Thursday, 01 October 2015 14:57

Foreign Policy Debate Ignores Diaspora Nation

Written by

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

Rightly or wrongly, foreign policy is not high on the list of issues that Canadians would like to know about during a federal election campaign. 

That said, this week’s Munk Debate, while holding a mirror to Canada’s role in the world, tended to reflect Canadian values and how we choose to see ourselves on the global stage.

While Canadian voters’ perceived lack of interest in foreign affairs can be questioned, there need be no such ambivalence when it comes to immigrant voters. With ties to countries of birth or origin still strong, they are likely keen to know policy directions the next government in Ottawa plans to take in their spheres of interest.

Currently, one in five – or 6.8 million – Canadians are foreign-born. This is the highest share of any G7 country and the Harper government has encouraged social, cultural and economic ties between new Canadians and their birth countries as part of its trade agenda.

The government has said that if re-elected, it will establish a new “Maple Leaf” designation to recognize new Canadians who work to build cultural, economic and social links between Canada and their birth country. The Minister of Foreign Affairs would be among those making the decision to award five to seven designations per year.

Scant mention of China and India

This enthusiasm for trade with countries that have big diaspora populations in Canada did not come through during the debate.

China and India, two of the world’s largest economies that also happen to be two of the largest immigrant source countries, were hardly mentioned during the bilingual debate.

To be precise, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau mentioned both once.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]hile China may soon pass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, Canada might have already missed its opportunity for greater trade with the Asian giant.[/quote]

Trudeau said the Harper government did not seem to understand how important it is to be engaged in global trade particularly with the growing economies of Asia.

“That’s why we applauded the Canada-Europe agreement. But Mr. Harper is yet to deliver on [many other agreements],” Trudeau said. “He is nowhere with China, even though Australia has just signed [an agreement with China]. We made a beginning with India after the rapprochement Mr. Harper tried to do recently with the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi).”

Despite being called a “diaspora nation” because of the diverse nature of immigration to Canada, it seems the country is still not ready to diversify trade and cut its umbilical cord to the United States.

Our share of Asia’s trade has fallen by half over the past decade. And while China may soon pass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, Canada might have already missed its opportunity for greater trade with the Asian giant.

Missed opportunity

The voters too have missed an opportunity to know from the party leaders their foreign trade policy.

As Daniel Muzyka, CEO, and Glen Hodgson, senior vice-president and chief economist, of the Conference Board of Canada, said in a recent article, if Canadians and Canadian firms are to succeed in the global marketplace, there are several questions they should ask.

Questions include what the leaders would do to build and mobilize interest in our global opportunities, what practical alternative would they support if they did not favour free trade, and what they would do differently to capture a fair share of trade with China.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he repeated reference to our glorious UN peacekeeping past would have come as a surprise for many new Canadians whose countries of birth now carry much of that burden.[/quote]

While the reluctance to diversify our trade due to the advantage of having the world’s largest economy south of our border was obvious during the debate, there was another theme that wasn’t.

Call it a collective denial or a national consensus to perpetuate a myth, the repeated reference to our glorious UN peacekeeping past would have come as a surprise for many new Canadians whose countries of birth now carry much of that burden.

Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Rwanda, Nepal, Senegal, Ghana, China and Nigeria are currently the top 10 contributors. Canada ranks 62 out of 126 countries with 88 personnel.

Cold War soldiers

It is true that Canada was often the single biggest contributor to peacekeeping missions between 1956 and 1992, sending about 80,000 soldiers by the time the Blue Berets won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.

But, after these relatively benign observer missions, and two taxing tour of duties in Somalia and the Balkans in the 1990s, Canada seemed to lose its appetite for peacekeeping.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]By design or not, the issue of Israel and Palestine was ignored amid the predictable sound and fury on the havoc caused by the Islamic State.[/quote]

It is also important to understand that what motivated Canada all those years ago was the Cold War. It was to primarily defend western interests and our own strategic ones. Far from being peacekeepers, we were dedicated Cold War soldiers fighting the Soviets.

Fast-forward to the Munk Debate and it seemed the Cold War still looms over us.

Trudeau was asked how he would handle Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It elicited a nervous titter from the audience and a banal answer.

This obviously was not about foreign policy, but about paying lip service to the large Ukrainian diaspora in the same way as Trudeau said Harper had turned Canada’s support for Israel into a “domestic political football.”

By design or not, the issue of Israel and Palestine was ignored amid the predictable sound and fury on the havoc caused by the Islamic State. Several other topics of deep interest to Canadian voters, new and old, were overlooked.

But as the pundits have unanimously ruled that this debate was the best so far, so be it. The freeze is still on and we like to keep our myths alive.

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Wednesday, 30 September 2015 21:29

Behind the Lines … From Inside a Federal Campaign

Written by

by Anonymous

As I listened to an elderly woman who had walked in to our campaign headquarters, it began to sink in that I was not in my hometown big city Eastern Canada habitat any more.

She droned on and on about how un-Canadian it is for women to wear the niqab in Canada and how we were certainly headed to Sharia law. It made me reflect upon why I had chosen to become a campaign manager for a candidate in a small community so far from my home.

My candidate had heard about my track record for helping “lost causes” who were seeking office. I’d helped a candidate with a drug conviction and another who was suffering the effects of advancing Multiple Sclerosis. But nothing prepared me for this roller coaster of a campaign.

It’s been a scrappy ride from mid-June until the verge of voting. To begin with, the Official Agent (sort of like the campaign’s chief financial officer) and the candidate had a falling out. That’s not good, because the official agent has to approve every expenditure.

We were saddled with an official agent who was meticulously slow. In fact, his inability to quickly approve expenditures cost us a prime office location. Our official agent was so taken with his own authority that he made it a point to slow up everything and remind us how important he is.

Own goal

My track record of helping “lost causes” has proved useful. But, then, my candidate sent out a torpedo of her own. Just as the campaign was gearing up, she informed me her spouse was leaving because of long-standing differences.

I asked her if the spouse could be convinced to stay put for the few short weeks until the campaign ended. She refused and told me, “Don’t worry, no one will know.”

Within 48 hours the whole riding and residents of all three towns within it knew my candidate’s marriage was over. In our riding, this is a serious issue. Suddenly, I was trying to figure out how to get ahead of this and not let it become a distraction. But no one – not even the sleepy local media – dared to raise it.

Party leader visit

What do you do when the party leader visits and wants to meet the spouse? Which is precisely what happened. We opted to answer that ‘he can’t be here today.’

The biggest challenges for our campaign have been: money, volunteers and messaging. The average Canadian political party in the average riding of about 100,000 residents can spend up to $200,000 during this extended campaign period.

Most riding associations or candidates don’t have that kind of money. We didn’t. So fundraising has become essential. We thought about bringing in a former prime minister as a guest for a fundraising event … but he had a whiff of scandal about him.

And it’s not easy to raise the big sums because the current election laws prevent corporations and organizations from contributing, and individuals cannot give more than $1,500. You can’t buy a lot of influence for that sum.

I’m grateful for these rules.

Party volunteers

As for volunteers, we have party loyalists who have fought on our team on every election back to the Mulroney-Turner era. They straggle in to the office as soon as an election is announced. They are mostly older, mainstream (what someone called “old stock”) Canadians.

I’ve got only four visible minorities in the campaign team of 80 volunteers.

Campaigns are different now. Technology has taken over. All parties start with an electronic voters list from Elections Canada and the race is on to identify as many supporters as possible on that list.

This enables my team to focus on getting out the vote (what we now call GOTV) – our vote – for the advance poll and on election day. In our headquarters we have an entire area that includes barcoded lists and scanners and banks of computers and demographic research, stats and tactics.

All slightly confounding for someone like me – a former journalist with a heavy emphasis on messaging and writing speeches for the candidate.

American influence

I have found messaging to be a struggle because Canadian elections have, in my opinion, been influenced by U.S. presidential elections. In all three of the major party campaigns, even the local materials place enormous emphasis on national leadership.

We were told at campaign school (yes, we had to attend campaign school back in May), that our local candidate and our local issues make little difference to the outcome. We were told that the national/leader’s campaign was the only thing that mattered and that if we strayed off message, we would get a stern rebuke. So we’ve stayed on message, mostly.

Mostly? Well, in a race like this one, where none of the three national leaders appears to be breaking out into a substantial lead, the pressure builds on the local riding campaign manager to develop homemade messaging and campaigning.

That’s where I am right now. I have a regional party boss who watches every move and who will swoop in, if we drift. Yet, I have a local team that on most days is convinced that our candidate can pound the sloppy multiple-term incumbent. Not so easily done. Incumbency has its privileges.

The author, who has chosen to remain anonymous, is a campaign manager for an unidentified candidate running in the forthcoming federal election. 

Publisher’s Note - New Canadian Media makes every effort to be transparent in its editorial operations and offers this anonymous writing only as a way for our readers to better understand the electoral process that underpins Canadian democracy. We’ve made every effort to ensure this piece is non-partisan and meets our journalistic criteria of fairness and balance. NCM welcomes comment or reply to this column. 

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Montreal

Thursday night’s French language debate in Montreal featured more discussion of immigration and refugee policy than any other leaders debate thus far in the federal election.

The first debate to feature all five leaders was also the first one in which they deliberated the recent court decision to allow women to wear the niqab in citizenship ceremonies.

On Sept. 15, a three-judge panel ruled that the federal government’s ban on wearing niqabs during citizenship ceremonies violates the Citizenship Act.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In Quebec, 93 per cent of respondents were in favour of the requirement that niqabs and burqas be removed during citizenship ceremonies.[/quote]

However, a public-opinion poll, released on a government website on the day of the debate, found 82 per cent of respondents favoured the requirement that niqabs and burqas be removed during citizenship ceremonies. In Quebec, 93 per cent of respondents were in favour of the policy.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper ordered the poll, which was conducted by Léger Marketing in March.

“If a man cannot impose his will on how a woman dresses, then we should not have a state that decides how a woman dresses,” said Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party.

He said that the state’s role should be to defend the rights of minorities and women, and that Harper and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe were using the issue to play on fears and division.

“This is a question of equality between men and women,” said Duceppe.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Duceppe said he would ban women from wearing the niqab while taking oaths, voting, and administering and receiving public services.[/quote]

He pointed out that leaders of Quebec’s provincial parties and several mayors support a bill proposed in the National Assembly in June that would ban public-sector employees from wearing clothing that covers their faces.

Duceppe said he would ban women from wearing the niqab while taking oaths, voting, and administering and receiving public services.

“I'm so surprised to see the Bloc Québécois, once so progressive, about to embark into the arena on a matter this divisive,” said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. He also said Harper was using the court’s decision to distract voters from other issues.

Mulcair added he favours the existing rule, which requires women to unveil and identify themselves before taking the oath.

“Our position for a long time has been that when you join the Canadian family, you should not hide your identity,” replied Harper.

Following the Federal Court’s ruling, Harper said the Conservatives would appeal the decision if re-elected.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, said the niqab debate was a “false debate” and distraction from issues such as the economy, jobs and climate change.

May also questioned why, in a discussion about women’s rights, there was no mention of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Refugee crisis debates continue

The leaders were also questioned about the refugee crisis.

“We have already said more refugees, faster, but while still protecting our security and assuring the selection of the most vulnerable refugees for our country,” said Harper. “This is not the time to just open our doors. It’s not responsible.”

Trudeau said Canada should be doing more at the humanitarian level and that his party would like to see 25,000 Syrian refugees come to Canada. He added that during the Vietnam War, Canada accepted 60,000 refugees who made a positive impact in cities like Montreal.

“We could accommodate 10,000 Syrians very quickly, not wait until 2018,” said Duceppe.

Duceppe said the parties should work together with organizations, provinces and municipalities to intervene in Syria and prevent genocide, as was done in Kosovo. He said Muslim women are the main victims in this crisis.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The system to help refugees does not work. As an MP, I worked with Syrian Canadians. It’s very difficult because there are too many rules.”[/quote]

“It’s clear that the federal government has not succeeded in their commitment to accept 10,000 refugees,” said May. She added that the federal government achieved its budget surplus by cutting spending to refugee programs.

“The system to help refugees does not work,” she said. “As an MP, I worked with Syrian Canadians. It’s very difficult because there are too many rules.”

Trudeau said the Harper government made cuts to health care for refugees, but Harper rebutted this stating that the only time people were turned down from receiving health care was when they had made false refugee claims. He maintained that Canada’s refugee program is one of the most generous in the world.

Mulcair said his government would accept 9,000 refugees by Christmas and 46,000 in the next few years.

Challenging Harper on Canada-Saudi relations

Mulcair and Duceppe asked Harper why Canada continues to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia while knowing about its human rights violations and support of ISIS. Both party leaders pointed to the case of Raif Badawi, a journalist who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison by Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court for insulting Islam, among other charges.

Badawi’s wife lives in Sherbrooke, QC, where she has appealed to provincial and federal leaders to support freedom of the press and extricate Badawi from prison.

“We've indicated we would welcome Mr. Badawi, who is not a Canadian citizen, at any moment,” said Harper. “But it's not right to punish workers in a factory in London, [Ont.] for this. It doesn't make sense.”

Leading up to the Oct. 19 election day, there will be a bilingual Munk Debate on foreign policy held Sept. 28 featuring Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau and a second French debate, hosted by TVA, on Oct. 2 featuring Duceppe, Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau.

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Friday, 25 September 2015 21:26

Family Reunification a Priority: Trudeau

Written by

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Brampton, Ontario

A Liberal government will make family reunification one of its core immigration priorities along with renewing and expanding the refugee program.

Party leader Justin Trudeau said immigration is critical to job creation and long-term economic growth for the middle class during a campaign stop on Friday in Ontario’s Brampton Centre – a riding with a high population of new Canadians.

“Making it easier for families to be together makes good economic sense,” Trudeau said while unveiling a number of steps his government would implement to revamp current immigration policies.

The steps include doubling the number of applications allowed for parents and grandparents to 10,000 each year and doubling the budget for processing them; providing greater access to applicants who have Canadian siblings; restoring the maximum age for dependents to 22 from 19; and giving spouses immigrating to Canada immediate permanent residency by dropping the current two-year waiting period.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“An Indian family reuniting now would have applied at our New Delhi office in April 2009. This is just not acceptable.”[/quote]

“The Harper Conservatives froze family reunification applications for two years, then made the rules so rigid that people now don’t even bother to apply,” Trudeau said. “Wait times are five to six years and more. An Indian family reuniting now would have applied at our New Delhi office in April 2009. This is just not acceptable.”

‘Super visa a poor substitute’

The freeze on the family reunification category of immigration began in 2011 with a temporary moratorium on new applicants to deal with a huge backlog of applications.

In the interim, the 10-year "super visa" was introduced to allow family members of some new Canadians to stay in the country for up to two years without availing any welfare benefit from the state, including health care.

Though billed as a temporary measure, the super visa program was made permanent in 2013.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Asked why revoking citizenship of convicted terrorists is a bad thing, Trudeau said making such a distinction is problematic and take us down a “very, very, slippery road.”[/quote]

Trudeau said the super visa program was a poor substitute for family reunification. The partisan crowd of supporters and Liberal candidates from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) gathered around him agreed with a loud “no” when he asked them their opinion about the program.

The Liberal leader said his government would repeal the unfair elements of Bill C-24 – the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act – because they lead to a two-tier form of citizenship. “No elected official should have the right to revoke citizenship. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

Asked why revoking citizenship of convicted terrorists is a bad thing, Trudeau said making such a distinction is problematic and take us down a “very, very, slippery road.”

“[The] idea of imposing a radically different penalty on whether or not your father was born in Canada, it goes completely against rule of law, and respect for justice.”

Trudeau said people with conservative values, who are wary of an interventionist state, should be alarmed by the power Bill C-24 gives elected officials.

Pathway to citizenship

On easing the pathway to Canadian citizenship, including reviewing the recently increased application fee of $630, Trudeau said his government would tackle these issues “in a responsible way.”

He said the residency time credit for foreign students and other temporary residents applying to become Canadian citizens would be restored along with changes to the Canadian Experience Class that would lift barriers to immigration imposed on international students.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Trudeau said a Liberal government would renew and expand a safe, secure and humane refugee program for Canada beginning with fully restoring the interim federal health program.[/quote]

Trudeau said his government would remove visa restrictions imposed on Mexican citizens, and look at the implications of phasing them out for citizens of several other countries as well. The restrictions on Mexican citizens were imposed in 2009 after a sharp increase in the numbers of asylum seekers from that country.

 “Although we are part of the NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], the Harper government has soured our relations with the U.S. and Mexico,” Trudeau said and promised to eliminate inconveniences and costs for Canadians and Canadian businesses caused by immigration roadblocks.

On the refugee file, Trudeau said a Liberal government would renew and expand a safe, secure and humane refugee program for Canada beginning with fully restoring the interim federal health program.

The other steps include establishing an expert human rights panel for determination of designated countries of origin; giving citizens from these countries the right to appeal refugee decisions; and stopping the appointment of people without subject matter expertise to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

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by Shan Qiao in Scarborough, Ontario  

Seven Conservative candidates representing Greater Toronto Area (GTA) ridings with a significant presence of ethnic Chinese voters came together on Tuesday to promote their party platform.

The Chinese Canadian Conservative Association (CCCA) organized the event for the Chinese language media.

The seven candidates who participated were Bin Chang representing for Scarborough-Agincourt; Joe Daniel, for Don Valley North; Jobson Easow for Markham-Thornhill; Maureen Harquail for Don Valley East; Chungsen Leung for Willowdale; Michael Parsa for Richmond Hill; and Bob Saroya for Markham-Unionville.

Playing the Chinese heritage card

Apart from Bin who came from Mainland China and Chungsen who was born in Taiwan, most of the other non-Chinese candidates also had immigrant backgrounds.

For example, Parsa, who came to Canada at age six, has his roots in the Iranian community, Saroya immigrated to Canada in 1975 from India and Easow, who was born and brought up in India, came to Canada over two decades ago.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[A] MP who truly represents people needs to understand Canada’s diversity.”[/quote]

Daniel, who is South Asian, but speaks with a British accent and has a “mainstream” name, said he has supporters from every community. Born in Tanzania to Indian parents, he went to school in India and started his career in England before coming to Canada.

During the event, he contrasted his support base with that of his Liberal rival Geng Tan, who has publicly asked voters of Chinese heritage to vote for him.

Tan’s supporters have shared WeChat messages such as “He (Tan) represents the Liberal that is more friendly to Chinese”; “Without a Mandarin-speaking Chinese politician in the Parliament, who will speak for our Chinese people?”; or “Who will you vote for, a Chinese or an Indian?”

Daniel showed these messages to the media, but shrugged off his challenger.

“Chinese communities are split in three ways: Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese,” Daniel said. “His (Tan’s) appeal is to Mainland Chinese. Many of them are completely opposed to what he says. I have a lot of Chinese supporters coming out and canvassing for me who say what he says is wrong.”

Daniel’s close caucus member, Willowdale incumbent Chengsun, is against ethno-centric campaign strategies.

In reference to a Globe and Mail article earlier this year that said “Toronto’s suburbs are shaping up to be a Mandarin-speaking powerhouse for the federal Liberal Party,” Chengsun had this to say:

“What is a powerhouse? A powerhouse is the MP that most represents his constituents and [speaks] for them in the House of Commons. Plus, a MP who truly represents people needs to understand Canada’s diversity.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“If you rely solely on the Chinese vote, you are going to lose.”[/quote]

He went on to add, “If you rely solely on Chinese vote, you are going to lose because that’s not representing all Canadians, that doesn’t represent diversity of Canadians. I happen to be Chinese, but I certainly don’t see myself as a Chinese candidate because it’s incorrect.”

He said his message to the Chinese community was to “vote for the government that best represents you.”

Wooing the Chinese vote

Alex Yuen, the president of CCCA indicated that although two of the Conservative candidates were Chinese, the organization’s mission was to hear out voices from all communities.

Nevertheless, the seven candidates who had gathered at an upscale Chinese seafood restaurant in Scarborough were fully prepared to woo the Chinese community with topics that interested them.

They each had a Chinese name that was most likely given to them by their ethnic Chinese volunteers. For instance Saroya’s Chinese name meant “contribute to the country” and Daniel’s meant “stronger and talented.”

“It’s clear that Chinese families share our Conservative values,” said Saroya. “They agree with our low tax, balance budget policies and they do not want marijuana to be legal and accessible like cigarettes and alcohol.”

Harquail, the only native-born candidate, who also happens to be a cousin of late Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, had this to say: “The Prime Minister recognizes the outstanding contributions that Chinese Canadians have made.”

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Thursday, 24 September 2015 17:21

Courting the "Ethnic Vote"

Written by

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.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Much work still needs to be done to increase the presence of visible minorities in Canadian politics.[/quote]

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.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Racial minority candidates tend to be portrayed as products of their socio-demographic characteristics."[/quote]

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. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I predict that immigrants will vote much more in this coming election."[/quote]

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.”

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Thursday, 24 September 2015 14:02

#Refugeecrisis Galvanizes Arab Community

Written by

by Imad Al-Sukkari in Ottawa

This year’s election campaign has been one of the longest in our country’s political history, characterized by the usual kinds of political messaging, policy debates and ethical questions on governance.

The campaign seemed a typical one until four weeks ago, when the devastating, powerful image of a dead three-year-old Syrian refugee lying on a beach in Turkey made international headlines and arguably pushed the Syrian refugee crisis to the forefront of the federal election.

The crisis has also propelled Canadian Arabs, a generally silent and politically inactive minority, to become more engaged and visible in the Canadian political scene.

Indeed, members of the community have taken action to make their voices heard, such as publishing opinion articles critiquing the government's inaction on the crisis (see the Arab Pulse article published by New Canadian Media reporter Jacky Habib), appearing on news shows such as CBC's "Power and Politics", and sponsoring local election panels to ask candidates why their party is best suited to serve the interests of the Arab community.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There is a disproportionate emphasis on the security risks, and not enough on humanitarian aid.”[/quote]

Thirty days remain for Canadian voters to decide which party they would like to see lead the country into the future.

Refugee crisis sparks reactions

Dr. Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) and associate professor at the University of Waterloo, comments on how the crisis has affected the relationship between Arab Canadians and the Harper government.

“The Harper government has demonstrated a lack of urgency in dealing with this issue,” she says, arguing that this has made the Conservative government appear unsympathetic in the eyes of many Canadians and, more specifically, members of the Arab community.

Omar Alghabra, a former MP and a Liberal candidate of Syrian descent running in the Mississauga Centre riding, states his dissatisfaction with the way the current government has handled the refugee crisis.

He points to its delinquency in carrying out the proposed plan to resettle 10,000 refugees over three years, inefficiencies at the bureaucratic levels, and the shifting paradigm of what is supposed to be a humanitarian issue.

“There is a disproportionate emphasis on the security risks, and not enough on humanitarian aid,” Alghabra says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We usually end our discussions by trying to encourage people to convert frustration into action by voting in the upcoming federal elections.”[/quote]

Alghabra also adds, “During the campaign I have engaged with many people [in the riding] on this issue, and I would say the majority of them are embarrassed by this government’s response and feel we could have been more generous in allowing Syrian refugees in.”

Encouraging voter participation

The Canadian Arab Institute (CAI), an organization whose vision is to empower and engage the Arab community in Canada, started a campaign called Sowtek, or “Your Voice,” to encourage Arab Canadians to vote in the upcoming election.

Your Voice has utilized many mediums to provide educational resources to its members, such as webinars, the Canadian national anthem in Arabic (“Ya Canada”), a short animated video explaining the importance of voting and panel discussions across major Canadian cities with a sizeable Arab population such as Ottawa, Toronto, London, Windsor and Montreal.

[youtube height="315" width="560”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QB4WXxEIB7Y[/youtube]

Raja Khouri, president of CAI, states that the refugee crisis has led members of the Arab community to share their frustrations about the Canadian government, but it is by far not the only issue the community is concerned about.

“Members of the community have expressed frustrations with a number of government policies, from economic policy to Bill C-24 (a new law giving government more power to revoke Canadian citizenship from a dual citizen) and the Mideast policy,” Khouri says.

“We usually end our discussions by trying to encourage people to convert frustration into action by voting in the upcoming federal elections,” he adds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"I think Arab Canadians will be making a greater effort to make their voice heard in this election."[/quote]

An increase in community engagement

It has not been all frustration and no action for the Arab community, as 23 candidates of Arab descent are currently seeking election or re-election in various ridings across Quebec, Alberta and Ontario, with nine running for the Liberal party, seven for the Conservatives, five for the NDP and one for the Bloc Québécois.

“It is fantastic and refreshing to see an increased level of engagement from members of the community; it demonstrates that Canadian Arabs have come a long way in the last decade,” Alghabra says.

As to how Canadian Arabs will vote in this election, Sherif Rizk – an Ottawa lawyer and host of the Rizk Assessment, a political show broadcast on the Christian Youth Channel (CYC), also known as the Coptic Youth Channel – offers his analysis as to which federal party Arab Canadians may be leaning towards.

“Domestically speaking, Arab Canadians will mostly focus on the changes that the Conservative government have made to Canadian citizenship (creating the right to revoke citizenship for dual-nationality Canadians), Bill C-51 and the government's ban on niqabs in citizenship ceremonies,” Rizk says.

“I think these issues have largely pushed a lot of younger Arab Canadians away from the Conservative Party, but not necessarily to the arms of the Liberal Party. I think Arab Canadians will be making a greater effort to make their voice heard in this election." 

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Tuesday, 22 September 2015 17:01

Parties Speak To Immigration Platforms

Written by

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

Unlike in Europe and the U.S., immigration rarely takes centre stage in Canada as all the major federal parties see it as vital for the country even if they differ on the implementation part. The issue is also not brought up often, as it tends to be very divisive.  

But last Thursday the topic did become part of the federal election conversation when The Globe and Mail leaders’ debate in Calgary included it as part of a larger debate on the economy.

While the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe forced the leaders to digress, this segment offered insight into how the next government would handle the immigration file.

The Conservatives are all about maintaining the current flow of immigrants while constantly tinkering with rules to control exactly who is let in.

At the debate, leader Stephen Harper said given the demographic and economic pressures, large-scale immigration is good in the long term.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We’re lucky to have millions of people who come to Canada to build a new life and also maintain close ties with their birth country.”[/quote]

Aware that its exclusionary immigration policies and the recently passed Bill C-24 — the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act — has affected its support base among immigrant communities, the Conservative Party has made some recent announcements to stem disaffection. 

This past Saturday Harper said his re-elected government would award a special “Maple Leaf” designation to five to seven Canadians every year for fostering social, cultural and economic links with other countries. 

‘Lucky to have new Canadians’

“We’re lucky to have millions of people who come to Canada to build a new life and also maintain close ties with their birth country,” Harper said in a press release. “In a global economy, we have an opportunity to draw on the connections that new Canadians have to build social, cultural and economic ties to developing economies.”

The release said new Canadians are great ambassadors, while noting that one in five Canadians – some 6.8 million – are foreign born.

Late last month, Harper had said his re-elected government would make it faster, fairer and more affordable for new Canadians and Canadians trained abroad to get their foreign credentials recognized in Canada.

Harper said the government would more than double the loans program to provide 20,000 new loans to internationally trained professionals over the next five years. He also said that his government would work with the provinces and territories to accelerate accreditation decisions – from one year to 60 days – for high-demand occupations.

Family reunification essential

While cold economics seem to be at the heart of the Conservative game plan, the New Democratic Party (NDP) promises to make family reunification the central part of its policy.

“It’s always been part of our immigration system,” said party leader Tom Mulcair during The Globe and Mail debate. “It’s been completely shut down under Mr. Harper’s Conservatives. I personally believe that the best social program is a united family, and you’ve got that strong family base there allowing people to come in.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We have moved from an immigration policy that was about permanence, building community and building a life to one of impermanence and temporariness.”[/quote]

The NDP policy document talks, among other things, of an annual immigration level of one per cent of the population to meet workforce needs and family reunification requests; allowing Canadians a one-time opportunity to sponsor a relative who is not a member of the family class to come to Canada; fast-tracking family class sponsorship from disaster areas; and reforming Citizenship and Immigration Canada procedures to eliminate arbitrariness in processing of requests and appeals.

“We have moved from an immigration policy that was about permanence, building community and building a life to one of impermanence and temporariness,” Andrew Cash, NDP multiculturalism critic, was quoted by the Toronto Star as saying. His party has also said that it wants to repeal Bill C-24.

Barriers to citizenship

The Liberal party too has said that it would rescind a number of barriers to citizenship put in place by Bill C-24.

It would repeal the regulation that takes away the 50 per cent credit for time spent in Canada for international students and the regulation that calls for new citizens to sign a declaration that they intend to reside in Canada.

The party feels Canada has witnessed a decade of decline in three major areas: family reunification, refugees, and citizenship applicants.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We need to once again be the open generous country, not naïve, making sure we’re doing security right, but not using it as an excuse to do less than we should.”[/quote]

Since 2007, family reunification processing times are up 70 per cent for spouses and children — and up a staggering 500 per cent for parents and grandparents, said John McCallum, Liberal critic for multiculturalism, citizenship, and immigration.

Adding insult to injury, McCallum said, the Conservatives also reduced the age of dependents from 22 to 18.

He said the decade of failure in family reunification has unfairly taken a huge emotional and financial toll on those affected, and damaged Canada’s reputation as a country that openly welcomes newcomers.

“We need to once again be the open generous country, not naïve, making sure we’re doing security right, but not using it as an excuse to do less than we should,” said party leader Justin Trudeau during the Calgary debate.

Although Green Party leader Elizabeth May did not take part in the debate, her party has said that immigration is about citizenship.

Echoing the stance of the other two opposition parties, it says those who come to live and work in Canada have a right to an efficient and predictable path to citizenship for themselves and their families.

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by Rosanna Haroutounain in Montreal 

While candidates in Quebec are doing their best to reach out to new Canadian voters in the current federal elections, some advocates are hoping that the current Syrian refugee crisis will widen the conversation on how to accept newcomers.

Although political parties have yet to discuss immigration at large in this campaign, members of organizations working for people without status in Canada say this group continues to be overlooked.

“Clearly we pay attention to what’s going on in politics and have some demands as a group, but those aren’t things that are necessarily going to be achieved by a change of leadership in Ottawa,” says Jaggi Singh, an activist who works with Solidarity Across Borders in Montreal.

One of the group’s demands is a regularization program that allows all non-status people who live in Canada to have status. Singh says it’s an issue that will require a significant amount of political mobilization to achieve.

The group is also preparing to defend migrants who are facing deportation after the Conservative government lifted the moratorium on deportations to Zimbabwe and Haiti, Singh adds.

Fayçal El-Khoury, the Liberal candidate in Laval–Les Îles, says both issues are on his party’s radar.

“A Liberal government will invest at least another $100 million this fiscal year to accelerate the processing of asylum applications, without diminishing the quality of the process, and to increase the means available to service sponsorship and settlement in Canada,” he says.

“We can better treat all files received at Immigration Canada including those related to deportations of people from Haiti or Africa,” he adds.

Immigrating to Quebec

El-Khoury came to Canada in 1976 to escape war in Lebanon. He studied civil engineering at Concordia University and started his own construction company.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We chose to settle in Quebec for the beauty of its landscapes and the warmth of Quebecers towards immigrants.”[/quote]

“We chose to settle in Quebec for the beauty of its landscapes and the warmth of Quebecers towards immigrants,” he says. “Moreover, since we already spoke French, it was easy for us to come here.”

El-Khoury became the Liberal candidate for Laval–Les Îles in November of last year, and is just one of several Montreal-area federal candidates born outside of Canada.

The NDP’s Paulina Ayala immigrated to Quebec from Chile in 1995. An activist against the Pinochet dictatorship, she says she was disappointed by the democratic transition that followed.

She studied at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)with the intention of returning to her home country, but says after meeting her husband and developing new roots, she decided to stay.

“The love for the politics of my country is very important, so it was a very important choice to become a Canadian,” she says. “I studied the pros and cons very carefully.”

She says part of the reason she became a citizen in 2006 was so she could participate in Canadian politics. In 2011, Ayala defeated the three-term Liberal incumbent, Pablo Rodriguez, to become the MP for Honoré-Mercier.

“People look at me like a model, so when I tell young women I am the first Latin-American woman in Parliament, I always add that I’m not the last,” she says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“They must re-learn everything, pass exams, and despite all this, it doesn’t mean you will have a job in your field.”[/quote]

Ayala says in her work as a teacher, learning French was one of the biggest challenges to integration. She says that for other immigrants, the qualifications needed to belong to Quebec’s professional associations and orders pose extra barriers.

“They must re-learn everything, pass exams, and despite all this, it doesn’t mean you will have a job in your field,” she says. She adds that in Montreal it is very common to meet taxi drivers who were engineers before they came to Canada.

“This is an enormous brain drain,” she says.

Collaborating on immigration policy

Ayala says the federal government must engage in more conversation with Quebec, which regulates its own immigration targets and criteria.

While he welcomes the discussion, Singh says the parties’ promises do not go far enough.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“A meaningful response would be an opening of our borders to allow for large numbers of refugees and migrants to come to Canada.”[/quote]

“This is an issue that goes beyond just one group of refugees,” he says. “It goes to structural changes that have been made to Canadian immigration policies over the last two decades that have made the system more temporary and more difficult for refugees to get in.”

“A meaningful response would be an opening of our borders to allow for large numbers of refugees and migrants to come to Canada,” he says. 

He adds that while this policy might seem radical, Germany is expected to accept 800,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

Candidates for the Bloc Quebecois and Conservative Party of Canada did not respond to requests for an interview.  A Simon Fraser University study provides a brief overview of where each party stands on several immigration issues based on past policies.

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by Shan Qiao in Scarborough, Ontario       

It is usual for different Chinese organizations to gather candidates from the community and hear them out in places like shopping malls at election time. They also invite candidates, regardless of ethnicity, to speak at community events in ridings with large Chinese populations.

Last week, the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations (CTCCO) held a media event at its head office in Scarborough, Ont. to present candidates of Chinese heritage contesting for the federal elections from ridings in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

The invited politicians were Liberal incumbent Arnold Chan (Scarborough-Agincourt) and candidates Shaun Chen (Scarborough-North), Bang-Gu Jiang (Markham-Unionville) and Geng Tan (Don Valley North); Conservative incumbent Chungsen Leung (Willowdale) and candidate Bin Chang (Scarborough-Agincourt); NDP candidate Olivia Chow (Spadina-Fort York); and the Green’s Elvin Kao (Markham-Unionville).

“I think it’s particularly important that we celebrate the fact that we have so many Chinese Canadian candidates who are running for all political parties across the political spectrum,” said Arnold Chan at the event. “I think it’s a reflection of maturity of our community that we can have such a diversity of candidates.”

Criticisms from within community

But the lack of ethnic diversity among those invited had its share of critics in the Chinese community. They contend that asking ethnic Chinese to vote for their own people is different from merely 'getting out their vote'.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Not including candidates from other races is somehow dangerous. It makes mainstream and other cultural communities trust these [Chinese] candidates less.”[/quote]

“I don’t think it’s fair to other opponents who were not Chinese and excluded from the event,” said Jane Ng, an independent political commentator. “Not including candidates from other races is somehow dangerous. It makes mainstream and other cultural communities trust these [Chinese] candidates less.”

“I used to think such promotions helped Chinese voters. But what I see now is unfairness and irrationality,” said Tony Ku, former Editor-in-Chief of Singtao Daily, the largest Chinese newspaper in North America. “I also doubt the intention of a particular community organization behind such an event if it’s not to promote itself or a particular political ideology.”

Pointing out the CTCCO media event as an example, Ku said the organization claimed it represented the Chinese community’s sentiment when it publicly denounced Globe and Mail’s story on Ontario minister Michael Chan this summer. 

“I can’t agree with their position and I don’t think they can represent me. They can only represent their members,” Ku argues.

Chengyi Wei, CTCCO’s president, said his organization is not affiliated with any party and “neither am I a supporter of any. However, I’m very happy to see Chinese candidates running for office and working for our country.”
Liberal dominance

The four Liberal candidates at the media event demonstrated the increasing clout of the Chinese Canadian community in the suburbs around Toronto. 

“I came to Canada in 1998 from China as a visa student. I am as same as all of you around,” candidate Tan Geng told the audience. “I have experienced what you’ve experienced and that’s why I can understand your issues.”

Tan, a scientist and rising star in the Liberal party, has publicly criticized the Globe and Mail’s story on Michael Chan, saying the newspaper chose to publish it before the federal election to discourage Mandarin-speaking immigrants from taking part in Canadian politics.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We need to have Chinese Canadians come out to vote. We need better participation in the political arena.”[/quote]

Bang-Gu Jiang, another candidate who also emigrated from the Mainland, said her party’s principles of “fairness, inclusiveness, respect and diversity are Canadian values.” 

Jiang said, “If I can work for you, I want to make our society fairer. I want you to have a better future no matter what your background was before you immigrated to Canada.”

Shaun Chen, who has served as a school trustee since 2006 and was elected as Toronto District School Board chair in 2014, said he hopes events like the one organized by CTCCO would result in better engagement within the community. 

“We need to have Chinese Canadians come out to vote. We need better participation in the political arena,” Chen said.

The Conservatives at the event highlighted their government’s achievements in improving relations with China. Chungsen Leung, who was unable to attend, said in a pre-recorded video: “Our government highly values China-Canada relations. I hope it will raise to a new level in the future.”

Bin Chang, an immigrant from the Mainland and an university professor, also promoted the government’s fiscal discipline, stressing it has held the tax rates low since being elected in 2006.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][A B.C.-based] association said that although more and more Chinese Canadians are taking part in the political process, their total number in Parliament is still quite low compared to their population.[/quote]

Olivia Chow, who quit her federal seat to fight the 2014 Toronto mayoral election, had the highest profile of any politician at the CTCCO event.

“Our health-care system is very precious,” said Chow, the lone NDP representative there. “Rich or poor, no matter how urgent is your sickness, you will benefit from our free health-care system.”

The other lone party representative at the event was the Green Party of Canada’s Elvin Kao. A university graduate, he has been involved with the Markham Greens since 2011. 

Getting more Chinese Canadians involved

The outgoing House of Commons had eight MPs of Chinese heritage, including Chow. Half of them were Conservatives. The other half was equally split between the NDP and Liberals. 

In terms of Chinese candidates in the 2015 election, there are 22 so far, with the Conservatives fielding nine, Liberals seven, and NDP and Greens three each. In 2011 there were 23 and in 2008 election 18.

The CTCCO is not alone in promoting politicians of Chinese ethnicity. 

The Richmond, B.C., based Canada China Chamber of Industry and Commerce Association (CCCICA) has been pro-active in getting out ethnic Chinese votes.

In a recent press release, the association said that although more and more Chinese Canadians are taking part in the political process, their total number in Parliament is still quite low compared to their population.

In last year’s B.C. provincial elections, CCCICA’s mobilization efforts included organizing a volunteer fleet of 60 vehicles to help Chinese Canadians cast their votes. 

Additional reporting by Ranjit Bhaskar

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