Commentary by: Paul Adams in Ottawa
Jagmeet Singh does not yet have a seat in the House of Commons. So when the new NDP leader comes to visit, he’ll have to sit up in the Leader of the Opposition’s Gallery and gaze down on the body he wishes someday to join.
If all the MPs are there that day, Singh may notice that there are already five turbaned Sikh men with seats. In 2015, 47 so-called “visible minority” MPs were elected along with 10 Indigenous people, very nearly mirroring their relative shares of the Canadian population.
If Singh then swings his eyes to the north end of the Commons chamber to the gallery above the Speaker’s Chair — to the Press Gallery, that is — he may notice something different. So far as I am aware, there has never been a turbaned man working as a reporter for a major news organization, so he won’t see any of those.
No one keeps racial statistics on the Press Gallery the way they do for the House of Commons, but when I looked through the membership list the other day, I was able to identify only one visible minority reporter working for one of the big legacy media outlets – a reporter at CTV. None at the Globe, none at the Star, none at CBC-TV. And no Indigenous people either.
This may overstate the case a little bit. Since I was a reporter on the Hill in the 1990s, there has been an influx of young reporters of colour. They tend to be concentrated in online and specialist publications such as HuffPost Canada, the Hill Times, the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) and some ethnic and foreign news outlets. The so-called Mainstream Media — not so much.
The House of Commons is today much more representative of the face of modern Canada than is the Press Gallery. Most of us can name a few visible minority and Indigenous politicians. Try coming up with more than one or two political journalists of colour.
When Singh was chosen as NDP leader, there were two streams of news coverage, both echoing (in a small way) the reaction to Barack Obama’s breakthrough in 2008. The first was a self-congratulatory celebration of the nation’s inclusivity. The second involved an obsessive concern with the man’s race and ethnicity.
One interview that got a lot of attention was Terry Milewski’s welcome-to-Ottawa interview with Singh on CBC’s Power and Politics. Milewski has never suffered fools gladly and operates on the premise that all politicians are fools until proven otherwise. (Stephen Harper was never able to establish this to Milewski’s satisfaction, so far as I could see.)
Apparently Singh, or his office, had — with stunning naiveté — asked to see the questions in advance. Milewski delightedly tweeted out that fact before Singh backed down. Advantage: Milewski.
A lot of the reaction to Milewski’s interview turned around a “gotcha” section at the end of the interview in which Milewski doggedly asked Singh to denounce posters of Talwinder Singh Parmar, which appear in some Sikh-Canadian institutions. Parmar was a Sikh nationalist who was — it has been well-established — the mastermind behind the Air India bombing in which 329 people were killed, most of them Canadian, many of them of Indian extraction.
For many viewers not steeped in the issue, it must have been a baffling exchange. But few reporters in Canada have covered the Air India bombing and its aftermath more thoroughly than Milewski — and Jagmeet Singh has been deeply engaged in Sikh politics. It may have been a ‘gotcha’ question, but it got Singh, who dodged and weaved but would not be caught denouncing Canada’s worst-ever mass murderer.
Singh is really going to have to do better than this if he wants to lead a national party with any success.
What concerned me about the Milewski interview was not this exchange, but what came before it. Except for the first question — which was about how Singh would manage without a Commons seat — every single query directly or indirectly invoked race, religion or ethnicity.
There were questions about refugees, religious symbols, Singh’s “acceptability” in Quebec — all coming before the Parmar exchange. Nothing on Singh’s interesting views on addressing precarious work among the young. Nothing on his controversial views on decriminalizing possession of drugs like cocaine and heroin. No “open-ended” questions that would allow Singh to lay out his own agenda.
Earlier that same day, another CBC journalist had posted a tweet that appeared to confuse Singh with another turbaned Sikh — federal economic development minister Navdeep Bains. If I were among the one-in-five people living in Canada who are visible minority, I might be tempted to wonder whether journalists who see a politician of colour see anything but the colour.
When we look south of the border — or across the Atlantic — it’s easy for Canadians to think of racism as a foreign problem. And I agree that we seem (for the moment) unusually blessed.
But take a look at some of the just-released data from Canadian Press’s important “Populism Project” – a survey from EKOS research. According to EKOS’ massive survey, 37 per cent of Canadians think too many immigrants are visible minority. Among respondents who are themselves visible minority, 43 per cent said they had “personally seen or experienced a clear incident of racism” over the past month. Remarkably, 26 per cent of other Canadians said the same.
While a plurality of Canadians don’t think there been much change in the level of racism in Canada, 33 per cent think racism is becoming more common, compared with 20 per cent who think it is becoming less common.
I am not suggesting for a moment that Sikh politicians should only be interviewed by Sikh journalists, or that Indigenous politicians (like the Manitoba NDP’s new leader Wab Kinew) should only be interviewed by Indigenous journalists. It’s a fundamental tenet of journalism that good reporters strive to understand the world around them, and strive particularly hard to understand those most different from them.
But a more diverse press corps would have two effects: one for journalists, the other for consumers of journalism.
For journalists, having people of various backgrounds in the newsrooms means being exposed to different sensibilities and story ideas in editorial meetings, over coffee, and in the thousands of chats that occur among colleagues in newsrooms every day as they try to figure out their angles. They also get to know individuals different from themselves in their full complexity — without reducing them to their most visible characteristics.
In the late 1980s, I did a story related to HIV/AIDS for the CBC. I had lived in New York at the height of the crisis a few years earlier and thought I was reasonably well informed. But after my story aired, a young producer — who was gay — came and spoke to me about some of the language I had used. He made me a better journalist by helping me see some things I had overlooked.
We are all limited to some degree by our backgrounds. Journalism is a lifelong process of educating ourselves away from those limitations.
For news consumers, diverse newsrooms are both a substantive and a symbolic indication that the news business is serious about exploring our world, which includes people like ourselves and people who are quite different. It’s not just about comforting visible minorities through representation. It’s also about the rest of us not just seeing them, but trying to understand them.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. This piece was republished under arrangement with iPolitics.
Jagmeet Singh raised more money than the rest of the NDP leadership field combined in the second quarter of 2017.
According to fundraising data published by Elections Canada late Monday afternoon, the deputy leader of the Ontario NDP raked in $356,784 from 1,681 contributors for the period that ended June 30.
That was well above Charlie Angus, who finished second with $123,577 from 1,285.
Niki Ashton raised $70,156 from 1,006 contributors, while Guy Caron brought in $46,970 from 568.
Peter Julian, who dropped out of the race in June citing fundraising troubles, still raised $28,673 from 296 donors.
In a press release, Singh cited the fact that he only officially joined the race on May 15, 2017 and that he therefore raised the impressive amount in only 47 days.
“Jagmeet Singh, candidate in the federal NDP leadership race, has raised more in the first 47 days than Justin Trudeau or Andrew Scheer at the same point in their leadership campaigns,” the press release said.
It added that the median donation was $40 and that two-thirds of the donations received were under $100.
The Liberals took issue with the $40 median donation being portrayed as evidence of a grassroots groundswell, pointing out that 87 per cent of all their donations in the second quarter were under $100 and that the median donation was just $11.
They also disputed the comparison to Trudeau’s leadership fundraising. A party spokesperson told iPolitics that — though Trudeau announced his intention to run on October 2, 2012, the race wasn’t officially underway until November 14, when the party began providing administrative support to the candidates.
In the first 47 days from November 14, the spokesperson said, Trudeau raised over $700,000.
All the same, with the NDP’s fundraising hitting a seven-year low in the quarter, Singh’s success is indisputably good news for the party, which takes a 25 per cent cut of all donations to leadership campaigns.
“Singh’s fundraising numbers also revealed how his message is resonating with new supporters for the NDP. A cross reference of address, name, and postal code with Elections Canada donor records, demonstrate that roughly 75% of the donors to Singh’s campaign have never before given to Canada’s NDP,” the Singh release said.
Singh himself argued his fundraising numbers show the party can take on the Liberals and Conservatives in 2019.
“I am very proud of what our team was able to accomplish in our first six weeks of the campaign,” he said.
By arrangement with ipolitics.ca.
Commentary by John Delacourt in Toronto
With just a few notable exceptions, the historical roots and complexities of South Asian politics here in Canada are barely covered in our mainstream media. What we miss are factors that can weigh heavily on current leadership races, and eventually on the federal election campaign in 2019.
Jagmeet Singh’s decision to enter the NDP’s federal leadership race, for example, has the potential to trigger a strong demographic shift among millennials. Here are two scenes from previous campaigns that speak to this possible breakthrough:
In the first, it’s 2014, and Olivia Chow has entered the mayoral race in Toronto. I’m sitting in a downtown restaurant with two South Asian NDP organizers who have offered to help her. Hailing from Brampton, they have both worked very closely with Jagmeet Singh.
One organizer has a theory about Trudeau and what he predicts will be the ultimate demise of the Liberal party in the 2015 campaign. It’s his view that no one really took a close look at who Trudeau was attracting to his events in the 905 area and in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. It’s only members of an older generation of South Asians, he affirms — those who had come to Canada in the 1980s and felt loyal to Pierre Trudeau and his progressive immigration policies — embracing the younger Trudeau’s candidacy with such enthusiasm. To the children of this generation, he says — the ones coming of age and becoming active in gurdwara politics — Trudeau’s Liberal bona fides are questionable.
Trudeau was tainted, he claims, by his party’s rejection of a groundswell movement of activism that was seeking redress for the pogroms the Indian government carried out against Sikhs in the eighties. It was NDP Leader Jack Layton’s charisma and support for these efforts, given validation by Jagmeet Singh’s work on the ground, that fired up this younger generation, he tells me.
Trudeau and his growing number of South Asian candidates only appeal to the less engaged “uncles and aunties,” the organizer assures me — and are doomed to lose in the face of the NDP’s new organizational strength out in Brampton and Surrey.
The second scene takes place a little more than a year later. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is having his first official campaign rally at the Variety Village community centre in Scarborough, Ontario. There I am fully expecting to see a strong contingent of young South Asian campaign workers in the front row, cheering in a full house. But the room is, by and large, made up of faces I recognize — people from the same core Toronto labour union and activist base that Chow initially rallied together in the early days of her mayoral campaign. These supporters are older — mostly “old stock,” as was the phrase-du-jour in those days. It seems a sign of things to come.
Indeed, four weeks out from election day, I’m on the phone with a pollster who offers me a salient read on what might have happened to that once-engaged South Asian NDP vote. He tells me that his numbers suggest an overwhelming percentage of those who voted provincially for the NDP in Ontario, back in 2014, were not going to vote for the federal NDP in 2015.
The emerging demographic split of South Asian Canadian voters my organizer friend had predicted just one year before failed to materialize. It was my contention that the South Asian candidates running — people like Navdeep Bains, Kamal Khera and Sukh Dhaliwal — could easily transcend generational biases and connect with all their constituents by addressing middle class issues.
One thing was clear: Mulcair was not appealing to a younger, engaged, activist demographic with all the fire and charisma that Singh is capable of inspiring.
For all the ways in which Singh’s rise to prominence has been profiled in the mainstream media, it’s his ability to connect with the complex, compartmentalized idealism and aspirationalism of a younger generation — those who see no contradiction in their candidate praising the revolutionary consciousness of Castro and posing for GQ — that might be most decisive in the NDP leadership race.
And if Singh does win, that charismatic appeal to a younger generation might catch on well beyond South Asian communities — if the Liberal party’s mandate for the middle class loses credibility. And that might turn out to be the sleeper theme of the next federal election.
By arrangement with iPolitics.ca
Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa
Tom Mulcair was removed as leader of the NDP because of the party’s disappointing result in the last federal election. The election started with Mulcair as the favourite to become prime minister, and it ended with the NDP back to its traditional third place.
There is, however, a more interesting element behind Mulcair’s defeat. While many of the convention attendees expressed sadness that they had to make the difficult decision of removing Mulcair, the left-wing of the party openly celebrated his demise, pumping their fists in the air in delight.
Mulcair would likely have been a competent prime minister, but while he had the same policies as Jack Layton, he did not have his charisma. Mulcair’s term as leader ended with a humiliating vote. He was two per cent short of the 50 per cent that would have at least allowed him to resign with dignity. Had he received the support of some of the left-wing of the party, he would at least passed the 50 per cent mark.
Unlike the party moderates who voted against Mulcair because they felt that he could not win, the left-wing voted against him purely for ideological reasons. The most salient point of disagreement between them is that Mulcair is moderately pro-Israel whereas the extreme left is vehemently anti-Israel. The extremists have been waiting for an opportunity to exact their revenge on him. This past weekend, that opportunity finally materialized.
The defeat came despite Mulcair's attempts to appease the extremists. Despite being pro-Israel, Mulcair used very careful language on this topic since he became leader and he managed to prevent a public war within the party between the pro-Israel and the anti-Israel camps. He even voted against a Conservative resolution in Parliament that condemned the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, refusing to join the Liberals who voted for it.
Mulcair’s stand in support of the wearing of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies during the last election also appeared to be an attempt to appease the extreme left. They were not appeased, and they took the first opportunity to humiliate him.
Extremists in the ranks
The presence of a virulently anti-Israel faction has now become common in Western left-wing parties. The U.K Labour party even elected the anti-Israel Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. The anti-Israel hysteria found on the extreme left is fed by its victimization fetish, and it goes far beyond reasonable criticism. Its singling out of the only Jewish state for extreme and unbalanced criticism feeds anti-Semitism.
U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump was roundly criticized by many Republicans when it became known that he had not immediately repudiated the support of high-profile racists. No Western party today would tolerate an openly racist faction within it, yet the anti-Semitism fostered by the extreme left is rarely challenged.
Mulcair’s predecessors Jack Layton and Alexa McDonough took courageous steps in trying to cleanse the party of its anti-Israel elements, and Mulcair continued the same policies. For example, he refused to accept candidates who are blatantly anti-Israel. Mulcair, however, should have taken the fight against the extremists to the next level. The extremists never left the party. They were lurking in the shadows, waiting for the next opportunity to strike. Mulcair should have made his support for Israel much more visible, like Stephen Harper did, which would have caused the extremists to leave in disgust.
But Mulcair allowed the extremists to remain and to ignore the party’s low-key pro-Israel policies. The extremists have a strong presence in the grassroots of the party, and Mulcair did nothing to change that.
While Jack Layton was a transformational figure who changed the party into a much more modern and credible machine that was seen by Canadian voters as a possible party of government, marginalizing the extreme left, Mulcair failed to take the step of eliminating the extreme left altogether. The NDP is now back to being a third party, both in numbers and in mindset. To the chagrin of the Alberta NDP which is now in power, the party is now debating a “Leap Manifesto” that would make the federal party completely unelectable and would damage their provincial chances as well.
Mulcair is leaving a party deeply divided. He failed to leave a lasting mark. His experience and knowledge would have made him an excellent Cabinet minister in a Jack Layton government, but it turns out that leading a left-wing party with a deep extremist mentality at its grassroots was beyond his capabilities.
He tried to buy the extremists’ loyalty by appeasing them, mirroring the NDP’s approach towards ISIS, but like with ISIS, appeasement only feeds the problem and makes the extremists stronger. In the end, the NDP’s extremists delivered the fatal blow and then rejoiced in seeing Mulcair go down to a humiliating defeat.
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at http://www.jpost.com/Blogger/Fred-Maroun and http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/fred-maroun/.
by Ted Alcuitas in Vancouver
The man who put Filipinos on the political map of this country has died in Winnipeg, his home for more than five decades.
Conrad Santos, the first Filipino-Canadian to be elected to a provincial legislative assembly died at Winnipeg’s Victoria General Hospital on Feb. 29. He was 81. The cause of death was not known.
In a statement, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger offered his condolences to Santos’ family on behalf of Manitobans.
“It was with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of Dr. Santos,” Selinger said.
“Dr. Santos served his adopted province and his constituency with dedication and self-sacrifice. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”
A distinguished career
Conrad Santos was first elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly under the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1981, serving for five terms (1981-1988 and 1990-2007) before stepping down in 2007.
Born in the Philippines and a native Bulakeno, he was educated at Harvard University and the University of Michigan, where he earned a PhD in Political Science.
He moved to Winnipeg in 1965 after obtaining a teaching position at the University of Manitoba. He remained a tenured professor at the U of M until his election to the legislature. Santos also worked as a consultant for the Instituto Centro-Americano de Administracion Publica in Costa Rica, and was a board member of the Citizenship Council of Manitoba from 1977 to 1980.
Santos was active in the Winnipeg Filipino community for many years serving as an adviser to many organizations notably the Philippine Association of Manitoba (PAM). He was a member of the Knights of Rizal, the organization that first broke the story of his death.
Controversy in his political life
The soft-spoken and eccentric Santos led a colourful and sometimes controversial political life. Long before riding a bike became popular, he was already riding one to the legislature from his home in Fort Garry with his iconic Che Guevarra hat and a sling leather bag at his side.
Santos was first elected to the Manitoba legislature in the 1981 provincial election as a New Democrat in the northwest Winnipeg riding of Burrows, defeating NDP-turned-Progressive Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Ben Hanuschak. He was re-elected in the 1986 election.
In June 1984, there were unconfirmed rumours that he was considering a move to the Progressive Conservative Party.
In 1987, he was accused of trying to use his political position to prevent Winnipeg School Division No. 1 from expropriating a house he owned.
Santos lost the Burrows NDP nomination to Doug Martindale in 1988, and subsequently entered the party’s leadership election. He was not regarded as a serious candidate, and received only five votes on the first ballot. Santos ran for mayor of Winnipeg in 1989, but was again not considered a serious candidate and finished a distant fourth.
In 1990, Santos won the NDP nomination for Broadway, another northwest riding, by a single vote over favoured candidate Marianne Cerilli. He subsequently defeated Liberal incumbent Avis Gray in the 1990 general election, and was re-elected in the 1995 election.
In 1995, he endorsed Lorne Nystrom’s bid to lead the federal NDP. When the Broadway riding was eliminated by redistribution in 1999, Santos won the NDP nomination in Wellington (also in Winnipeg’s northwest), and was returned by a wide margin in the 1999 provincial election.
He was again re-elected in the 2003 election. Santos was named Deputy Speaker after the elections of 1986 and 1999, but has never been appointed to a cabinet position.
Santos left the New Democratic Party caucus shortly before the 2007 provincial election after being accused of improperly selling party membership cards (he denied the charge). He campaigned as an independent, and finished last in a field of five candidates. His successor, Flor Marcelino, was a last minute replacement candidate for the NDP.
The Winnipeg Sun reported in 2013 that on Mar. 16, 2005 “Santos was scolded for bringing a paring knife into chamber. …The speaker confiscated the three-inch blade from Santos, who apologized for bringing it into the house.”
Paving the way for Filipino politicians
There is no doubt that Conrad Santos paved the way for the current crop of Filipino politicians in Manitoba including Dr. Rey Pagtakhan who followed him as the first Filipino to be elected member of Parliament in 1988.
Pagtakhan’s nephew Mike, is a long-serving member of the Winnipeg city council and there are currently two sitting members of the Manitoba legislature – Flor Marcelino and Ted Marcelino, both of the NDP.
Other Filipino politicians served in various positions in school boards putting Manitoba firmly in the leading position in the country as having the most number of Filipino politicians in office.
Santos is survived by one daughter, two sons and two daughters-in-law, Evelyn Santos, Conrad and Leslie Santos, Rob and Kim Santos, and their families; four grandchildren, Kristen and Matt, Ginny and Josie.
Affectionately known as ka Rading to his family, he is also survived by his three siblings and three sisters-in-law, Leticia Santos, Rebecca Santos, Ruel and Dina Santos, Narcisa Santos, Luz Santos, and all their families (including his nephew, Paul Santos).
Santos was predeceased by his parents, Federico and Marcelina Santos of Malolos, Bulacan, Philippines; his sister Melita Santos Beltran, his brothers Virgilio Santos and Benjamin Santos, and his wife Emerita Santos, and is survived by their families.
This article first appeared on PhilippineCanadianNews.com. Republished with permission.
by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa
While Canada’s recent federal election resulted in more visible minorities being elected to Parliament than ever before, many also lost and are in the process of moving forward with the lessons they learned.
Rev. KM Shanthikumar, Scarborough-Rouge Park, New Democratic Party
Rev. KM Shanthikumar is a priest who ran as the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate in the riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park. Born in Sri Lanka, Shanthikumar moved to Canada 30 years ago. He says he was very confident about winning and was actually leading in the polls prior to Election Day.
“Until the last two weeks to the election, I was the front-runner,” he recalls.
Shanthikumar says he was not complacent, but still can’t come to terms with his loss.
“I worked very hard till the last day and I’m very surprised,” explains Shanthikumar, who lost to Liberal candidate Gary Anandasangaree. “I don’t know what happened.”
He says although it was a major blow, he has moved on and returned to work. A manager at a telecommunications company in Toronto, Shanthikumar says he will continue to serve the people of Scarborough-Rouge Park like he has always done.
“I’ll continue where I left off and do whatever I can to help my community,” he says. “I know there is an MP (member of Parliament) in the riding, and I will approach him and offer any help he wants.”
Shanthikumar plans to re-strategize and return to politics in four years.
“I will come back with better plans and better ideas to win the next election,” he says.
One thing Shanthikumar learned about the people in Scarborough-Rouge Park – a riding where more than 70 per cent of the population identifies as a visible minority – is that they see themselves first as Canadians before anything else.
“The people of this riding do not see anybody as a minority or immigrant,” he explains. “This is the feeling I got when I went canvassing for votes from different people from different cultures.”
Steven Kou, Vancouver Kingsway, Liberal party
Steven Kou arrived in Canada from China 15 years ago.
Having majored in economics at University of British Columbia, Kou planned to use his economics knowledge to benefit the many low and middle-income families in B.C.'s Vancouver Kingsway riding.
Kou, who contested on behalf of the Liberal party, says that people in the ethnically diverse riding accepted his campaign message.
“As a visible minority, I wanted to be the bridge between the different ethnic groups in the riding and integrate the cultures into the Canadian culture,” Kou says.
Although the NDP, which has traditionally held the Vancouver Kingsway seat, won on Oct. 19, Kou says he is happy with the results.
“The most important thing for me is to continue to work in the community and be a voice for them even though I’m not the MP,” he explains.
Kou adds that he believes this election will be a source of inspiration for young visible minorities to get into politics. He hopes to get the nod from the Liberals to try to unseat the NDP MP again in four years.
“As a visible minority I have come to appreciate the opportunity to run for politics,” Kou states. “It’s a privilege.”
Jimmy Yu, Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Conservative party
Contesting Liberal veteran Stéphane Dion in the Saint-Laurent-Cartierville riding in Montreal was a tall order for Jimmy Yu. He ran for the Conservatives in a riding that has voted Liberal since 1988.
Yu, who migrated to Canada from China in 1981, says the area has a sizeable number of visible minorities, including a large Chinese Canadian population.
“We have very rich experiences [that] the locals here don’t have, it is therefore important to add our diversity to [government],” he says. “We are now part of Canada. It is therefore important for the minorities to get involved.”
Yu took a year off work and has been volunteering full-time for the Conservative party since the beginning of the year.
“For next year, I need to go back to work to make money to feed my kids,” he says.
Yu has not made up his mind about contesting in the next election yet.
For Shanthikumar, Kou and Yu, it will take at least four years before they may see their names on the ballot again. Though they may have lost their bids to become MPs, all three say they are winners in their own way.
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
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by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto
Covering this Canadian federal election has been a surreal experience. First off, being a permanent resident without the right to vote, it made me feel like a party crasher – an outsider on the inside.
While not having a skin in the game gave me the veneer of a neutral observer, interactions with campaign offices and leaders at rallies and events soon got under my skin.
There was the constant messaging, with both party leaders and candidates refusing to stray away from well-rehearsed lines and showing their irritation when thrown a curveball.
For me, New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair made this particularly evident early on during the campaign during the launch of his book, Strength of Conviction. Having bought the book, I lined up to get it autographed by someone who had a fair shot at being the next prime minister.
After pleasantries, when I identified myself as a journalist and asked an innocuous question on what his government would do for new Canadians, Mulcair’s reaction was telling. It was as if I had asked him something as contentious as exporting fresh water.
The oxygen got sucked out as ‘Angry Tom’ summoned his media handlers, who ushered me away with promises of other opportunities to interact with the party leader. That never happened, and it was only late in the campaign that I was even put on the NDP’s mailing list.
Interactions with the offices of the other two major parties proved much better.
The Liberals put out the best media outreach effort – so good it was almost textbook perfect. The Conservatives were not far behind, but were much more guarded. They seemed keen to provide photo-ops rather than access to their leader or candidates.
Understandably, security concerns for Prime Minister Stephen Harper meant that his campaign stops were not made known well in advance. There was always a cordon around him and people at his rallies were carefully selected. This ensured that the events were dull, sparse and looked more staged than those of the other parties.
Take for instance this event at a Brampton trucking company to create a quintessential, Canadian “Timbits moment.” It was framed as “Harper bringing coffee for the crew.” Never mind that a table with Tim Hortons coffee and Timbits was already positioned against a backdrop of tractor-trailers and loaders.
Before this photo-op unfolded, the media were corralled away in a dilapidated room and brought to watch the drama only when the bus rolled in. The purpose was obvious: to prevent the media from interacting with the assembled truck drivers and mechanics.
The media handlers need not have worried. Tory supporters on the campaign trail don’t hide their dislike for media and tend to avoid journalists like the plague.
