complicated as they may seem, if a person feels the voting process is too confusing, he or she may decide not to vote at all. Samara Canada’s work is geared at reducing the likelihood of this happening.
“We have an election initiative that allows newcomers to practise voting,” Hilderman shares, citing the organization’s Vote PopUp program. “A community group decides on an issue to vote on. Community members then practise casting a ballot and learn what they need to bring with them to vote.”
“It is fun,” Hilderman adds. “We have young people taking selfies at the pop-up. Kids are voting at the playground. This program is very adaptable and flexible for communities’ needs.”
Finding more information
Elections Canada has plenty of information – completed with precise and illustrated guidelines – about voting, candidates and parties, along with its own section for first-time voters.
My Voters Guide is also one of the many informative packages that can be printed through the Elections Canada website. It is available in Aboriginal and ethnocultural languages like Punjabi, Arabic, Chinese (simplified/traditional) and Spanish, and some parts of the information are available in audio format as well.
Also valuable are resources like the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Elections Canada website, which has expanded information about voting, and the postal code search, which makes finding the electoral candidates in your area easy.
Registering to vote
You have to be registered to vote. If you’ve received your Canadian citizenship recently, this may be one of the reasons why you may not be correctly registered. You can check your status online or by calling your electoral district’s office.
If you have been mailed a voter information card with your correct name and address, it means that you are registered. The voter information card shows when and where you can cast your vote.
If you are not registered, go to the online voter registration service and follow the step-by-step instructions. If you are unable to register online, call or visit your local Elections Canada office to either request the form is mailed to you, or to register in person.
Advance registration online, by mail or in person has to be done by Oct. 13 at 6 p.m. It is recommended to register in advance, but it is also possible to register at your local polling station with proof of name and address.
Selecting a candidate
Picking a suitable candidate may be a big question for a voter who is unfamiliar with Canadian politics.
For those faced with this problem, Hilderman recommends attending one of the many candidate debates organized by local groups in individual ridings.
As well, Hilderman recommends using Vote Compass and spending time with people who know about politics.
However, she emphasizes there is no single right way to pick a candidate.
“Spend time thinking and weigh out your options,” Hilderman says. “New Canadians have an opportunity to remind Canada how important it is that we have democracy and we have a chance to shape it.”
Other ways to get involved
Hilderman encourages newcomers, with or without Canadian citizenship, to see the importance of participating in democracy beyond voting.
According to her, newcomers can have open dialogue with their riding representative, help their neighbourhood to solve common challenges and volunteer.
Hilderman urges newcomers not just to vote, but to shape politics too.
“They can contribute to politics at their community level. Talking about politics is important here.”
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
The number of Chinese Canadian political candidates contesting in the federal election this year is up about 30 per cent from 2011.
Of the 23 politicians running, the two most high profile are the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) Olivia Chow running for Spadina-Fort York in Toronto and Conservative incumbent and Minister of State for Seniors, Alice Wong, running for Richmond Centre in British Columbia.
Michael Chong is also popular in the Chinese community, as he is of partial Chinese heritage. The Conservative incumbent of Wellington-Halton Hills in Ontario serves as the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister for Sport.
A scan of the parties
In this election, the Conservative party has the most Chinese candidates running from Ontario and British Columbia, which is representative of both provinces’ large Chinese populations.
Besides the aforementioned candidates, others include incumbent Chungsen Leung for Willowdale; Bin Chang for Scarborough-Agincourt; Henry Lau for Windsor West; Andy Wang for Nepean; incumbent Wai Young for Vancouver South; Kenny Chiu for Richmond East and James Low for Vancouver East.
Jimmy Yu, running for the Saint Laurent riding, is the only Conservative Chinese candidate from Quebec.
The Liberal Party, on the other hand, has come up with Greater Toronto Area (GTA) candidates from Mainland China such as Bang-Gu Jiang for Markham-Unionville and Geng Tan for Don Valley-North.
Similarly, Liberal candidate Steven Kou running for Vancouver Kingsway is also from the Mainland.
Other Chinese candidates for the Liberals are familiar faces such as incumbent Arnold Chan for Scarborough Agincourt and Shaun Chen for Scarborough North.
In Richmond Centre and Vancouver East where Liberal candidates Lawrence Woo and Edward Wong are up against Conservatives Alice Wong and James Low, respectively, all of the candidates come from a Cantonese speaking background. With the exception of Low, who was born in Canada, they were all born in Hong Kong.
Olivia Chow has been with the NDP and one of the most popular political figures in the Chinese community for years.
Born in Hong Kong, Chow came to Canada in her teenage years. She was the wife to the late Jack Layton, who was the former NDP party leader. She served as a Toronto city councillor for 14 years before becoming a federal MP in 2005.
In 2014 Chow quit her Parliament job to run in Toronto’s mayoral race, but lost to John Tory. She is one of few Chinese candidates who speak fluent English, Cantonese and Mandarin.
One of the NDP’s incumbents, Laurin Liu, set a record in 2011, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Commons. She was elected at 20 years old while still a student in McGill University. Liu’s family was from Mainland China, yet she has indicated that she isn’t able to speak Mandarin.
NDP candidate Jenny Kwan rounds out the Vancouver East riding, making it a race between all Chinese candidates representing the three leading parties.
Chow, Liu and Kwan contribute to the NDP’s make-up of 43 per cent women – a new record for any political party.
The Green Party has three Chinese candidates from heavily populated Chinese ridings: Elvin Kao in Markham-Unionville, Vincent Chiu in Richmond Centre and Peter Tam in Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge.
Increasing Chinese voices in Parliament
Chinese Canadian Civic Alliance (CCCA), a community organization that promotes Chinese participation in politics, has been actively organizing several community events such as a recent federal election forum held at Market Village shopping mall in Markham last Saturday.
President Tony Luk says the CCCA’s goal is to encourage Chinese Canadians to vote and get involved in politics to effectively increase the Chinese influence on government decisions. He stresses the organization is not affiliated with any political party.
“We have 11 Chinese Candidates from Ontario running for office,” Luk explains. “The more Chinese Canadian politicians going to the Parliament, the more voices from the Chinese community can be heard by the government. Furthermore, the more that the Chinese vote, the more attention government will pay to us.”
Wooing Chinese voters
The forum asked the three candidates who were in attendance two questions: “As a Chinese candidate, what do you expect your Chinese voters to [do to] help and how will you serve them if elected?” and “How does the federal government’s immigration policy affect the Chinese community?”
These are the typical questions that a portion of the community – mostly older individuals who have limited resources but read Chinese newspapers – have for Chinese candidates.
But, another part of the community is reluctant to be stereotyped as a monolithic group.
Similar events have been held by different Chinese organizations at various shopping malls since early September. Low attendance and the public’s lessening interest in the political parties’ platforms has been an inconvenient truth for many of these events.
That wasn’t the case though at the Chinese Mid Moon Festival gala held last week at the Premiere Ballroom and Convention Centre in Richmond Hill. More than 2,500 people were in attendance and even Stephen Harper showed up to woo the Chinese community’s support and get in a photo-op with picture-hungry gala goers.
by Shan Qiao in Scarborough, Ontario
Voter turn out is traditionally low amongst racialized youth.
It is with this in mind that the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) gathered dozens of youth from the Malvern community to have their voice heard alongside two local political candidates running for MP of Scarborough North.
Liberal candidate Shaun Chen, formerly an area school board trustee, and NDP candidate Rathika Sitsabaiesan, elected MP of Scarborough-Rough River in 2011, were in attendance at the event, held this past week at the Taibu community health centre.
Several young people from the local community were invited to the forum to speak with their peers on getting engaged with the 2015 election.
Hibah Sidat, a 26-year-old, long-time Malvern resident of South Asian descent, who studied political science and worked a government job in the past, was one of them.
Sidat told the crowd that jobs are a major concern for young people in the neighbourhood.
“[The] youth unemployment rate is at an all-time high in Canada, and even worse in Ontario,” said Sidat. “And [it is] further worse in a community like Malvern that is so impoverished and has a uniquely high proportion of children and youth.”
This election will be the first time the Malvern community has been split in half, with residents living west of Neilson Road voting in the Scarborough North riding, and those east of it voting in Scarborough-Rouge Park.
With over 60 different cultures represented in Malvern, it is considered to be one of the most culturally diverse areas in Canada. New Canadians make up 61 per cent of the population and four out of five residents are visible minorities.
In the past the City of Toronto had designated Malvern a Neighbourhood Improvement Area, based on factors like health, economics, political participation and education; however, in 2014 it was no longer considered to be a ‘priority neighbourhood’, a decision which some residents felt was premature.
Challenges getting to the polls
Voter turnout in the former Scarborough-Rouge River riding, which Malvern was a part of, has been historically low. It ranked second lowest of all Ontario ridings during the 2008 federal election.
“The South Asian population generally is from countries that are originally very heavily involved in politics like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” explains Neethan Shan, executive director of CASSA. “We have high turnouts and are very engaged in political rallies, so politics is not a new thing.”
That said, Shan does point out reasons why South Asian residents in Malvern may not be getting to the polls.
“The only issue here is that the electoral system hasn’t engaged in diverse populations,” Shan explains.
“The other reason is that many families have been struggling to make ends meet. They have many priorities at home with respect to jobs, children’s education, etc. They feel like everything is okay with the politics and they don’t have to worry about it.”
Generally, Shan explains, the South Asian community is concerned about job related issues such as employment and foreign credential recognition, as well as immigration policies including refugee settlement, restrictions on family reunification and citizenship.
Shan says another issue within Malvern’s South Asian community is the racial profiling of Muslims, Tamils and Sikhs, an issue members of the neighbourhood’s large African-Caribbean Canadian population have had to grapple with for many years.
The power of ethnic voters
Abal (who did not wish to provide her last name), a volunteer from The Canadian Muslim Vote, a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization aimed at increasing Canadian Muslims’ participation in the democratic process, was in attendance at the event.
She says that according to the organization in the 2011 federal election, 21 ridings in Ontario with significant Muslim populations were won by very narrow margins.
Over half a million Muslims live in Ontario and over 400,000 call the Greater Toronto Area home. There are more than one million Muslims living across Canada, and according to the PEW Forum, by 2030 that number is expected to triple.
Still, Canadian Muslims are among the least politically engaged. Consequently, Muslims have less of a voice within Canada’s democratic institutions.
“[Muslims] don’t know enough about the voting system,” says Abal, citing findings from an online survey her organization conducted, “or they don’t know enough to decide whom to vote for.”
Shan, who arrived in Canada 20 years ago as a refugee from Sri Lanka of Tamil heritage, would like to see a more accessible electoral system to help alleviate the challenges Abal speaks to.
He is calling for investments to be made to reach out to a variety of ethnic and racialized communities across Canada, particularly in different languages.
by Caro Loutfi in Montreal
When it comes to elections, new Canadian citizens and young Canadian voters share similar challenges. Broadly speaking these two demographics share an unfamiliarity with the Canadian democratic process. Put another way, both are often first time voters.
An event hosted by the Canadian Arab Institute Oct. 1 recognizes this overlap – the theme of the evening is youth.
A panel including representatives from Free The Children, the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, Samara and Apathy is Boring will take questions after discussing topics relating to immigrant youth and how to encourage their civic participation.
To better understand some of the barriers that new Canadians encounter when voting, the Institute of Canadian Citizenship recently released a report entitled Ballots and Belonging.
The study used a national online survey, along with focus groups in seven Canadian cities, to uncover the attitudes of new Canadians when it came to political participation.
Comparing the findings of Ballots and Belongings to the 2011 National Youth Survey conducted by Elections Canada, we see similar attitudes and barriers regarding voting.
For example, Ballots and Belonging found 40 per cent of new Canadians surveyed listed time constraints as a barrier to voting. The 2011 National Youth Survey indicated that 50 per cent of Canadians under 24 did not vote due to being occupied with studies, work or caring for a family member.
Another similar finding by both studies is that apathy is not a main barrier to voting for either new or young Canadian demographics.
Ballots and Belonging found only six per cent of those surveyed did not vote due to lack of interest in politics, while the 2011 National Youth Survey found 12 per cent of young Canadians did not vote due to “not caring about politics”.
Where new Canadian citizens and young Canadians truly overlap is in their recommendations for how to improve the electoral process.
The Broadbent Institute's Millennial Dialogue Report demonstrates that Canadian millennials are keen to have Internet voting, longer polling hours and more convenient polling stations. These are the very same recommendations given by the participants in Ballots and Belonging.
This alignment again shows how new Canadians and young Canadians share attitudes towards our electoral system.
Due to these similarities it is important that young and new Canadians be offered clear and concise information about our election process.
Apathy is Boring continues to share accessible, non-partisan information with both demographics through our website, and we launched a #5MMV campaign to highlight the diversity and power of the more than five million millennial voters eligible to cast a ballot this election.
The Canadian Arab Institute is drawing attention to the issue through its youth forum and yourvoiceCAN campaign.
We encourage readers to engage with these campaigns, share them with their friends and, most importantly, cast a ballot on October 19.
Caro Loutfi is the executive director of Apathy is Boring, working in a non-partisan manner and on a national scale to engage Canadian youth in democracy. She currently sits on the Inspirit Foundation’s board, working to inspire pluralism among young Canadians and has been involved in the volunteer sector for over nine years.
by Samantha Lui in Toronto
While immigrant communities across Canada made a significant impact on the last federal election in 2011, much work still needs to be done to increase the presence of visible minorities in Canadian politics.
This was the consensus formed during a panel discussion called, "Courting the 'Ethnic Vote': Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 2015 Federal Election," which took place September 22 at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.
Both political experts and media professionals spoke during the panel, discussing factors such as media coverage of minority candidates, how to cater to immigrants and the importance of having visible minorities run for office. Participants emphasized that immigrants are not a monolithic voting block, but need to be courted if parties hope to win this fall.
Support and coverage in the media
According to Chris Cochrane, an associate professor with the University of Toronto’s department of political science, he’s seen a spike in support for the Conservatives amongst immigrants between 2005 to 2011 who have shifted their support from the Liberals and the New Democrats.
“There’s story after story about the remarkable success the Conservatives enjoyed amongst immigrant communities in the last election,” Cochrane said, referring to media reports.
He continued, “The story itself makes perfect sense if you look at the results. Stephen Harper realized that they couldn’t win as a rural party. The soundest footing for the Conservatives would be [to form] an alliance between rural western Canada and suburban Ontario. In order to win that, they would have to make inroads amongst immigrant communities.”
But while there’s no shortage of media coverage for how the Conservatives came out on top during the 2011 federal election, Erin Tolley, an assistant professor in political science at the University of Toronto, noted that the media is problematic in other ways.
While she says news coverage is not racist, Tolley argues that journalists’ news judgment are often racialized when it comes to reporting on visible minority candidates.
“I found that racial minority candidates tend to be portrayed as products of their socio-demographic characteristics with far more attention given to their backgrounds and culture than is the case for white candidates,” she says.
“In addition, I found that racial minority candidates are much less likely to appear in stories about pressing election issues like the economy even when those candidates present themselves as being interested and concerned about those issues.”
In Tolley’s presentation, she gave examples of media coverage on Conservative party member Tim Uppal. The media often paid very close attention to his immigrant background, his Punjabi heritage, his turban and his beard. This she says, “explicitly painted him as different from the norm.”
Another example given by Tolley were reports on Liberal candidate Ruby Dhalla that mention her past as a Bollywood actress. Tolley argues that this type of coverage undermines the skills and qualifications Dhalla brings to the arena as a politician.
While Tolley says such coverage in the media are intended to be innocuous, she suggests that there is a need for more training for journalists when it comes to reporting on diversity. She notes that the "Canadian Press Stylebook" has a section on sexism, but not on racism. The only section that touches on this is called “Race and Ethnicity.”
“Many of the journalists that I talked to didn’t think this was necessary," said Tolley. "They talked about how the standard for the coverage is fairness and accuracy and that they really only mention race when it’s relevant to news stories."
The need to engage immigrant voters
How the media covers visible minorities in Canadian politics wasn’t the only topic covered during the panel. How to attract minority voters was also front and centre during the discussion.
Jane Hilderman is the executive director of Samara, a non-partisan group that aims to connect and reconnect Canadians to politics and democracy through research and discussions.
Noting that the last federal election had a voter turnout of 61 per cent, Hilderman argues that there needs to be better ways to socialize people into politics, especially as many newcomers to Canada may come from places with different political institutions and traditions.
Part of Samara’s approach to improving the way immigrants get involved in politics is through community programs such as Democracy Talks, Hilderman explained, which are facilitated conversations where people can ask about issues and experiences they have with politics.
Through those conversations, Samara has also developed a Vote PopUp kit, which provides community groups with training on how to vote. It aims to demystify the voting process and explain why exercising your right to vote is important.
On getting immigrants politically engaged, New Canadian Media’s Ranjit Bhaskar said it should be a grassroots effort. It would help if political leaders show genuine interest in the well-being of their constituents instead of merely pandering to the “ethnic” among them, Bhaskar said.
He gave the example of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford as someone who, although he did not specifically target ethnic voters, still elicited their support by taking up issues that mattered to them. “He was the one mayor who visited the run-down, cockroach-infested apartments of immigrant families to check on their living conditions,” Bhaskar explained.
With reference to the current federal campaign, Bhaskar said issues such as Bill C-51, Bill C-24, family reunification, small business taxes and recognition of foreign credentials are seen as important to immigrant voters.
Global Diversity Exchange’s executive director Ratna Omidvar agreed, stating that these issues will have a major impact on the election results along with the ongoing refugee crisis.
“We have 30 more ridings in the country this coming election. Most of them are in the outer rings of vote-rich, minority-rich Toronto and Vancouver. In many of these new ridings, there are only minorities who are running,” she said.
“I predict that immigrants will vote much more in this coming election than they have in the past because they will have people who are running for power who look like them.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit