Friday, 05 June 2015 13:28

Pinoy Cash Flow Gets a Canadian Boost

Filipinos in Canada are expressing concern about Ottawa’s intention to support lower costs for remittance services.

Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, told a Filipino gathering at the St. Mary’s church in Vancouver that Canada is working on measures to ensure safe, reliable and low-cost services to transfer money to family and friends outside of the country, helping to improve economic conditions abroad.

These transfers, known as remittances, represent a major source of income for millions of people around the world, and support a sustainable path out of poverty for the poorest and most vulnerable, he said.

To help reduce the costs of remittances services, Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2015 will invest $6 million over five years to introduce measures that will help enhance access to low-cost remittance services for Canadians, the minister said.

The Philippines is one of the top destinations for remittances from Canada.

"We will be comparing all the fees that are charged by companies and banks that are doing remittances to make sure that you know where to get the best price in terms of the cost of sending remittances back to the Philippines," Fast said.

Lower Fees Doesn't Mean Better Service

Some kababayans however said that the government may not be totally aware of what it takes to send and receive money in the Philippines, according to Balitang America.

Salve Didcott has been in Canada for 26 years and sends money to her family in the Philippines monthly. She said there's more to sending remittances than just the fees.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Those in the money remittance business meantime say fees have actually been going down the past years as more and more money transfer companies enter the market. But they say lower fees don't necessarily guarantee better service.[/quote]

"Some are actually charging more, less exchange; and the other is the charge is less, but the exchange is high. There are too many (factors), as I've said the location, the price, the exchange rate as well," she said.

Those in the money remittance business meantime say fees have actually been going down the past years as more and more money transfer companies enter the market. But they say lower fees don't necessarily guarantee better service.

Canada's Filipino Community Growing

World Bank estimates show Canada's remittance industry is growing with about $24 billion sent in remittances in 2012. The Philippines is in the top three receiving countries of remittances from Canada with $2 billion sent that year.

Meanwhile, another report said more than 40,000 Filipinos became permanent residents of Canada in 2014, making the Philippines the top source country for Canadian immigration last year. 

The Philippines had previously been the top source country in 2012, with China having been the top source country in 2013. Canada also issued nearly 47,000 visitor visas to Filipinos in 2014, a 56 percent increase since 2006. The number of new permanent residents from the Philippines is up from 14,004 in 2004, a near three-fold increase in just one decade.

Many of the Filipino newcomers originally came to Canada under the Live-In Caregiver Program, now simply the Caregiver Program after modifications made last November. The government of Canada’s immigration plan for 2015 states that it aims to convert between 26,000 and 30,000 caregivers to permanent resident status this year. In just a few short decades, Canada’s Filipino community has grown to become one of the country’s largest immigrant demographics. 

The more than 700,000 people of Filipino descent in Canada make up one of the country’s larger diaspora communities, and this number is increasing constantly. Filipino workers in Canada are important to both the Canadian and Philippine economies. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]During President Aquino’s historic visit, Canada and the Philippines signed a mutual accountability framework reaffirming the foundations of transparent, effective and sustainable international development cooperation between the two countries.[/quote]

While workers in Canada help to fill important labour shortages, families and friends in the Philippines benefit from remittances sent from Canada. About half of Canada’s Filipino population lives in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), with Vancouver hosting the second-largest Filipino population in Canada and Winnipeg also home to a large number of Filipinos. 

“Oftentimes, individuals will first come to Canada as temporary workers, leaving spouses and children behind. But many Filipinos have also worked hard to bring their immediate families to Canada. Once permanent residence is achieved, they are then able to reunite with their families in Canada,” said Attorney David Cohen.

Canada’s generous family sponsorship rules allow permanent residents to sponsor not only children and spouses, but parents and grandparents as well. These include the popular Parent and Grandparent Sponsorship Program as well as the new Super Visa Program, which offers long-term visitor visas to qualified applicants. The introduction of these family reunification programs has contributed to the upsurge in new arrivals from the Philippines.

Quick Facts

  • According to World Bank estimates, remittance flows to developing countries reached close to US$440 billion in 2014.
  • Canada ranks among the 10 largest outbound markets in the world, with remittance flows totalling an estimated US$23.1 billion transferred in 2014. It is also one of the top remittance-sending countries on a per capita basis.
  • At the Brisbane Summit in November 2014, the G-20 re-committed to reducing the global average cost of sending remittances to 5 percent of the amount sent.
  • The Philippines is a priority emerging market under Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan and is a country of focus for the Government of Canada’s international development efforts.
  • During President Aquino’s historic visit, Canada and the Philippines signed a mutual accountability framework reaffirming the foundations of transparent, effective and sustainable international development cooperation between the two countries.
  • In 2014, Canada welcomed more than 40,000 permanent residents from the Philippines, making it Canada's top source country for permanent residents last year.

Published in Partnership with The Filipino Post.

Published in The Philippines

by Peter Sutherland in Toronto

After a hesitant start, Canada has picked up its game and appears committed to play a larger role in Asia, the world’s fastest growing economy and most dynamic region. This is clear from the recent visits by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Philippine President Benigno Aquino.

Although the two countries differ in scale and influence, the visits shared much in common. Both had a strong trade and investment orientation and both played to large, politically active Diasporas.

Narendra Modi’s visit was the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 42 years and was prompted in part by his appreciation for Canada’s early engagement in Gujarat during his tenure as Chief Minister.

It was equally motivated by the prospect of attracting Canadian investment in two priority sectors – infrastructure and manufacturing. Infrastructure is the biggest single bottleneck to faster economic growth, and significant expansion in manufacturing jobs is needed to absorb the 11-12 million young people entering the workforce every year.

The most tangible result of the visit was the signing of a $350 million agreement with Cameco for the long-term supply of uranium. This is the first concrete manifestation of the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement signed in 2013, which removed a major bilateral irritant, and is intended to encourage further collaboration in nuclear and other forms of energy.

Although there was commitment by both Prime Ministers to accelerate finalization of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership (CEPA) and Foreign Investment Protection (FIPPA) agreements, there was no significant movement and the opportunity for a breakthrough was missed.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The foreign leaders see the approximately 1.2 million Indo-Canadians and 800,000 Filipino-Canadians as bridge-builders between the two countries, an important source of remittances, investment and support back home.[/quote]

The Philippine President’s visit was also a long time coming, the last being in 1997 when former President Fidel Ramos visited. The country is one of the top three fastest growing economies in Asia and, like India, Canada has designated it a trade priority.

Although a smaller market than India ($1.8 billion versus $6.3 billion in merchandise trade), the Philippines is a gateway to Southeast Asia and a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) group, which has a collective GDP over $2.3 trillion. It is also chairs the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) this year.

Similar to the Indian Prime Minister, President Aquino was keen to talk up Canadian investment in infrastructure and other sectors of the Philippine economy and had the opportunity to do so in Ottawa, and with a select group of CEOs in Toronto, as did Modi. There was also an unexpected agreement to begin exploratory discussions about a free trade agreement.

The Philippines has recently been designated as a focus country for Canada’s development assistance program and the visit saw the signing of a framework agreement outlining the specifics of this assistance. Canada’s bilateral assistance program in India ended in 2002.

Security was a common theme in both visits. Prominent on the agenda were the growing assertiveness of China in the region and ongoing terrorist threats in South and Southeast Asia. Canada has an annual Security Dialogue in place with India and signed an agreement for cooperation in security and defence with the Philippines in 2012.

Indian, Philippine Diasporas Underutilized Assets

The highlight, and some say the point of both visits was relations with the large Indian and Filipino Diasporas.

The foreign leaders see the approximately 1.2 million Indo-Canadians and 800,000 Filipino-Canadians as bridge-builders between the two countries, an important source of remittances, investment and support back home. With a federal election six months away, the timing of the visits was felicitous for the Harper government.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For companies, finding a Canadian who is familiar with local business practice in these markets and has ready access to a network of reliable contacts on the ground can be a substantial competitive advantage.[/quote]

Apart from the political mileage to be gained by courting the two Diasporas, they are underutilized assets. Not in the sense of influencing an ethnic-oriented foreign policy, which is in nobody’s best interest, but as informed stakeholders who can contribute to the policy debate and sometimes play a back-channel role in its implementation.

For companies, finding a Canadian who is familiar with local business practice in these markets and has ready access to a network of reliable contacts on the ground can be a substantial competitive advantage.

Notwithstanding the agreements reached, documents signed and the photo-ops, the most important result of the two visits was reaffirmation that Canada is ready to play a larger role in Asia.

We have been slower than many to recognize and act on the gravitational shift from west to east. Sustained and active engagement is therefore needed to prove our bona fides and secure a place at the table.


Peter Sutherland is the Senior Business Advisor Asia at Aird & Berlis LLP and former Canadian High Commissioner to India and Ambassador to the Philippines.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary

by Ted Alcuitas (@Ted_Alcuitas) in Vancouver

With Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s recent visit to Canada, the Philippines have been more widely reported on in mainstream media. Still, many of the diaspora’s stories and news go widely uncovered by major news networks. Aquino, himself, was covered quite differently by Philippine outlets than in the mainstream. In this edition of PULSE, find out about what’s been making waves in the Philippine media.

Aquino’s Visit to Canada: Not All Positive

The recent visit of Philippine President Aquino generated its fair share of coverage from the mainstream media – generally concentrating on the ‘positive’ side of the visit, trade talks, etc., while treating protesters with muted interest.

But Filipino outlets covered the negative aspects as well; in fact, even before he arrived.

Bern Jagunos (pictured to the right), a writer for the Toronto-based Philippine Reporter, wrote on May 1 that it appears Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not heard that the President’s aura has “irreversibly dimmed,” thanks to what she called Aquino’s, “atrocious human rights record, dismally inept leadership and the unbridled corruption of his administration.”

President Aquino’s popularity back home has sunk to a record low, Jagunos claimed.

Jagunos also referred to a study by Global Witness that quotes the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) saying that, “under President Aquino’s leadership, the Philippines ranks third among the most dangerous countries in the world for citizens who advocate for the protection of the environment. In 2014 alone, 15 Filipinos were killed by state agents because the Aquino government considered their opposition to large scale mining and other destructive resource extraction projects a threat to the state.”

Meanwhile, after he arrived in Canada, ethnic media continued to provide critical commentary of his visit.

The Philippine Reporter called Toronto’s event at Roy Thomson Hall welcoming Aquino to town, a “political rally”, inside its article published in partnership with New Canadian Media. Most of the invited guests cheered Aquino and Harper on, the article stated, but many others were upset the more difficult issues of rights abuse, poverty and temporary foreign workers were not raised.

On the other hand Vancouver’s Philippine Canadian Inquirer reported that Aquino had a “rousing welcome” from the Fil-Can community, but failed to mention the protests outside.

Filipinos Want to Stop Deportations

According to the Pilipino Express, activists from across Canada stepped up their fight efforts to stop the deportations of thousands of temporary foreign workers caught in the federal government’s “4-in-4-out” rule that came into effect April 1.

Migrant workers who have been in Canada for four years will be barred from returning to Canada under the same program for another four years.

It is estimated that as many as 70,000 workers will be forced to leave, according to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s appropriate to sympathize with individual temporary foreign workers, because, quite simply, they’ve done nothing wrong.” - Gil McGowan, head of Alberta Federation of Labour[/quote]

Workers in managerial and professional occupations, or under international agreements such as NAFTA, and those who have already received approval letters for their permanent residence applications, are exempt.

Critics have condemned the April 1 implementation as an April Fool’s joke for the thousands who expected to be deported.

Veteran immigration consultant Michael Scott, writing for the Pilipino Express in Winnipeg, praised Gil McGowan — the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour — and quotes him speaking about the basic compassion held by Canadians: “It’s appropriate to sympathize with individual temporary foreign workers, because, quite simply, they’ve done nothing wrong,” McGowan said.

McGowan pointed out that the expansion and abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) is a result of the Harper government’s approach to the shortage of skilled workers inside Canada.

He added that the Conservatives created a “two-tier labour market in which unscrupulous employers are allowed to use a vulnerable underclass of workers to drive down wages, displace Canadians and avoid their responsibilities related to training.”

International Outcry Wins Reprieve for Mary Jane Veloso

Canada was caught in the international outcry surrounding Indonesia’s aborted execution of Mary Jane Veloso, who a firing squad was scheduled to execute on April 28. 

The mother of two won a reprieve from the Indonesian government after Philippine President Aquino reportedly broke protocol by speaking directly to the Indonesian Foreign Minister on the sidelines of an Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting.

The migrant’s rights group Migrante Canada, which has organizations in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., spearheaded the Canadian effort to lobby for Veloso’s release, alongside organizations like Migrante International, the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), Bayan Canada and the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS).

According to the Philippine Asian Chronicle, members of Migrante B.C. (pictured above) rallied outside the Indonesian consulate in Vancouver on April 24.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Migrante B.C.] held Aquino’s government accountable for Veloso’s near-execution and criticized him for his continued inaction towards other cases involving Filipinos on death row abroad.[/quote]

In a press release, Migrante B.C. coordinator Jane Ordinario said that although Veloso had already been transferred to ‘Execution Island,’ the group would not give up hope, adding that many individuals and organizations were calling on Indonesian President Joko Widodo to grant her clemency.

The group held Aquino’s government accountable for Veloso’s near-execution and criticized him for his continued inaction towards other cases involving Filipinos on death row abroad. 

Ordinario added that the group had met with the Philippine Consul General, Neil Ferrer, to submit its demands.

Migrante held a noon vigil on April 28 in front of the Indonesian consulate followed by a community prayer at the Multicultural Helping House Society to celebrate that Veloso’s execution had been cancelled.

Michael Davantes Voted Most Beautiful Filipino-Canadian

Mabuhay Montreal TV (MMTV) anchor, Michael Davantes, has been named the ‘Most Beautiful Filipino-Canadian’ in Canada.

The Montreal-based North American Filipino Star’s Fely Rosales Carino writes, “The word beautiful can be defined in many different ways. It commonly describes those with physical attributes; however, it can also describe someone who has demonstrated an extraordinary achievement or success.”

The International Professional Entertainment Network chose Davantes, because as Carino reports, the network honours those who have made an “impact in the community, or even in somebody else’s life.” The Network has made it clear that it believes Davantes to be a beautiful person inside and out.

The fifth annual Most Beautiful Filipinos in Canada Awards ceremony was held in Toronto on January 31, 2015. There, Davantes received an award of recognition.

In the past, the anchor has been a recipient of Vanier College’s “Life Award” for scholastic achievement and tremendous community service. He has also held the “Outstanding Graduate of the Year” title by the Philippine Benevolent and the Scholarship Society of Quebec (PBSSQ) and been recognized as one of the “Most Outstanding Filipino-Canadians” by the Bb. Pilipinas World Pageant for helping build a positive image for Filipinos in Canada.

Calling him “dynamic” Carino’s article also lists all of Davantes’ many talents as he has worked as a medical lab technician, model trainer and agent, international pageant director, public relations and marketing consultant, musical theatre actor and an environmental columnist in the past.

Manila: A Dangerous Place for Lawyers

Just as Philippine President Aquino left Canada last week, The Law Society of Upper Canada said it is deeply concerned about the ongoing human rights violations faced by lawyers and judges in the Philippines, reported the Filipino Post.

The Post article speaks to an incident last summer when an unidentified motorcycle gunmen killed lawyer Rodolfo Felicio (pictured to the left) on August 24, making him the fifth member of the Filipino activist group, National Union of People’s Lawyers, to have been killed in the past 10 years.

Reports indicate that at least 41 lawyers and 18 judges have been murdered in the Philippines since 2001. An increasing number of lawyers and judges have been harassed and attacked.

The Law Society urged the government of the Philippines to put an end to all acts of violence and harassment against human rights lawyer and defenders in the nation, and guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological safety and integrity of all human rights lawyers and defenders, according to the article.

According to the Basic Report on the Human Rights Lawyers under Continuing Threat in the Philippines, in these cases “only very scarcely a perpetrator is arrested and nearly never prosecuted or punished by the courts.”

The Post makes note that in its World Report 2015 Human Rights Watch stated that Aquino continues to send “mixed signals” about his administration’s commitment to improving human rights in the Philippines.

“While human rights was a key agenda for Aquino when he took office in 2010, he has failed to make good on many of his commitments, chiefly his expressed intent to end killings of activists and journalists and bring those responsible to justice,” stated the report.

Photos sourced from the original stories that were summarized from ethnic media outlets cited.


Ted Alcuitas is former senior editor of the Philippine Asian News Today and currently publisher and editor of philippinecanadiannews.com.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in The Philippines

by Ted Alcuitas (@Ted_Alcuitas) in Vancouver

After a whirlwind of quick stops that took him first to Chicago and then to Ottawa and Toronto, President Benigno Aquino III ended his first North American visit in Vancouver Saturday.

But the small audiences that came to see him on the west coast marred whatever political mileage his host, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was clearly aiming for.

Even more disconcerting were the dogged persistence of a small, but militant, advocacy group, Migrante Canada, which describes itself as "an active defender of the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino migrants" and in some ways was able to distract attention from Aquino during the Toronto and Vancouver visits.

According to a pamphlet the organization gave out during the protest, Migrante B.C. is deploring the President's visit as a, “ploy to create a fictitious image of the Harper government’s harmonious relationship with our community in Canada, which at this very moment is reeling from the recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program and the overhaul of the former Live-in Caregiver Program.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]To be fair to Aquino, his ‘kababayans’ (countrymen) across Canada were more than eager to meet him – the legacy of his mother and father’s assassination still lingering in their minds.[/quote]

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced the changes to the program last year affecting temporary workers and caregivers under the ‘four in and four out’ rule. A worker must work in Canada for fours years and return to the country of origin for fours years before applying again. Those affected by the rule were deported starting April 1 this year.

Vancouver protesters were actually duped by the visit organizers, as they were under the false impression the event would be held at the Pan Pacific Hotel – just a block away from the Vancouver Convention Centre.

When the protesters arrived at the hotel they had to regroup in front of the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Police told them to move their demonstration to a nearby street but they refused, moving just a few metres from the front of the convention centre.

By this time almost all of the people attending were already inside the building and did not notice the demonstration.

Most of the people who stopped to listen to the speeches of the protesters were tourists who were walking around the Coal Harbour seawall, as two cruise ships were at the dock.

Except for the CBC, all of the mainstream media and local Filipino media were inside covering the reception. It is doubtful if Aquino himself knew about the protest, although a couple of TV camera men with the presidential entourage quickly passed the demonstrators and hurried back inside the centre.

Not the Media Frenzy of Modi

To be fair to Aquino, his ‘kababayans’ (countrymen) across Canada were more than eager to meet him – the legacy of his mother and father’s assassination still lingering in their minds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Attendance was far lower than the 10,000 earlier media reports said the Toronto Consulate was initially aiming for. The crowds did not have the same intensity or the media frenzy that greeted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi before Aquino.[/quote]

The Philippine Inquirer put the crowd at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall at 2,000, while Luisa Marshall of Vancouver’s Simply the Best television show estimated that “about 300 to 400 people” were in the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Attendance was far lower than the 10,000 earlier media reports said the Toronto Consulate was initially aiming for. The crowds did not have the same intensity or the media frenzy that greeted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few weeks before the Philippine leader's arrival.

It was the Philippine Embassy officials’ failure to prepare adequately for a state visit that followed such a ‘celebrity visitor’ (Modi).

Perhaps the Philippine planners were tired and weary after the defeat of their icon Manny Pacquaio at the hands of Floyd Mayweather a week before, which resulted in the confusion.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Harper’s strategists underestimated the political strength of the Winnipeg community, which continues to put Filipinos on the political map.[/quote]

Nonetheless for those who did show up, Aquino tried his best to entertain.

According to The Inquirer, the President began his speech in English, but shifted to Tagalog a couple of sentences after.

Aquino talks in ‘Taglish’ (a combination of English and Tagalog), or in straight Tagalog depending on his audience – the first and only Filipino president to do so. 

The Inquirer reported that in Toronto Aquino apologized to the non-Filipino speakers for the shift, saying that there are nuances in the language that get across concepts better to a Filipino than a foreign language can. 

“He then launched full tilt into a very smooth and polished delivery of a progress report on the Philippine economy, peppered here and there with jokes that brought down the house,” stated Inquirer writer Marisa Roque.

Underestimating Winnipeg

If there were kababayans disappointed about this historic visit, it was the Filipinos in Winnipeg who felt betrayed by their city being skipped in the itinerary.

Harper’s strategists underestimated the political strength of the Winnipeg community, which continues to put Filipinos on the political map.

Winnipeg elected the first Filipino Member of Parliament – Dr. Rey Pagtakhan – who was elected in 1988. Dr. Conrad Santos, the first Filipino member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, was elected in 1981 and served non-consecutive terms up until 2007.

There are now two Filipino members of the legislative assembly – Flor Marcelino and Ted Marcelino – as well as City Councillor Mike Pagtakhan. Several Filipinos are also elected school board trustees.

British Columbia is the only other province to elect a Filipino member of the legislative assembly with Mable Elmore of the New Democratic Party first being elected in 2009.


Ted Alcuitas is former senior editor of the Philippine Asian News Today and currently publisher and editor of philippinecanadiannews.com.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 10 May 2015 16:01

Protests Follow Aquino Across Canada

by Veronica C. Silva (@VSilvaCusi) in Toronto

From Ottawa to Toronto to Vancouver, protest actions met Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III wherever he went on his three-day state visit to Canada.

In Toronto, protesters gathered earlier than the scheduled opening of doors at 3 p.m. At around the same time, some Filipino guests invited to the ‘by-invitation-only’ event also started to line up to enter the venue.

Groups of Filipino-Canadian protestors, joined by their Canadian supporters, numbered at about 200 by their estimate, turned up to advocate against some policies of both Aquino and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Among the issues that the protesters brought to the fore were Aquino’s alleged human rights violations, the Mamasapano deadly encounter, Mary Jane Veloso’s death row case in Indonesia and the plight of other Filipinos overseas on death row and the policies affecting Filipino temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Canada, including live-in caregivers.

“Migrant rights, human rights under attack, what do you do? Stand up! Fight back!” chanted the protesters.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We urge you to look deeper in the root causes of our community’s issues. It is poverty, lack of decent jobs and landlessness in the countryside in the Philippines that continue to hold us back as a nation.” - Jesson Reyes, Migrante Canada[/quote]

Dan Harris, New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament in Scarborough Southwest, joined protesters outside the venue as he reiterated the NDP’s opposition to the Conservatives’ immigration policies and the C-51 anti-terrorism bill.

“Good enough to work, good enough to stay!” Harris said, joining in the chant.

“Just this week, both the Liberals and the Conservatives voted in favour of C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation that allows them to infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that’s a disgrace,” said Harris, as the crowd answered with, “Shame!” 

Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne also met with Aquino as shown in the picture to the right. (Photo Credit: Wynne's official Twitter account.)

Migrante Canada, one of the groups protesting, said it was reaching out to the Kababayans (Filipino countrymen) who attended the Toronto event also.

“We urge you to look deeper in the root causes of our community’s issues,” said Jesson Reyes, regional coordinator for Migrante Canada in Ontario. “It is poverty, lack of decent jobs and landlessness in the countryside in the Philippines that continue to hold us back as a nation.”

He also noted that the two state leaders talked about nothing new in their speeches, and he took aim at the objective behind the state visit.

“It is without a doubt that certainly one of the few agendas of PNoy’s visit to Canada is for the Conservatives to secure the votes of Filipino-Canadian voters in the upcoming federal elections,” said Reyes. “By listening to the tone of the Prime Minister, he ensured people yesterday that his government’s ‘promises’ will be kept for so long as he is seated in Ottawa.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This government is not going to have a policy – for as long as I’m Prime Minister – where we will have a permanent underclass of temporary people who are here forever with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility.” - Stephen Harper[/quote]

In a press conference in Ottawa, earlier in the day, Harper defended the controversial TFW program, which affects thousands of Filipinos.

“This government is not going to have a policy – for as long as I’m Prime Minister – where we will have a permanent underclass of temporary people who are here forever with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility,” said Harper in Ottawa.

And Aquino responded: “I think that policy should be held proud, not criticized.”

Reacting to this, Reyes said: “It shows that PNoy and his government do not have a clear understanding of the plight of TFWs in Canada and the abuses many of our Kababayans face by not having a permanent status.”

Migrante Canada joins other migrant groups in calling for landed status for foreign workers. The organization also deplores the Philippines’ labour export policy, which is driving many Filipinos to seek employment elsewhere.

The Conservative Campaign

In the weeks leading up to Aquino’s visit media reports reiterated Reyes’ sentiment that the state visit could be a strategy of the Conservatives to try to win over the Filipino community in Canada – estimated to number from half a million to 700,000 – in time for federal elections scheduled in fall. In recent years, the Philippines has been one of the top source countries for immigrants to Canada, next to China and India.

In Toronto, the state leaders spoke to a crowd of some thousands of members of the Filipino-Canadian community at Roy Thomson Hall. While Aquino’s speech was the highlight of the community gathering, Harper brought in his campaign team to cheer for him.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The event, at times, sounded more like an election campaign, with each leader taking turns speaking of each other’s accomplishments while highlighting bilateral ties and trumpeting the Pinoys’ good qualities.[/quote]

National Defence and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney (MP, Calgary Southeast), who was formerly Citizenship and Immigration Minister, wore a Barong Tagalog and gamely posed for photographs with some Filipinos in the lobby after the event.

Kenney has been credited for winning the so-called ethnic votes for the Tories in the 2011 elections.

Not to be outdone, federal Finance Minister and Torontonian Joe Oliver told the crowd: “Jason Kenney may be wearing a barong, but I’ve reached the third level in the Knights of Rizal,” something which drew applause from the crowd.

But it was Harper who got the loudest applause for revealing: “I’m also going to note – with some pride – that on my wife’s side, I now also personally have some Filipino relatives.” He didn’t elaborate though.

The event, at times, sounded more like an election campaign, with each leader taking turns speaking of each other’s accomplishments while highlighting bilateral ties and trumpeting the Pinoys’ good qualities.

Filipinos Integral Part of Canada: Harper

“The President’s visit gives our government, gives Canadians, the chance to recognize and celebrate the success and contributions of Canada’s Filipino community,” said Harper.

As an example of this Filipino success, the Prime Minister proudly recognized the Filipino-Canadian designer who created the logo of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, which will be in 2017, Ariana Mari Cuvin of Toronto.

Harper went on to enumerate Filipino qualities that have become world famous – work ethic, loyalty, and deep faith: “Filipino-Canadians have now become an integral part of every single aspect of Canadian society.”  

Then, there was the reminder of Canada’s multi-million dollar aid to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan struck in late 2013.

“During those dark days, Canada was there for our friends in the Philippines,” said Harper. “Canada was, in fact, the third largest humanitarian donor in the world to the relief efforts, a drive led by Filipino-Canadians that our government was proud to match dollar for dollar right across this country.”

In early 2014, it was announced that individual Canadians contributed over $85 million in eligible donations.

Canada also sent relief teams to the Philippines to help out and has committed more assistance in the reconstruction of areas affected by the typhoon.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Unfortunately for the Filipino Torontonians, Aquino hardly offered the crowd something new. His speech in Toronto was almost identical to the one he gave in Chicago, Illinois a few days prior.[/quote]

When it was his turn to address the audience, Aquino spoke in Tagalog and focused on his administration’s accomplishments during a speech interlaced with jokes.

Unfortunately for the Filipino Torontonians, Aquino hardly offered the crowd something new. His speech in Toronto was almost identical to the one he gave in Chicago, Illinois a few days prior.

For example, in boasting of his administration’s infrastructure projects, Aquino told the Toronto crowd the same joke about the new Lullutan Bridge in Isabela.

Ang tawag kaya, ang buong pangalan kaya nito ay Lullutang at Lulubog Bridge? (Do they call this bridge Lullutang (floating) and Lulubog (sinking) Bridge?),” Aquino asked the audience in Toronto. And like in Chicago, this part of the speech elicited the same response of laughter.

Also like in Chicago, Aquino boasted about his administration’s job programs and economic gains, adding that the numbers he presented were actual statistics.

But there were other projects Aquino mentioned to the Toronto crowd like achievements in the coconut industry and in the Philippines’ weather forecasting capabilities.

Amidst the mix of cheers, standing ovations and protests, both state leaders outlined the gains earned from the state visit.

Canada announced more aid and assistance to the Philippines, which has been identified as a country of focus for Canada’s international development efforts, and initiatives were announced in the areas of free trade, occupational health and safety, development assistance, police and security, and counter terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region.


Published in partnership with The Philippine Reporter.

Published in Top Stories

by Rachelle Cruz (@rachellecruz_) in Toronto

If Friday’s state visit of Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III was any indication of the Harper government’s political orchestration in obtaining votes from the Filipino-Canadian community, then it’s safe to say that winning over Filipinos in the upcoming federal elections won’t be an easy feat.

Kababayans (Filipino word for countrymen) across the Greater Toronto Area flocked to Roy Thomson Hall to show their support and excitement to meet the Filipino leader. Some men donned the traditional barong, and some women were dressed in Filipiniana iconic butterfly-sleeved gowns. It was the first visit of Aquino and the first by a Filipino president since 2002 with the visit of then president Gloria Arroyo.

But in the periphery, there was also a group of other Filipino organizations that rallied outside. Jesson Reyes, a spokesperson from Migrante Canada said that they are ultimately calling for Aquino’s resignation because of his dismal record in protecting Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) like Mary Jane Veloso and failing to address the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances rampant in the country, among other issues. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As the two national anthems were sung one after the other, Filipino-Canadians experienced that feeling of duality – of loving both their motherland and now their adopted country Canada.[/quote]

Though the three-day state visit of Aquino was clearly divisive, it was still a rare occasion to celebrate and witness. He arrived in Toronto, home to Canada’s largest Filipino community, on the second of his three-day visit.

Philippines-born Senator Tobias Enverga Jr. (pictured to the right) was the evening’s emcee; he introduced Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the stage, shortly followed by President Aquino. Both leaders received standing ovations, applause and cheers from the crowd, as waves of small Philippine flags broke out from the audience.

“I’m excited to hear his speech,” Art Viola, the nostalgic former Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake expressed. “When his mother came to visit Toronto, I was also invited. A couple of people from Niagara Falls attended the dinner. So it was double excitement. I was really surprised to see him here; I just got the invitation last night. It was very informative and positive.”

An electric mix of excitement, nationalism, pride and unity hung in the air, as both leaders took to the expansive stage that was adorned with Canadian and Philippine flags.   

As the two national anthems were sung one after the other, Filipino-Canadians experienced that feeling of duality – of loving both their motherland and now their adopted country Canada.   

Other dignitaries and officials were present; Harper was backed up by some of his Cabinet officials including Finance Minister Joe Oliver, and barong-clad Defence Minister Jason Kenney. Toronto Mayor, John Tory, was also in attendance.

Positives in Bilateral Relationship

In his speech, President Aquino respectfully told the Prime Minister that in this rare occasion to meet with fellow Filipinos, he’d like to deliver his remarks in Tagalog, to which Harper then intermittently put headphones into his ears for translation. 

President Aquino humbly boasted about the reforms and progress made under his administration, from infrastructure/road projects, boom in coconut water exports, updates on procuring second-hand fighter jets, and his steady fight against corruption. Mostly, his remarks highlighted economic growth in the country.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][I]t’s wonderful that a Philippine leader can actually come and visit Filipinos who are overseas and give some good, positive report in what’s happening in our country. It is wonderful that the people-to-people relationship is already there. Now we can mutually develop the trade relationship.” - Julius Tiangson, Member of Parliament candidate[/quote]

Bigyan mo lang nang isang pagkakataon, ay talagang magpapakitang gilas ang Pilipino,” Aquino said, which translates to, “Just give him one chance, and the Filipino will surely show his prowess.”

He continued stating that what the Philippines had accomplished economically was “no joke”. “Let’s peek at the economy, formerly Sick Man of Asia, now tagged Darling of Asia. We achieved the all-time high foreign direct investments of $6.2 billion in 2014. From 2010 to 2014, we had an average GDP growth of 6.3 per cent,” he noted, garnering applause from the audience.

The President added that this year’s target would be seven to eight per cent GDP growth.

“This is a very significant visit here, one of the largest Filipino populations is here in Canada,” said Julius Tiangson, officially nominated Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) candidate for Mississauga Centre riding. 

“It’s a good report and it’s wonderful that a Philippine leader can actually come and visit Filipinos who are overseas and give some good, positive report in what’s happening in our country. It is wonderful that the people-to-people relationship is already there. Now we can mutually develop the trade relationship.”

The visit is not only a reciprocal gesture from Harper’s official trip to the Philippines back in November 2012. This time around, the two countries engaged in discussions over free trade agreements, regional and global security challenges, and Canada’s foreign aid, in a move to further strengthen bilateral ties.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Filipinos are smart, they’re intelligent people, we know what the story is, it’s going to be difficult to pull a fast one over us.” - Rafael Fabregas, immigration lawyer[/quote]

We are starting negotiations on a FIPA (Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement) and we are going to start on a preliminary basis having a free-trade agreement,” said Finance Minister Oliver. “We already have a FIPA, we need to modernize it. We just want to broaden trade in all areas.” 

Important Issues Overlooked

It wasn’t all pride and glory though. While those present could appreciate the moment, some were critical.

“You know what, if it walks like a duck, it talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” immigration lawyer and advocate for the live-in caregivers program, Rafael Fabregas, commented. “There were definitely elements of a political rally, but the people who are sitting around me, who didn’t know who I am and what my background is, they were cognizant of that, they picked up on it.”

Fabregas said he heard comments like, ‘Ano ba to? (What is this?) Rally ba ito or speech ni PNoy? (Is this a rally or speech of PNoy (Aquino)?)’ from audience members. “Filipinos are smart, they’re intelligent people, we know what the story is, it’s going to be difficult to pull a fast one over us,” he added.

Still, he had some positive observations.

I think it was a very engaging speech, a lot of information,” Fabregas added. “I was looking forward to hear more about what’s going on in the Philippines. It was nice to hear him acknowledge the contributions made by the Filipino-Canadians, through the betterment of our country. At yun naman yung talaga ang gusto natin right? (Isn’t that what we want?) We always want to give back to our motherland.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I was a bit disappointed because I thought that he came here for that purpose. You know to bail out our TFWs from going home and applying again in four years, which is unnecessary. And most of the jobs of TFWs, the Canadians don’t even want to take it.” - Ladies of the Knights of Rizal member[/quote]

Others showed some disappointment.

The more contentious issues, like the plight of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW), were left out, or simply contained. Reports have stated that Aquino and Harper made a deal on the TFW program, but details of that have not been released.

A member of the Ladies of the Knights of Rizal voiced out, “I was a bit disappointed because I thought that he came here for that purpose. You know to bail out our TFWs from going home and applying again in four years, which is unnecessary. And most of the jobs of TFWs, the Canadians don’t even want to take it. That’s why they were hired in the first place, from the Philippines. They don’t want to do the jobs that the Filipinos are willing to do,” she said.

When The Philippine Reporter broached the subject with Minister Kenney, and asked if the TFW subject was raised between the two leaders, he replied: “It was only raised briefly, and I think both Prime Minister and President Aquino agreed that we want to protect the rights of contract workers, of temporary foreign workers.”

“Of course, we Canadians have to ensure that Canadians, immigrants, and citizens, have the first available access to available jobs,” he continued. “We don’t want to end up with permanent people who are on temporary status, which is why we have increased pathways to permanent residency and citizenship for TFWs and also put in a limit to how long those who don’t get permanent residency stay in Canada.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The number of Filipinos [immigrating] to Canada with permanent residency has doubled since our government came to office. It has increased by over 100 per cent.” - Defence Minister Jason Kenney[/quote]

When further pressed about the negative implications for migrant workers in relation to the Four-in/Four-Out rule that took effect early this year, he said: “The number of Filipinos [immigrating] to Canada with permanent residency has doubled since our government came to office. It has increased by over 100 per cent. It has gone from annual average of about 16,000 Filipino permanent residents' immigration to Canada prior to 2006 to about 28,000 on average now."

He continued: "So that’s largely because of the huge increase in the number of temporary foreign workers who can now access permanent residency through the Canadian experience class and, of course, the expanded live-in caregiver program, as well as the new Express Entry program. Obviously we are much more generous than before, but there are obviously going to be limits and anyone who comes here on a work permit knows full well that there’s no guarantee they’ll get permanent residency. So there’s got to be a balance.”

Filipinos are Philippines Greatest Resource

Yet like it or not, Filipinos are creating a niche for themselves beyond the common stereotype as caregivers or health-care professionals. There’s a surge in the community where Filipinos are now working to serve as political leaders, entrepreneurs, creative designers, activists, journalists and so forth.

Harper eloquently greeted the masses with “Bonsoir, Good evening, Magandang Gabi,” but it was his remarks later on that were foretelling: “Ladies and gentlemen, I think the President Aquino put it well when he said, and I quote, ‘The Philippines is blessed with the greatest resource. It’s people, who are hardworking, very loyal, and very adaptable . . .’ and I would add, love for family and commitment to faith. Filipino-Canadians have become an integral part of every single aspect of Canadians today,” he said.

And he’s right. Kababayans are no longer just sitting there waiting on the sidelines. 


Published in partnership with The Philippine Reporter.

Published in Top Stories
Friday, 08 May 2015 21:30

Aquino Skips Winnipeg

by Ted Alcuitas (@Ted_Alcuitas) in Vancouver

Philippine President Benigno Aquino is bypassing Winnipeg, home to one of Canada’s fastest growing and oldest Filipino communities, as he heads to Vancouver tomorrow for the final stop in his state visit.

“I couldn’t care less,” says Monina Relano, by telephone from Winnipeg.

Relano, who was one of the pillars of the anti-Marcos movement, August Twenty One Movement (ATOM) in Winnipeg, during Aquino’s mother Corazon’s time as president, minced no words in her distaste for Filipino politicians, including Aquino.

“I’m not very impressed with PNoy – he’s just one TRAPO politician,” says the retired teacher. TRAPO, which means ‘rag’, is the derogatory description of traditional politicians used by Filipinos.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Clearly the importance of this visit cannot be overemphasized and would have given the President a chance to see and experience the vibrant Filipino community in Winnipeg.” - Reis Pagtakhan, immigration lawyer[/quote]

Yet, some members of Winnipeg’s large Filipino community say they’re disappointed their city isn’t on Aquino’s itinerary this week.

“I was disappointed to hear about it, given the growing Filipino population, not just in Winnipeg, but in Manitoba itself,” says immigration lawyer Reis Pagtakhan (pictured to the right), by phone from Winnipeg.

“Clearly the importance of this visit cannot be overemphasized and would have given the President a chance to see and experience the vibrant Filipino community in Winnipeg,” Pagtakhan explained, adding that Winnipeg and Manitoba has a lot of ‘firsts’ (referring to the many elected Filipino politicians). “[We] have a lot to offer as to how Filipinos can contribute to this society and to the home country.”

Pagtakhan also mentioned that there was even some discussion last year to having a direct flight from Winnipeg to Manila by Philippine Airlines (PAL). 

“It’s unfortunate that he’s not visiting here,” said Jon Reyes, an aspiring provincial politician and former president of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council. “A lot of Filipinos were anticipating seeing him.” 

Reyes is facing a nomination meeting tomorrow (May 9) for the Provincial Conservatives in the Maples riding where two other Filipinos – former Member of the Legislative Assembly, Cris Aglugub, and perennial candidate Jose ‘Boy’ Tomas are challenging him. 

“I guess he has too much in his plate,” said Reyes who received an invitation from the Prime Minister’s Office on May 1 to meet Aquino in Ottawa yesterday. Reyes couldn’t make it. 

Poorly Planned Visit: Critics 

The fact that Aquino is not stopping in Winnipeg comes as a surprise since Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself announced the foreign president’s visit at Winnipeg’s Jimel’s International Cuisine on April 23.

“Personally, I think it would’ve been a very good gesture,” Pilipino Express editor-in-chief Emmie Joaquin told the Winnipeg Free Press in an interview. 

Joaquin said she heard Harper say Aquino would be stopping in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Filipino newspaper editors in Toronto complained as early as April that they were not properly briefed as to the details of the visit.[/quote]

Having worked in Filipino media for decades, Joaquin said this is the fastest she’s seen a president’s visit to Canada announced and planned.

Earlier visits by former Philippine presidents, including Corazon Aquino, were announced months in advance, with detailed itineraries spelled out, she said.

For this visit, she added, the trip appears to have been planned on short notice. On May 6 she received an invitation to a reception in Toronto with Aquino on May 8.

“I was happy to be invited, but that’s really short notice,” she said.

Some people in the community have criticized the Philippine Consulate for the lack of preparation.

Filipino newspaper editors in Toronto complained in early April that they were not properly briefed on the details of the visit.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We do not welcome him here at all. The points we’ll raise tomorrow include his government’s grim record of human rights violations, environmental destruction, corruption and continued neglect of the rights of Filipino migrant workers.” - Jane Ordinario, Migrante-BC[/quote]

In Vancouver, Philippine consulate officials were tight-lipped, and there appears to be confusion as to where the venue for the Vancouver reception will be.

The Vancouver Sun reported the Vancouver Convention Centre, while other outlets said it would be at the Pan Pacific Hotel

Our e-mail to the Vancouver Consulate was not answered by deadline.

Meanwhile, Migrante B.C. will be going ahead with its planned demonstration against President Aquino’s reception tomorrow at the Pan Pacific Hotel.

“We do not welcome him here at all,” says Jane Ordinario, Migrante-BC Coordinator. “The points we’ll raise tomorrow include his government’s grim record of human rights violations, environmental destruction, corruption and continued neglect of the rights of Filipino migrant workers.” 

She added that Harper’s role in worsening the conditions for temporary foreign workers in Canada would also be highlighted along with other issues.

“Prime Minister Harper is also sadly mistaken if he believes inviting President Aquino might boost his popularity with the Filipino community. Many are actually clamouring for President Aquino’s ouster and his latest satisfaction rating is at its lowest ever,” she concluded in the statement.

New Bilateral Initiatives Announced 

While some groups like Migrante-BC question Harper’s motives when it comes to Aquino’s visit, Canada's PM announced the new bilateral initiatives that emerged on Parliament Hill today. These initiatives, in the area of trade, investment and global security, are what both leaders stated was the primary purpose of the trip in the weeks leading up to it.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The initiatives announced today clearly demonstrate that both countries are committed to further enhancing our bilateral relationship with a particular emphasis on commerce, development and security.” - Stephen Harper[/quote]

One such trade initiative announced was the launch of discussions exploring a Canada-Philippines free trade agreement, which would aim to strengthen economic ties between the two countries. Canadian businesses and exporters are expected to greatly benefit from such an agreement.                                                  

Also announced were three specific initiatives aimed at enhancing collaboration with the Philippines to counter regional and global security threats, including capacity building for port and maritime security, as well as police officers, in the Asian-Pacific country.

“Canada and the Philippines share a close friendship based on shared values and significant people-to-people ties,” said Harper. “The initiatives announced today clearly demonstrate that both countries are committed to further enhancing our bilateral relationship with a particular emphasis on commerce, development and security.”

Aquino will conclude his three-day state visit to Canada May 9 in Vancouver.

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Published in Top Stories
Friday, 08 May 2015 00:33

President Aquino Arrives in Ottawa

by Priya Ramanujam (@sincerelypriya) in Toronto

Just days after Filipinos worldwide suffered the blow of boxer Manny Pacquiao’s loss to American Floyd Mayweather, the Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino landed in North America, first in Chicago yesterday, and then in Ottawa today, for a three day Canadian state visit.

Though the visit didn’t generate quite the media frenzy as last month’s visit from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Aquino was met with a warm, but fairly private, welcome in the nation’s capital.

The visit, which sparked mixed reactions from the Filipino-Canadian community, is aimed at strengthening the relationship between both countries and their respective leaders.

The Philippines is Canada’s third largest source of immigrants from Asia, right after India and China respectively. And while Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver have large Filipino Diasporas, the growing community of 700,000 plus extends as far as up north in the Whitehorse, Yukon and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Canada aims to support the Philippines through a variety of programs and responses. We are good friends and partners, working together to provide humanitarian assistance, development aid, sustainable economic growth, improved investment climate, and more opportunities for underprivileged men and women." - Governor General David Johnston[/quote]

For Aquino, he left his home country making vows that this visit is about establishing closer ties between Canada and the Philippines when it comes to trade and investment, and hopefully increasing tourism to the Asian-Pacific nation.

And while Stephen Harper expressed a similar interest in improving bilateral relations in the weeks leading up to today’s visit, some think both Modi and Aquino’s visits are well-timed attempts to increase support for the Conservatives in the Indo- and Filipino-Canadian communities.

“Canada and the Philippines enjoy a close friendship based on shared democratic values and strong people-to-people ties,” said Harper in an official statement leading up to Aquino’s arrival. “I look forward to meeting with President Aquino to further strengthen the bonds between our two countries, including in the areas of trade, investment, development and security, benefitting the citizens of both nations.”

Aquino’s Stay

It wasn’t all handshakes and trade talk for Aquino today, who met with Governor General Dave Johnston upon arrival.

Following the meeting Aquino took part in a tree planting ceremony – 26 years after his mother, Corazon Aquino, planed a red maple on Rideau Hall, he continued the tradition planting seeds for a red spruce.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The Philippines is an important member of ASEAN, a dynamic and growing region with a GDP of almost $2.5 trillion that offers a wealth of opportunities for Canadian businesses.” - Stewart Beck, President and CEO of Asian Pacific Foundation of Canada[/quote]

"As you know, President Aquino, our two countries have so much in common," said Johnston in his welcoming speech. "Yours is one of the most vibrant and rapidly developing regions in the world, with great opportunities to achieve success and some new challenges to overcome. Canada, in turn, is pleased to support the Philippines’ long-term commitments in areas of security, disaster management, development and humanitarian aid." 

In the evening, a special dinner at Rideau Hall was arranged for President Aquino by Johnston and his wife.

"Canada aims to support the Philippines through a variety of programs and responses," Johnston said at dinner. "We are good friends and partners, working together to provide humanitarian assistance, development aid, sustainable economic growth, improved investment climate, and more opportunities for underprivileged men and women."

Johnston pointed out that the steady growth in commercial ties, with bilateral trade reaching an impressive $1.8 billion in 2014, a 2.5 percent increase over the previous year, adds to already strong "people-to-people ties".

"Your visit goes a long way toward advancing the relationship between Canada and the Philippines. Thank you and the members of your delegation once again for coming. Now, let us raise a glass to the many ties that bind our two countries in friendship."

On tap for Aquino tomorrow is a roundtable in Toronto with prominent members of the Canadian business community hosted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APF Canada), with support from Sun Life Financial and in association with the Canadian ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Business Council. Its purpose is to explore opportunities for trade and investment with the Philippines.

“The Philippines is an important member of ASEAN, a dynamic and growing region with a GDP of almost $2.5 trillion that offers a wealth of opportunities for Canadian businesses,” said Stewart Beck, President and CEO of APF Canada.

On Saturday, Aquino will close out his Canadian visit on the west coast where he is expected to hold a reception at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver.


 

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Published in Top Stories

by Anita Singh (@tjsgroupca) in Toronto

Following Indian Prime Minister Modi’s successful tour of Canada, President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines is due to visit this week.

Modi’s trip was a landmark visit – four decades since the last visit to Canada of a sitting Indian Prime Minister. With a deal on nuclear trade, renewal of bilateral trade relations and promises made on counter-terrorism, this trip can be hailed a massive domestic and international success for Stephen Harper. 

Harper could only hope for the same type of success with President Aquino.

Yet, with visits from these two leaders – who represent countries with high levels of immigration to Canada – an important counter-narrative has also emerged. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]With Prime Minister Modi’s visit, speculation has been rife about the ­“Modi-effect” on Conservative electoral chances in Indo-Canadian populated regions in the country, arguably some of the most heavily contested ridings in Canada.[/quote]

For example, Tim Harper at the Toronto Star has suggested that the “real payoff for Harper might come when Indo-Canadian voters go to the polls in October.” 

Others have wondered if Harper’s overtures may also have an electoral motive with the large diaspora groups settled in Canada from these two countries.

With Prime Minister Modi’s visit, speculation has been rife about the ­“Modi-effect” on Conservative electoral chances in Indo-Canadian populated regions in the country, arguably some of the most heavily contested ridings in Canada.   

Modi’s trip to Canada certainly was diaspora-focused.

Speaking in Toronto, he commanded a 10,000-strong audience of largely Indo-Canadians keen to get a glimpse of India’s new “Rockstar” PM. This event marked the halfway point in a four-day Canadian tour, which included a whirlwind of photo ops at Parliament Hill, Rideau Hall and the Air India Memorial in Toronto.

This was followed by visits to Vancouver and a trip to a Hindu temple and Sikh gurudwara in Surrey, BC – one of the most densely Indo-Canadian populated cities in the country. 

Yet, we should be wary of making tall claims about electoral gains. If Conservatives see electoral gains in these ridings, it won’t be because of Modi or Aquino necessarily. 

More Required to Sway Votes

As shown by Prime Minister Modi’s trip, these visits do not do enough to differentiate Stephen Harper’s foreign policy from other candidates to be an election issue, particularly the Liberals' Justin Trudeau. 

Trudeau’s sit down with Modi also articulated the importance of India for his party, suggesting Canada-India relations would not be damaged by a Liberal victory this fall. 

Similar to Harper’s army of ministers traveling to India in droves, Trudeau’s Liberal party has also made its presence known in India. There is precedent for this – it was, after all, Liberal Prime Ministers Chretien and Martin that led Team Canada delegations to India in the late 1990s.

On the other hand, Tom Mulcair didn’t seem to think Modi’s visit would change his electoral fortunes. He did not take an opportunity to meet with Modi, citing scheduling challenges.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Harper seems to assume that immigrant voters are not particularly complex. He appears to believe that a few photo ops and press conferences with foreign leaders will sway ethnic Canadians to the Conservative party.[/quote]

Meeting with Modi might not be electorally important to Mulcair – two large Indo-Canadian communities in Canada, Brampton East and Surrey North, are already held by NDP MPs, despite the party’s limited stance on Canada-India relations.

Further, Harper seems to assume that immigrant voters are not particularly complex. He appears to believe that a few photo ops and press conferences with foreign leaders will sway ethnic Canadians to the Conservative party. 

However, like all other voters in the country, immigrant communities have complex reasons for how they vote – there is no electoral proof that ridings with large ethnic populations will elect one party over another on the basis of foreign policy. 

MPs from all parties are elected in ridings in Brampton, Mississauga, Scarborough, Abbotsford, Surrey and Richmond – all highly diverse communities across Canada.

Immigrant Vote is Complex Terrain

My research rejects this developing narrative. It has found that Canada’s immigrant communities are driven by all of the same factors as other voters, including quality of social services, investments, health care, education and economic benefits such as tax relief.  

They may vote Conservative because of their social values, NDP for their environmental policies, or Liberal because of their social policies, but explanations should not be isolated to one set of beliefs.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]hese communities are composed of second- and third-generation immigrants, women, linguistic and religious minorities, none of whom necessarily vote for or identify with homeland politics. [/quote] 

In a review of electoral outcomes, my research found that votes are often split between parties in largely ethnic ridings, regardless if opposing candidates are from the same or different immigrant groups. This research is supported by significant scholarship in Canadian Foreign Policy that has acknowledged that foreign policy has little salience in electoral politics. 

Similarly, this narrative does not account for differences and complexities within immigrant communities. It ignores the idea that these communities are composed of second- and third-generation immigrants, women, linguistic and religious minorities, none of whom necessarily vote for or identify with homeland politics. 

Prominent India-watchers in Canada, such as Kasi Rao have noted that the “Indo-Canadian community has made strides in all parties in Canada, federally and provincially and I think the community has now deepened in Canada.” 

Given the religious, ethnic and nationalist divisions within the Indian diaspora, it cannot be assumed that they vote as a unified entity. 

With President Aquino’s visit upon us, expect numerous photo opportunities, important speeches and a number of well-timed handshakes. But if Prime Minister Harper believes that this will have a positive effect on the upcoming election, he may have another thing coming.


Anita Singh is a founding partner of Tahlan, Jorden & Singh Consulting Group and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.

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Published in Commentary
Thursday, 30 April 2015 20:24

Trash Talk Stops as Aquino Comes to Canada

With Philippine President Benigno Aquino set to make a state visit to Canada next month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Manila has dropped its demand on the Canadian government to take back the trash that was illegally shipped there two years ago.

Philippine Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the inter-agency government committee, including the DENR, agreed to dispose of the trash in landfills here “for the sake of our diplomatic relations” with Canada.

“It has been resolved. The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has strongly recommended it be settled diplomatically,” Paje said in an interview, published in Manila.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Bureau of Customs (BoC) said 50 container vans loaded with trash arrived in six batches from June to August 2013 at the Manila port.[/quote]

“We still hold that the best thing to be done is that they (Canada) take it back, but what will be the effect? It will affect our diplomatic relations,” he went on.

The Bureau of Customs (BoC) said 50 container vans loaded with trash arrived in six batches from June to August 2013 at the Manila port.

The shipment was passed off as scrap materials for recycling, but customs inspectors discovered it consisted of household waste including adult diapers.

The DENR originally asked the Canadian government to take back the trash, as provided under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The trash had been rotting in the past two years, posing a health hazard at the Manila port and Subic port where some of the container vans were transferred to ease congestion.[/quote]

The Philippines and Canada are among the 180 signatories to the treaty that seeks to prevent developed nations from dumping trash in developing nations.

Paje claimed the trash consisted of “recyclable plastics.” “Therefore if there is nothing hazardous, it can be treated here,” he said.

The trash had been rotting in the past two years, posing a health hazard at the Manila port and Subic port where some of the container vans were transferred to ease congestion.

According to Paje, they are still waiting for clearance from the Manila Regional Trial Court, after government prosecutors last February asked that the trash be disposed of in local landfills while the case continued.

No Need to Hurt Diplomatic Relations

The Canadian Embassy in Manila has been on receiving end of mass actions and public petitions to take back the trash since the illegal shipment was discovered.

The embassy has refused to take back the garbage, saying the issue was a “private commercial matter” between a Canadian exporter and its Philippine importer-partner.

“The issue is as friendly countries, would you insist on hurting diplomatic relations if there is another way?,” Paje said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canada will also look into their policies to avoid a repeat. They will go after their exporter.” - Ramon Paje, Philippine Environment Secretary[/quote]

“They promised they will prevent a repeat. Canada will also look into their policies to avoid a repeat. They will go after their exporter,” he said. 

President Aquino will undertake a state visit to Canada on May 7 to 9, followed by a one-day working visit to the United States.

Malacañang said he would witness the signing of bilateral agreements on labor cooperation, development assistance and infrastructure development. SFM

Canada is the Philippines’ 21st largest trading partner, its sixth top source market for tourism, and is home to almost 700,000 Filipinos.

In 2014, Canada announced that the Philippines had been designated a Country of Focus for development assistance, and a Priority Emerging Market for Canadian overseas trade and investment.

The two leaders are expected to witness the signing of bilateral agreements on labor cooperation, development assistance, and infrastructure development, which will highlight the vibrancy of people-to-people relations.

The visit is the first state visit of a Philippine president to Canada since the visit of former President Fidel Ramos in 1997.


Re-published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.

Published in The Philippines
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