Inadvertently, these tendencies created a funereal-type atmosphere at some of the party’s events. Fittingly, most of our election stories carried the disclaimer that Conservative candidates refused to comment.
Far cry from elections elsewhere
All this is a far cry from what I had experienced covering numerous elections in boisterous India and a referendum fraught with danger in what is now South Sudan.
While the politics could be maddening and working conditions daunting, the optics were festive.
While I was not expecting that kind of enthusiasm in a First World situation, I did get a glimpse of it at Liberal rallies and events.
Although not massive by global standards, the supporters were animated. But more important to a journalist, they and their leaders were approachable and willing to talk on any issue.
This kind of openness was refreshing, but I had to be guarded against its insidious effect.
Because the Liberal media team and its candidates were more forthcoming, they would invariably get more coverage. Early on in the campaign, I warned my election desk colleagues in jest to flag me down if I tended to veer in favour of the Grits.
Finally, as a new Canadian, the attack ads against Justin Trudeau signalled unintended messages to me.
I am not talking of the much-reviled Conservative ads in Chinese and Punjabi language media here. What I have in mind are the “just not ready” ads put out by both the Conservatives and the NDP.
Both parties sought to frame the election as a job interview for Trudeau and had his photos conveniently clipped to his ‘resume’.
Most newcomers will remember being warned by well-intentioned mentors not to include their mug shots with job applications, as it was not ‘the Canadian way’. And here we have interview panels pondering about offering the most important job in the country based on, among other things, Trudeau’s perceived lack of experience and commenting about his hair.
At a subliminal level it reminded me of the “lack of Canadian experience” barrier faced by newcomer job seekers. And yes, the fact that newcomers’ hair tends to look ‘different’ as well.
Ranjit Bhaskar is New Canadian Media's Election Desk Editor.
by Sableen Minhas in Vancouver
Canada’s weakening economy, the implication of Anti-terrorism Act, Bill C-51 and rapid growth in the riding are some of the main concerns of constituents in Vancouver South. These issues might decide the fate of this diverse riding in the upcoming federal election.
, the Conservative incumbent, is trailing at about 24 per cent. The number of her supporters seems to have almost halved from the 2011 federal election, which she won by beating the three-time Liberal member of Parliament (MP) Ujjal Dosanjh in a tight race.
Naresh Shukla, owner of Mother India Naresh Food Inc., an East Indian convenience store located on Main Street, says that he intends on voting, but has not fixed his mind on a particular candidate yet.
“When I came into Canada 40 years ago, when politicians [said] something I trusted that yes, [they’re] going to do it. These days, they say something, but they are not really serious.”
Shukla’s opinion on Young is in line with the drop in her popularity.
“I am disappointed,” he says. “Wai Young came to my house and I asked her two questions and I said to her that if you give my two questions’ answers, I will support you.”
He explains that his two questions were regarding Senator Mike Duffy and the present government’s stand on economy. According to Shukla, Young’s responses were not satisfactory for him.
Shukla is not alone in his disappointment of the riding’s current MP.
Reeha Korpal, a recent political science graduate from Simon Fraser University, echoes a similar sentiment.
Sitting in the Liberal party’s local campaign office on Victoria Drive, where she volunteers occasionally, Korpal says that Vancouver South needs someone who can address the riding’s major issues.
“We are a part of city that’s growing and is one of the up and coming cities in Canada, whether that’s economically or socially,” she explains. “We also have our issues in terms of can we keep up with the growth and the issue of population coming in versus the cost of living here.”
According to the Elections Canada website, Vancouver South had a population of 100,965 in 2011, packed in an area of 21 km2. This number is steadily increasing. As per data available on BC Stats, the projected population for Vancouver South in 2020 is 145,790.
In a riding that has diverse cultural demographics, the present government’s controversial bills like Bill C-51 and the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, Bill C-24, are not helping the Conservative candidate.
“Van South is a very diverse riding, so we need to respect the fact that Bill C-24 that creates division between the type of citizens that we have – as Harper says ‘old stock versus the new stock,’ – [is] not acceptable,” says Korpal.
She adds that having ethnic minority candidates run just for the sake of garnering more votes doesn’t help either. “If the party’s values don’t align with that, it doesn’t matter if you have a Sajjan [or a Young] running. You need to have the values aligned with that cultural identity as well.”
Howie Chong, campaign communications officer for the area’s New Democratic candidate Amandeep Nijjar says for the diverse people who walk into their office Bill C-51 and health care are of primary concern.
“From what we are hearing, a lot of people are very concerned about Bill C-51, which gives the federal government the ability to listen in on Canadians,” Chong says.
Bill C-51 has been a hot topic of debate in the all-party candidates’ debates in Vancouver South. Wai Young faced discontent from the public on her defence of the bill during the meeting at Killarney Community Centre. She did not attend a later debate held at Langara College.
Young and her campaign team declined an interview for this article. They asked New Canadian Media to get in touch with party headquarters.
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by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto
As Oct. 19 is only days away, a quick look at ridings with interesting ethno-cultural dynamics at play will give you an idea of what to watch out for on election night.
It is highly likely that there will be 50 or more minority legislators in the newly elected House of Commons – made possible in part because all three major parties have fielded candidates who share the cultural heritage of dominant populations in several of Canada’s 338 ridings.
While ethnicity is not the only influence on voting behaviour, ridings that have 20 per cent and above of people from a single group are indicative of the effectiveness of micro targeting by the parties. For one, these are large, but focused, groups that can be easily reached through advertising, often in languages spoken at home.
The Conservatives targeted South Asian groups in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Greater Vancouver Area (GVA) in 2011 with significant success. But there are many indications to suggest that large sections of this heterogeneous group may vote Liberal as the party’s emphasis on issues like family reunification resonate with them.
Ridings to watch in the GTA are all five Brampton ridings and the five Mississauga ridings of Mississauga Centre, Mississauga East-Cooksville, Mississauga-Erin Mills, Mississauga-Malton and Mississauga-Streetsville. Many of them are three-way and two-way fights between candidates of South Asian heritage.
Ridings of interest in the Toronto suburbs are Scarborough Centre, Scarborough North, Scarborough Southwest, Scarborough-Guildwood, Scarborough-Rouge Park and Etobicoke North. The NDP’s Rathika Sitsabaeisan and Liberal’s Bill Blair are the prominent candidates here.
Further west in Alberta, the ridings of Edmonton Mill Woods and Calgary Skyview are the ones to watch as they will decide the fate of Conservative incumbents Tim Uppal and Devinder Shory respectively in three-way fights amongst candidates of South Asian heritage. Calgary Forest Lawn will also be of interest as Deepak Obhrai, a prominent Conservative incumbent, is contesting from there.
In British Colombia, Surrey Centre and Surrey-Newton will witness three-way races between candidates of South Asian heritage. The other ridings to watch are Fleetwood-Port Kells, where Conservative incumbent Nina Grewal is contesting, and Vancouver South, where the Liberals have fielded star candidate Harjit Sajjan.
In 2011, like with South Asians, the Conservatives were able to woo the ethnic Chinese vote successfully. And like the South Asians, some sections of this heterogeneous group are riled by changes in immigration and citizenship policies.
The new Express Entry program and the elimination of the immigrant investor program in 2014 have made Chinese immigration to Canada harder. Expect this dissatisfaction to be reflected in the way the community votes.
In British Columbia, the Vancouver area ridings to watch are Richmond Centre, Steveston-Richmond East, Vancouver South, Vancouver East, Vancouver Granville, Vancouver Kingsway, Vancouver Quadra, Burnaby North-Seymour and Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam.
Further to the east, the riding to watch is Calgary Nose Hill in Alberta where prominent Conservative incumbent Michelle Rempel is seeking re-election.
In the GTA, the ridings to watch are Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, from where Costas Menegakis, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship & Immigration, is contesting; Markham-Stouffville, where Paul Calandra who served as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, is contesting; Markham-Thornhill, from where Liberal immigration critic John McCallum is contesting; Markham-Unionville; and Richmond Hill.
In the Toronto suburbs, the ridings to watch are Scarborough-Agincourt, Scarborough North, Willowdale and Don Valley North, where Conservative Joe Daniel is facing a strong challenge from Liberal Geng Tan.
Daniel has stirred controversy by speaking out on “so-called” refugees fleeing Syrian violence, criticizing Saudi Arabia for inaction on the crisis, and suggesting a Muslim “agenda” is pushing refugees into Europe.
As Harper has made support for Ukraine a key part of his foreign policy initiatives, it would be of interest to know how it translates into keeping ridings with significant Ukrainian populations safely within the Conservative fold.
The ridings to watch are Lakeland in Alberta, Yorkton-Melville in Saskatchewan and the Manitoba ridings of Kildonan-St. Paul, Elmwood-Transcona and Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman.
The two ridings with a high concentration of Italian voters are in the GTA: King-Vaughan and Vaughan-Woodbridge. Both elected Conservatives in 2011, along with the other Ontario riding in play, Sault Ste. Marie.
The ridings to watch in Montreal are Saint Leonard-Saint Michel and Honoré-Mercier.
When it comes to religion, no non-Christian community is in majority in any of the ridings.
The highest proportion is in Surrey-Newton with 44 per cent Sikh, followed by 34 per cent Sikh in Brampton East.
Being a close-knit religious community, Sikhs have been able to rally together to ensure that fellow community members get elected to parliament from ridings where they are predominant.
The current House of Commons has six Sikh MPs, a ratio well above their population figures.
The GTA suburb of Thornhill has the next most populous religious group in one riding with 37 per cent Jewish, followed by Montreal’s Mount Royal with 31 per cent. In Toronto, 25 per cent of both Eglinton-Lawrence and York Centre are Jewish.
Eglinton-Lawrence is of added interest as Conservative Joe Oliver is in a tough three-way fight against Liberal Marco Mendicino and NDP star Andrew Thomson.
Oliver is one of the most senior Jewish parliamentarians. If he loses, it would be only the third time since Confederation that an incumbent finance minister is defeated.
The Muslim vote
Statistics Canada says Muslims comprise between 12 and 19 per cent of the population in 19 federal ridings – 11 in Ontario, six in Quebec and two in Alberta.
In the 2011 elections, 21 ridings in Ontario with notable Muslim populations were won by the smallest of margins.
According to non-partisan organization The Canadian Muslim Vote, had Muslims voted in greater numbers they could have been a deciding factor in determining who got elected.
High Muslim voter turnout could make a significant difference not only in ridings with high Muslim populations such as Don Valley East and Mississauga Centre, but also in key ridings in Calgary and Edmonton.
No monopoly on ethno-cultural vote
Other ridings with significant ethno cultural factors at play include Spadina-Fort York in Toronto, where Liberal star Adam Vaughan is fighting NDP star Olivia Chow.
The three Etobicoke ridings in Toronto are also significant as Ukrainian, Somali, South Asian and Ahmadiyya Muslim groups have influence in the area.
For the Conservatives, winning these ridings is important to maintain presence in a city that has been traditionally carved out between the Liberals and the NDP.
But the electoral fights in all of the above ridings indicate that the days of any one party monopolizing certain ethno-cultural votes have ended. These groups are now voting like the rest of Canadians without regard to narrow cultural or ethnic identities.
by Aziza Hirsi in Toronto
The 2015 federal elections is a milestone for Somali Canadians as it marks a significant increase in their level of political engagement.
Canada’s Somali community began to grow in size after civil war broke out in Somalia in the 1990s. Today, Somali Canadians represent the largest African diaspora community in Canada and one of the largest Somali populations in the western world.
It is estimated that around 140,000 Somalis live in Toronto, followed by 20,000 in Ottawa, and 18,000 in Edmonton. Other Somali communities can be found in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Windsor.
A watershed moment
In this election all three candidates of Somali heritage – spread equally among the three leading parties – are from Ontario, the province with the largest concentration of Somali Canadians.
Faisal Hassan, running in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke North for the New Democratic Party (NDP), sees this election as a watershed moment for the community.
“It allows the community’s diverse views and perspectives to emerge along with encouraging civic participation and making sure that they get involved and vote,” says Hassan. “I think it's good democracy.”
But he says there is still more to be done. “All three candidates are male. I think we should also have female candidates to effectively represent our community.”
While his Somali heritage is important to him, Hassan says he is also running to promote economic and social reforms for all Canadians.
“There are many issues that obligate me to get involved. My community in Etobicoke North has been ignored for over 35 years. We have the highest unemployment. And when adults get work, they are working part time.”
Ahmed Hussen, contesting in the Toronto riding of York South-Weston for the Liberal party, says a concern for similar issues made him jump into the fray.
“I have a desire to improve the community of York South-Weston,” states Hussen. “To make sure folks get the same opportunities I had growing up, that people enjoy a better standard of living.”
Hussen, a lawyer by profession, is associated with the Canadian Somali Congress and an advocate for affordable housing. He says he was attracted to the Liberal party’s platform of investing in communities and not cutting services.
“People need jobs now,” says Hussen. “There’s a higher level of unemployment in York South-Weston [and] it’s slightly higher than the national average. In the case of young people, it’s even higher than the normal average for adults. The Conservatives have really destroyed the economy over the last nine years.”
The rising costs of living, coupled with limited employment, have had an adverse impact on the Somali community. It experiences significant levels of poverty because of barriers faced in obtaining employment.
“If you look within the community, it is difficult for Somali women to find work as personal support workers or even as hotel cleaners because of the sheer fact of being Muslim and Black,” says Hodan Ahmed, a master’s student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. “The Somali community is the first Black diaspora community that is not English speaking and who also happen to be Muslim – the majority of them.”
Ahmed contends that these barriers have significantly limited the Somali community. “There is a multilayered intersectionality that comes into play … and employment has been and is to this day, a crisis within the Somali community.”
But Hussen is optimistic that things will change for all Canadian families and the economy will improve.
“The main thing the Liberal Party is going to do is invest in infrastructure,” he explains. “It will create a lot of jobs and stimulate the economy as a lot of money will be pumped into it.”
Harmful government policy
Recent policy reforms such as Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, which allows the government to strip dual nationals of their Canadian citizenship, have also been a cause for concern for members of the Somali community.
Hussen condemns the harmful effects of Bill C-24.
“[The Liberal party] has been very clear that if we are elected we will repeal Bill C-24 because we don’t agree with creating different classes of citizenship. We believe a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian!”
Hassan is particularly critical of changes to the Citizenship Act that put dual citizens at greater risk of losing their Canadian citizenship.
“I … believe that a minister or an elected official revoking citizenship is wrong. It should not be [a] minister who does that.”
Hassan also criticizes the Anti-Terrorism Act.
“Bill C-51 is a bill that violates our privacy and individual rights and freedoms. We, the NDP voted against it … and we are the only party that is committed to appealing it.”
Hussen notes that while the Liberal party agrees with some aspects of C-51, such as allowing for information sharing between security agencies, it definitely does not support it entirely.
“[T]he larger parts of the bill that are problematic for civil liberties will be repealed by a Liberal government,” he says.
Attempts to get the views of Conservative party candidate Abdul Abdi for this article proved unsuccessful.
A city of Ottawa police officer, Abdi is contesting from Ottawa West-Nepean, a riding once held by former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
Abdi’s website says his priorities for the riding are to “stand up in Parliament for seniors, support the families who call this riding home, and ensure that our community remains a safe and secure place to live.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit