Friday, 23 September 2016 18:21

Brown Playing with Browns

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

In the run up to a recent Scarborough by-election, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown spent much time making speeches and handing out press releases supporting his candidate, as political party leaders often do. Towards the end of that political contest, he made a pledge that, should his party form a government, he would scrap Ontario's revised sex education curriculum.

However, all of this effort proved to be nothing more than toying with the emotions of poor parents for no other purpose than to grab their votes.

But, lets step back for a moment. In 2015, Patrick Brown wanted to win the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party win a seat in the Ontario parliament.  In order to do this, he needed strong support from a broad range of people across the Conservative party, and in the riding he ran in to gain a seat in the legislature. 

Consistent theme

One theme that came up numerous times was his criticism of the Liberal Wynne Government’s controversial sex education curriculum, which was received by a section of parents with serious reservations and mixed feelings.  Brown and his party seized on this uneasiness, and as the Conservative leader, he has repeatedly spoken of revising it or scrapping it altogether.  

And, in my opinion, he and his party have benefited by taking this position. 

And now, back to the recent Scarborough by-election. In the final days of this contest, we saw a huge flip-flop by Brown.  

First, a letter “pops up” at the end of the campaign repeating the party position that he as leader would scrap the curriculum. Then comes the flip-flop and Brown’s denials, complete with a watering down of the much promoted “scrap the curriculum” platform.

In the mean time, voters were bombarded with newspapers and television news broadcasts repeating the original Conservative pledge.  

By the time Brown flip-flopped, his party had a new seat in the legislature and any hope parents may have about seeing the controversial curriculum dealt with flopped with Brown’s flip, leaving many confused about what the leader of the Progressive Conservative party actually stands for. 

Questionable leadership

Patrick Brown’s now famous flip-flop is, to paraphrase former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, is like politicians who promise to build bridges, even where there is no river. In this case, Brown would have us believe he was asleep at the switch when all of this was going on.

First, he was unaware of the highly organized tactic that saw 13,000 copies of the now famous letter, in both English and Chinese, delivered to homes at the end of the Scarborough by-election. Then, he denied any part in it, suggesting the letter was the product of the party. Then he flip-flopped on the policy itself, saying he will at least review the curriculum.

Brown needs to be reminded of the old story about the boy who lived in the jungle and decided one day to play a prank on nearby villagers by screaming, “help me, help me, lion, lion!!”  

The villagers stop what they are doing and immediately grab their tools and rush to the boy’s aid only to find him laughing, and admitting it was all a joke. The villagers left confused and a bit angry.  The next day the boy played the same prank, the villagers ran to his aid, and again, he had to admit it was all a joke.  The villagers left very angry.  

The next day, a lion did appear and the boy screamed for help, but the villagers were tired of his pranks and no one came to help him, so the lion ate him.  

My point:  Mr. Brown, you can’t continue to treat the voters of Ontario like that boy treated the villagers.  

In 2018, there is going to be a provincial election.  As leader of the Conservative Party, Mr. Brown, you either have a platform and policies or you don’t.  The voters of Ontario are not looking for a party or a leader that plays fast and loose with his promises, or compromises his party’s policies.

People are looking for a friendly and honest leader who is prepared to make commitments and deliver on them.

I question whether you are that leader. 


Surjit Singh Flora has lived in Brampton, Ontario for the last 25 years. He is a guest-column writer, news reporter and photographer who has been published all over the world in more than 100 newspapers, magazines and online. 
Published in Politics
Saturday, 20 August 2016 17:36

Medical Student Re-discovers Jaffna

by Gayathri Naganathan in Scarborough

I was born at the Vavuniya General Hospital in the winter of 1988, in a town that is often referred to as the gateway to the northern Vanni region. As so many other families before us, we fled Sri Lanka during the civil war, amid death, destruction and uncertainty.

We arrived in Scarborough, Canada, in the early 90’s, in what would become the single largest Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora community outside of South Asia. I grew up speaking Tanglish (a blend of Tamil and English), eating string hoppers and spaghetti, and listening to A.R. Rahman and the Backstreet Boys.

In short, I am a ‘third culture’ kid, a blend of the home we left behind in Jaffna and the home we worked hard to create in Canada. So as a Canadian medical student when I was presented with the opportunity to spend several weeks training in any field and in any country around the world, the natural choice for me was to go “back home”.

Having spent over two decades away, I didn’t quite know what “back home” would mean on this first visit back. After months of phone calls, emails and planning, at the end of June, I arrived at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital, ready to start my five weeks of electives in internal medicine and general surgery. Unsurprisingly, I spent the first few days overwhelmed by the experience.

I have been volunteering, working, and learning in hospitals for most of my life. For most, hospitals are places that cause anxiety and stress, but for me, they are often a place of familiarity and comfort, somewhere where I feel engaged and useful. Despite years in this environment, the Jaffna Teaching Hospital felt foreign to me. The wards, the equipment, the staff uniforms, the very rhythm of the place was completely alien.

Patient autonomy

The most obvious difference was that everything was done by hand. There was not a single computer in sight. Having worked in a health system that is increasingly digital, this was a big change for me. I also soon discovered that patient records are not kept locked away in a filing cabinet at the clinic or hospital.

Rather, the patients themselves carry their clinic books, lab reports and even MRI scans to each appointment with them. While cumbersome and running the risk of losing documents, this system gives full autonomy to patients over their personal health records and also allows for the mobility of those records from one site to the next.

Despite (or perhaps because of) this system, the consultants (in Canada, we call them “attendings”) are able to see a massive case load in a very short period of time. This was most obvious on clinic days where upwards of 40 patients were assessed, treated, and dismissed and/or given a date for follow up, all within the span of two to three hours. It’s a whirlwind of papers shuffling, names being called, patients shifting in and out of the examination rooms, and notes hurriedly scrawled into clinic books.

I was equally stunned the first time I stepped into the casualty theatre – a carryover, it seemed, from Sri Lanka’s civil war, when trauma patients would flood into the hospital every day. Two tables, with one anesthetist each, for procedures that require general anesthesia.

All other procedures were conducted under local anesthesia on stretchers flying in and out of the large operating theatre. And, at the centre of it all, a group of dedicated and talented registrars and surgeons operate on everything from in-grown toenails causing infection to inguinal hernias, all using proper aseptic and clean protocols.

As a student, it was incredible to move from one table to the next and see so many different techniques and procedures happening simultaneously.

Controlled chaos

To me, this was controlled chaos. And this phrase echoed through my mind again and again as I proceeded through my weeks of training in Jaffna.

But beyond the differences, the language of medicine remained a constant thread to which I could hold. Human anatomy is the same the world over. And I marvelled as I watched my general surgery preceptor carefully reveal the facial nerves of a patient with a suspected tumour over his jaw bone. Like the branches of a tree, the branches of cranial nerve seven spread out across one half of the patient’s face, beginning to divide and separate just in front of the ear. It was like I was looking at a diagram in a textbook, the dissection down to the tumour was so precise and clean.

Acetaminophen too is the same all over the world. Whether we call it Panadol, Paracetamol or Tylenol, all three can be used to bring down a fever, all three can be used to relieve pain.

Moving mountains

Though the medicine was fascinating, the most enriching aspects of this journey to Jaffna were the people that I had the privilege of meeting. From the patients, nursing staff, and fellow medical students to the registrars and consultants who served as my teachers and mentors, the people I met throughout my five weeks at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital made the experience unforgettable. They worked to bridge the cultural and linguistic gaps between us, provided thoughtful and insightful answers to my questions, and facilitated opportunities to practice clinical skills and learn new techniques.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I was truly in awe to see the mountains that these health providers move on a daily basis with less than a hundredth of the resources we have available to us in Canada, and with significantly more challenges.[/quote]

What do you do, for example, with a patient with diabetic foot ulcers who can’t afford to buy shoes? Or having to label an otherwise medically fit patient as a “poor candidate” for kidney transplant because all such surgeries are done in the private sector and require hundreds of thousands of rupees to carry out?

I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to be a learner in Jaffna, and to speak to patients and practise medicine in my mother tongue, Tamil. I feel especially privileged to have met the dedicated, passionate, and talented physicians and medical students who propel medicine forward in Jaffna. Despite systemic barriers, low resources and a significantly complex patient population, they persevere, they innovate and they thrive.

As a teacher and friend from my general surgery elective in Jaffna so poignantly stated, “We have the resilience gene”. And I could not agree with him more.

Gayathri Naganathan is a second year medical student at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. She is a daughter of the Tamil diaspora and a proud “third culture” kid.

Published in Health

Commentary by Priya Ramanujam in Scarborough

I find it insulting for Toronto Mayor John Tory to casually toss around the fact that more than half of Scarborough is foreign-born, and point the finger at his critics for not understanding how the transit experience impacts these immigrants.

Fact is, he doesn’t really understand either.

Tory has come under fire for his “immigrant talk” relating to the proposed one-stop subway expansion to Scarborough.

My mom is one of those foreign-born folks Tory was referring to, and she’s been relying on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) to get her to and from work (as well as everywhere else) for more than 30 years.

“But many of the subway’s loudest critics do not live or work in Scarborough, where more than half the population is born outside of Canada,” wrote Tory in a Toronto Star op-ed on Monday. “When they say this is too much to spend on a subway, the inference seems to be that it’s too much to spend on this part of the city.” 

These two lines set social media ablaze. City councillor Josh Matlow, one of the subway’s most vocal critics, even said Tory “crossed an ethical line” with his implication that the naysayers somehow didn’t care about providing transit solutions for the area.

Tory’s right – many of the critics of the Scarborough subway don’t live or work in the area. The irony, though, neither do many of its champions, the mayor included.

A different universe

Let’s face it. Tory can take all the photo ops he wants on riding the subway. He can speak of critics not wanting to spend money in our part of town. He can hold town hall meetings with the public. 

But, he is doing little to convince me he actually understands. And how could he?

He’s able to walk from the doorstep of his downtown condo to a subway station, ride the train a few stops, stop at the cafeteria to pick up breakfast and be in his office within 20 minutes.

That is a luxury many Scarborough folks will never have, especially since the new one-stop, $3-billion subway plan adds no new stations to the area. It’s merely a long-overdue replacement for the rapid transit (RT).

My mom arrives at her downtown job about 15 minutes after the mayor each day, 6:45 a.m. The difference is, she wakes up every day at 4 a.m., in order to make the one-and-a-half-hour commute to work downtown. And she, like many others, has been doing that for decades.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][My mom] wakes up every day at 4 a.m., in order to make the one-and-a-half-hour commute to work downtown.[/quote]

Timing is everything

The thing is, it’s no secret that Scarborough is heavily populated by immigrants, as well as the children and grandchildren of immigrants. Like me.

Growing up in the late 80’s, early 90’s, my classes were always filled with children whose parents hailed from all over the world – the Philippines, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, China, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

So why did Tory feel the need to point out something that’s always been common knowledge – at least to those of us he is talking about: you know, the ones who actually live in Scarborough, and ride the transit here.

Well, from Donald Trump to Brexit, anti-immigration sentiment in the West continues to be a hot-button issue. By subtly hinting that critics of the Scarborough subway may be “anti-immigrant” Tory appears to be riding the coattails of this wave.

He’s shifted the conversation from whether or not this proposed plan will actually do anything of value for the residents, to who cares more about immigrants living in Scarborough.  

Distracting from the deeper issues

While Tory’s office issued a statement saying that his op-ed has been misunderstood and was not meant to be divisive, divisive is certainly what it sounds like to me.

Beyond that, it sounds like immigrants are being used as pawns in a political chess game.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][I]t sounds like immigrants are being used as pawns in a political chess game.[/quote]

He’s said that the one-stop subway extension, expected to serve 1,700 residents living in “neighbourhood improvement areas” (areas identified as falling below the city’s neighbourhood equity score, that often have large newcomer populations), is the way to go.

This is despite predictions that the previously proposed Eglinton East light rapid transit (LRT) solution to Scarborough would service close to 26,000 with up to 17 stops.

He, and other supporters, have also said that it will bring jobs to the area, emphasizing the need for more jobs in “low-income”, “disadvantaged” neighbourhood improvement areas. 

What’s the guarantee, though, that those jobs will go to Scarborough folks? That at the time of hiring, things like their lack of Canadian experience, their “foreign-sounding name” or their understanding of soft skills won’t leave them jobless, while people from outside the area fill the positions.

Unless the mayor’s willing to offer guarantees, it’s best he and the others at City Hall forget about trying to pretend that they really care about newcomers.   

Priya Ramanujam has lived in Scarborough all her life, and has been riding the TTC almost as long. She is production editor for New Canadian Media.

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Published in Commentary

by Marcus Medford in Toronto 

Journalism students say they find value in learning how to report on immigration and race issues. Many would like to see more specialized courses focused on diversity and inclusive reporting. 

“There’s never been a time in my life when this has been more important,” says second-year journalism student from the University of Toronto, Tijuana Turner, referring to the current refugee situation and Justin Trudeau pledging to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada. 

“For example, describing it as a ‘flood’ of refugees isn’t okay when most people associate a flood with disaster,” she explains. 

Turner moved to Canada from Jamaica two years ago to study at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus (UTSC). She says the course Covering Immigration and Transnational Issues” offered at UTSC, which teaches students to analyze news coverage, has helped raise her awareness. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[D]escribing it as a ‘flood’ of refugees isn’t okay when most people associate a flood with disaster."[/quote]

The course includes material on how media outlets frame stories related to race and immigration and how these frames can shape people’s perspective. Before taking it, certain things went over Turner’s head, she explains, but she’s become more critical. 

“You shouldn’t start by saying ‘Refugee Tom...’ That's not inclusion, that’s ‘us vs. them.’ You should try saying, ‘Tom, who is a refugee,’” Turner explains. 

Teaching critical journalism 

datejie green is the Asper Fellow of Media at Western University and a lecturer at UTSC. 

green teaches “Critical Journalism”, which she describes as a “mobilizing, embodied, intersectional approach to journalism” meant to give students a fresh set of eyes to critically engage journalism. The course examines how media cultures address gender, ability, class, sexuality and race.   

“We want to learn about intersectional ways of thinking and mobilize that critical analysis to make sense of everything and write respectfully,” green shares. “These are not static, abstract ideas that we learn and leave in classrooms; these are things journalists need to have at their disposal.” 

Class discussions involve examining the impact and importance of perspective in media. green’s objective is to cross cultural divides in a humanizing way. She says she is open with students about her experiences – as a woman, as someone who’s black, lives with mental illness and is a lesbian – and how it relates to perspective. 

“That shouldn’t detract from my validity as a journalist or a teacher; it’s just a frame. But it allows me to explain how my body is experienced, why and what’s the impact,” green explains. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Students become aware of different perspectives, which helps journalists “not to write from pre-conceived ideas or ignorance.”[/quote]

Fatima Al-Sayed is a second-year journalism student in green's class. She says the course is “extremely important” because students become aware of different perspectives, which helps journalists “not to write from pre-conceived ideas or ignorance.” 

“As a woman who wears a hijab, I know the image the media portrays of me because it’s my day-to-day life,” Al-Sayed explains. “I feel like my role in journalism is to change that perspective, but I can’t if I get pulled into that kind of thinking.” 

Integrating diversity lessons throughout j-school 

Specialized courses aren’t the only way to teach these concepts in journalism school. At Langara College in British Columbia, lessons about perspective and diversity are integrated into every course, explains Frances Bula, chair of the journalism program. 

Bula says that in addition to having classrooms and newsrooms that are ethnically diverse, it’s crucial for students to understand the importance of diversifying their sources. 

“From day one, we talk about the importance of diversity and the dangers of getting too comfortable talking with people from a similar age, gender, race, or income background,” Bula explains.    

Journalists should also look to groups who may not have access to the media or may not speak perfect English, Bula adds. 

Petti “Peg” Fong, the assistant department chair at Langara, says courses solely about reporting on race and ethnicity aren’t necessary for journalism students.  

She adds, though, that it’s important for students to understand that audiences and sources come from all different backgrounds to help prevent stereotypes being perpetuated by the media. This is taught throughout other courses, she explains. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][N]ews gathering should be more inclusive ... or else it runs the risk of stereotyping and misrepresenting.[/quote]

Students’ role in addressing media bias 

A study from Australia noted that negative and stereotypical coverage of Muslims can foster alienation, which plays into the hands of extremists, says Brad Clark, the journalism and broadcasting chair at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Clark did his doctoral dissertation on representations of ethno-cultural minorities in Canadian media. 

Clark says that news gathering should be more inclusive, especially stories that focus on specific communities, or else it runs the risk of stereotyping and misrepresenting. 

He also says that journalism students can play an important role in addressing implicit biases of mainstream media. 

“They must be allowed to influence news gathering when it strays into the realm of the stereotypic,” he says. “Students need to understand that sometimes it is OK to explore the experience of race, that talking about race isn’t the same as being racist.” 

These issues have become increasingly relevant for j-school students to explore, says Lysia Filotas, a second-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa. Carleton, like Langara doesn’t have a course dedicated to reporting on race and ethnicity, but incorporates it in lessons, something Filotas finds valuable.

“As a reporter, it’s important to learn how these topics colour one’s world views and how not to project that onto someone else during the interview and writing process,” she explains.

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Published in Education
Sunday, 04 October 2015 20:20

Getting Out the Racialized Youth Vote

by Shan Qiao in Scarborough, Ontario
Voter turn out is traditionally low amongst racialized youth.

It is with this in mind that the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) gathered dozens of youth from the Malvern community to have their voice heard alongside two local political candidates running for MP of Scarborough North.

Liberal candidate Shaun Chen, formerly an area school board trustee, and NDP candidate Rathika Sitsabaiesan, elected MP of Scarborough-Rough River in 2011, were in attendance at the event, held this past week at the Taibu community health centre.

Several young people from the local community were invited to the forum to speak with their peers on getting engaged with the 2015 election. 

Hibah Sidat, a 26-year-old, long-time Malvern resident of South Asian descent, who studied political science and worked a government job in the past, was one of them.

Sidat told the crowd that jobs are a major concern for young people in the neighbourhood.

“[The] youth unemployment rate is at an all-time high in Canada, and even worse in Ontario,” said Sidat. “And [it is] further worse in a community like Malvern that is so impoverished and has a uniquely high proportion of children and youth.”

Neighbourhood demographics

This election will be the first time the Malvern community has been split in half, with residents living west of Neilson Road voting in the Scarborough North riding, and those east of it voting in Scarborough-Rouge Park.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]New Canadians make up 61 per cent of the population and four out of five residents are visible minorities.[/quote]

With over 60 different cultures represented in Malvern, it is considered to be one of the most culturally diverse areas in Canada. New Canadians make up 61 per cent of the population and four out of five residents are visible minorities.  

In the past the City of Toronto had designated Malvern a Neighbourhood Improvement Area, based on factors like health, economics, political participation and education; however, in 2014 it was no longer considered to be a ‘priority neighbourhood’, a decision which some residents felt was premature.

Challenges getting to the polls 

Voter turnout in the former Scarborough-Rouge River riding, which Malvern was a part of, has been historically low. It ranked second lowest of all Ontario ridings during the 2008 federal election.

“The South Asian population generally is from countries that are originally very heavily involved in politics like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” explains Neethan Shan, executive director of CASSA. “We have high turnouts and are very engaged in political rallies, so politics is not a new thing.”

That said, Shan does point out reasons why South Asian residents in Malvern may not be getting to the polls.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[M]any families have been struggling to make ends meet ... They feel like everything is okay with the politics and they don’t have to worry about it.”[/quote]

“The only issue here is that the electoral system hasn’t engaged in diverse populations,” Shan explains.

“The other reason is that many families have been struggling to make ends meet. They have many priorities at home with respect to jobs, children’s education, etc. They feel like everything is okay with the politics and they don’t have to worry about it.”

Generally, Shan explains, the South Asian community is concerned about job related issues such as employment and foreign credential recognition, as well as immigration policies including refugee settlement, restrictions on family reunification and citizenship.

Shan says another issue within Malvern’s South Asian community is the racial profiling of Muslims, Tamils and Sikhs, an issue members of the neighbourhood’s large African-Caribbean Canadian population have had to grapple with for many years.  

The power of ethnic voters

Abal (who did not wish to provide her last name), a volunteer from The Canadian Muslim Vote, a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization aimed at increasing Canadian Muslims’ participation in the democratic process, was in attendance at the event.

She says that according to the organization in the 2011 federal election, 21 ridings in Ontario with significant Muslim populations were won by very narrow margins.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[Muslims] don’t know enough about the voting system, or they don’t know enough to decide whom to vote for.”[/quote]

Over half a million Muslims live in Ontario and over 400,000 call the Greater Toronto Area home. There are more than one million Muslims living across Canada, and according to the PEW Forum, by 2030 that number is expected to triple.

Still, Canadian Muslims are among the least politically engaged. Consequently, Muslims have less of a voice within Canada’s democratic institutions. 

“[Muslims] don’t know enough about the voting system,” says Abal, citing findings from an online survey her organization conducted, “or they don’t know enough to decide whom to vote for.”

Shan, who arrived in Canada 20 years ago as a refugee from Sri Lanka of Tamil heritage, would like to see a more accessible electoral system to help alleviate the challenges Abal speaks to.

He is calling for investments to be made to reach out to a variety of ethnic and racialized communities across Canada, particularly in different languages.

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Published in Politics

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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Published in Politics

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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Published in Politics

by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriya) in Scarborough, Ontario

“Did I tell you the time I was called 'a little girl'?” asks MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan incredulously.

Sitting in her election campaign headquarters in Scarborough’s Malvern neighbourhood, the first-term MP is recounting her experiences in politics after being elected in 2011 from Scarborough – Rouge River on the New Democratic Party (NDP) ticket. She was 29.

“It was a Citizenship and Immigration committee and I had the floor and I was speaking. And the chair had the audacity to say to me, ‘settle down little girl.’” Now four years older, she is seeking re-election from the new riding of Scarborough North to a Parliament which, she asserts, is still “very much an old white man’s club.”

The Sri Lanka-born MP sees herself very much part of a changing Canada, pointing out that for the first time ever, in 2011, the average age of MPs was below 50 years. The House of Commons also had the highest number of women. 

She has many firsts – first woman and first woman of colour MP to represent her riding – she was also the first MP of Tamil ancestry in the House. She and her family emigrated from Sri Lanka when she was five.

Often assumed to be “working for someone” or “somebody’s assistant” when she shows up for fancy galas and social gatherings, Sitsabaiesan told New Canadian Media in an exclusive interview that she has to work three times as hard as other MPs.

“Breaking down those pre-conceived notions is one part of the job of a young woman of colour who grew up in poverty, and is not a doctor or a lawyer, but it’s also just about holding my own.” [Picture shows Sitsabaiesan at her 2015 campaign launch on Aug. 22. Credit: Campaign supplied photo]

In love with Scarborough

Sitsabaiesan first fell in love with Scarborough, in the east end of Toronto, at the beginning of high school. As her family lived in Mississauga on its western edge, she would commute – sometimes three hours one way – to attend dance classes and Tamil school and later to volunteer.

Over time she became more engaged in civic activities, volunteering with community groups like the now defunct Malvern Community Coalition and the Action for Neighbourhood Change organization. Six years ago, she decided to make Scarborough her home.

Though pockets of the community, particularly Malvern, have at times been viewed negatively in the media, Sitsabaiesan says the riding’s overall welcoming nature is what she loves the most.

“That sense of community is really obvious in all the pockets and neighbourhoods within Scarborough Rouge River and that’s, I think, the best thing for me.”

She talks of the high level of diversity in the riding allowing her to be the “social chameleon” that she is and building meaningful inroads with all community members – whether by participating in the annual Caribbean Carnival or visiting the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatic Care.

She says she strongly believes that her intimate connection with the community is what voters gravitated to in the last election – an election that saw a significant rise in voter turnout for a riding that ranked second-lowest in Ontario during the previous federal elections in 2008.  

“I really do think that made a difference,” she says. “That if you’re seeking to be a representative of the community, that you’re actually a member of the community, that you can actually understand what life is for people in that community and what their lived experiences would be.”

Tight three-way race

While the name and face of Sitsabaiesan may have been the change people voted for in the last election, it may not be the same this time around, as the boundaries have changed.

While Sitsabaiesan easily won her former riding, the new one, which combines Scarborough – Rouge River and Scarborough – Agincourt, could be a different story. Portions of neighbourhoods like Malvern and Morningside Heights are now out of her riding boundaries and she can expect a tight three-way race. 

Sitsabaiesan’s Liberal challenger is Shaun Chen, who resigned as chair of Toronto District School Board to fight the election. Her Conservative opponent is businesswoman and community activist Ravinder Malhi.

Elections Canada has applied the 2011 results to the new riding boundaries and it shows a very tight race. Even a small swing might result in a very different outcome. The NDP would have won Scarborough North with 35.3 per cent of the vote, compared to 33.3 per cent for the Conservatives and 28.9 per cent for the Liberals. The sitting MP is aware that while Scarborough – Rouge River had the highest Tamil population among all the ridings, fewer voters in Scarborough North share the same heritage. [Picture shows MP Sitsabaiesan hugging long-time supporter Mark Atikian, member of the Armenian National Committee of Toronto. Credit: Campaign supplied photo]

Criticism and controversy

Outside her riding, Sitsabaiesan has received negative attention, the most recent being a personal trip to Sri Lanka and India at the end of 2013 that generated some criticism and controversy.

The critics come with the territory, she says, adding that some people argue she does too much for the Tamil community, while others argue that she doesn’t do enough.

What she stands behind, though, is the work she has done for all of her constituents. She mentions that her office has helped more than 1,000 individuals and families, the majority of which have been immigration-related issues.

She may also have had a role in inspiring other candidates of Tamil heritage in running this time: Senthi Chelliah, NDP Candidate for the riding of Markham-Thornhill; Rev. K.M. Shanthikumar, NDP Candidate for the riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park; and Gary Anandasangaree, Liberal Candidate for riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park. 

While her global human rights work has seen her take up causes in Guatemala, Honduras, the Philippines and India, she says the high level of child poverty and legislation like Bill C-24 (the new citizenship Act) and Bill C-51 (anti-terrorism) are examples of the long way Canada still has to go.

“While we’re helping people all over the world have a sense of fairness, we need to make sure that we’re doing that here at home.” 

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Published in Politics

by Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17) in Toronto, Ontario

By now the Liberal candidates for the predominantly visible minority ridings of Scarborough have grown used to party strategists lavishing attention on them. They are on the frontline for the bitter battle for Greater Toronto Area (GTA) votes during the current federal campaign and leader Justin Trudeau has already swung through their ridings several times to lend them star power.

But they were in for a surprise Tuesday when Trudeau’s entourage rolled into a manufacturing plant in the Scarborough Centre riding.

A day after stock markets tanked and the loonie fell to an 11-year low, Trudeau was in the Toronto suburbs to announce his economic credentials in comparison to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s. Issues closer to the communities in this inner city Toronto suburb could wait.

On display was his economic team alongside former Prime Minister Paul Martin in an unabashed attempt to remind voters his party’s record in balancing budgets. As finance minister in Jean Chretien’s government, Martin oversaw the elimination of the federal deficit.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Trudeau said, "Growing the economy is a team sport. So is governing the country."[/quote]

Introducing his diverse set of economic leaders comprising of former federal and provincial economic ministers, entrepreneurs and experts in First Nations governance and natural resources, Trudeau said, "Growing the economy is a team sport. So is governing the country."

Getting into the competitive spirit of sport, he said if the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) Thomas Mulcair could tout former Saskatchewan finance minister Andrew Thomson as someone who could balance a budget, he could do better with Ralph Goodale from the same province. He described Goodale as, "the last Canadian finance minister to ever run a surplus."

Apart from Goodale, prominent names in his team who formed the backdrop included Scott Brison, John McCallum, Chrystia Freeland, Jean-Yves Duclos and Bill Morneau.

The others were Jessie Adcock, Leona Alleslev, Navdeep Bains, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Randy Boissonnault, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Jim Carr, François-Philippe Champagne, Karine Desjardins, Emmanuel Dubourg, Jean-Yves Duclos, Judy Foote, Marc Garneau, Anthony Housefather, Linda Lapointe, MaryAnn Mihychuk, Robert Morrissey, Marwah Rizqy, Kim Rudd, Brenda Shanahan, Francesco Sorbara, Claude Thibault, Adam Veilleux, Jonathan Wilkinson, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Lawrence Woo.

The odd man out in this ensemble was Harjit Sajjan, the soldier and former police officer who is neither a local candidate (he is contesting from Vancouver South in distant B.C.) or a member of the economic team.

Martin praised Trudeau for recruiting candidates (pictured above) with strong economic backgrounds. "They are certainly of a quality that none of our opponents can match. It is a team that is experienced, able, proven and ready," he said.

‘Lone wolf prime minister’

This emphasis on “the team” was further driven home when Trudeau took a dig at Harper. "For 10 years, we've had a lone wolf prime minister. Stephen Harper's economic team can fit in a very small room. All he needs is one chair and a mirror. I see things differently."

Also venturing into Conservative strongholds in Ontario on Tuesday to boast of economic credentials was Mulcair.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Mulcair made a definitive promise. “Our first budget will be a balanced budget."[/quote]

While Trudeau said achieving balanced budgets under his watch will depend on the "size of the mess" left behind by Harper, Mulcair made a definitive promise. “Our first budget will be a balanced budget," he said while campaigning in Hamilton on the outer edge of the GTA.

Like Trudeau, Mulcair also used a manufacturing unit as a backdrop and repeated his plan to cut the small business tax rate from 11 to nine per cent, promising a new timeframe of two years.

He promised to create "good jobs" in contrast to the "part-time, low-wage, precarious jobs" created under the Conservative government.

"Small and medium-sized businesses across our country account for 80 per cent of the new jobs that are created in the private sector. They are the job creators in our country."

Campaigning in Quebec City, Harper said the Liberals and the NDP are proposing high tax plans at a time of "renewed global instability." He said the Conservatives will continue to promise low taxes and their plan also includes balanced budgets.

"You do not run around and change your plans based on daily market news. You have a long-term plan and you stick to it," Harper said.

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Published in Politics
Saturday, 08 August 2015 12:13

Trudeau Maintains Debate Momentum

by Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17) in Toronto, Ontario

The morning after the first leaders’ debate of the federal election campaign Thursday night, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was seen pressing home his perceived gain from the exercise by taking the battle into Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s Eglinton-Lawrence riding in Toronto. 

“Joe Oliver might have a lot of ways to make his Ottawa numbers look good, but the Conservatives have no plan to make the numbers families crunch every day look any better,” Trudeau told a rally at the Columbus Centre, an Italian-Canadian cultural hub. “Stephen Harper is out of touch with Canadians, and I am determined to replace his government with a strong team and a new plan that will make a real difference in their lives.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“While the second generation of all waves of immigrants always had the opportunity to do better, this is the first such generation facing a bleaker future. That opportunity, the aspiration to join the middle class has to be brought back.” - Adam Vaughn, Liberal candidate[/quote]

While the crowd (pictured left) was made up of candidates and their supporters from all the downtown Toronto ridings, the home ground advantage belonged to Marco Mendicino, who had recently defeated former Conservative MP Eve Adams in a contentious nomination fight for the party ticket. 

Asked if his decision to welcome Adams into the Liberal fold was a mistake that would hurt Mendicino’s chances, Trudeau deflected, saying he was proud of the open nomination process his party has used across the country. 

On the absence of any specific message from Trudeau for new immigrants in Thursday’s debate, Adam Vaughan, another Liberal contender for a Toronto riding, said it would come out in subsequent debates. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Canadians know an economy that works for the middle class means a country that works for everyone; that better is always possible.” - Justin Trudeau, Liberal leader[/quote]

Speaking to New Canadian Media on the sidelines, Vaughn said immigrant specific issues like foreign credential recognition, precarious jobs and affordable housing will be addressed by his party’s “can do better” messaging. He said changes brought in by Bill C-24 and those made over the past few years, makes immigration the most broken of all systems. 

“While the second generation of all waves of immigrants always had the opportunity to do better, this is the first such generation facing a bleaker future,” said Vaughan. “That opportunity, the aspiration to join the middle class has to be brought back.” The current MP from Trinity-Spadina, Vaughan will now be sparring with the NDP’s Olivia Chow in the newly created riding of Spadina-Fort York. 

On C-51, the other bill that has come in for criticism and put the Liberals in a corner for supporting it, Vaughan said voters would understand his party’s position once they have a clear understanding of the Anti-Terrorism Act. He said independent judicial oversight is essential. “The party that brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will get the balance right,” he stated. 

‘Better is always possible’ 

In his speech to a crowd charged-up by his debate performance, Trudeau said Harper is telling Canadians to stay the course, but in reality, his plan gives billions in benefits to the wealthiest few and will do nothing to help the majority of Canadians get ahead. He said it has not worked for the middle class or for lower-income Canadians that have had to work harder and harder to find the ladder of opportunity. 

“The Liberals have a plan that will deliver fairness and growth that works for everyone. We will cut taxes for the middle class and create one bigger, fair, automatic and tax-free monthly benefit that will help families with the high cost of raising their kids,” Trudeau said. “Canadians know an economy that works for the middle class means a country that works for everyone; that better is always possible.” 

‘Like Usain Bolt’ 

This aspirational message of doing better, which was his closing statement at Thursday’s debate, resonated well with a group of mostly new Canadian Liberal supporters who watched it on television at the Scarborough Centre office of candidate Salma Zahid. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Tonight's debate gave Canadians the opportunity to compare the Liberal plan for real change against Harper’s failed plan and [NDP leader] Thomas Mulcair’s empty promises.” - Ashwani Bhardwaj, Liberal party worker[/quote]

“Although there were ups and downs for all leaders during the debate, the heat is on Harper,” said Ashwani Bhardwaj, a party worker. “Tonight’s debate gave Canadians the opportunity to compare the Liberal plan for real change against Harper’s failed plan and [NDP leader] Thomas Mulcair’s empty promises.” 

“Justin’s ending was amazing,” exclaimed another partisan. “He was like Usain Bolt,” he said alluding to that extra speed the sprint champion produces when he nears the finishing line. 

It was a fresh and different take from the boxing analogies the pundits were using because Trudeau is adept in that sport. To good measure, as part of the prep-up for the debate, Trudeau’s PR team had put out a photo of him working out that morning at Paul Brown Boxfit in Toronto. 

But the photos that would be trending on social media are the hundreds of selfies Trudeau supporters had been taking throughout Friday. While there was some order at the Columbus Centre in the morning, it was all chaos at Zahid’s campaign office. The Liberal leader got a raucous welcome and did his best to accommodate as many selfie seekers as possible. 

As the Friday prayers at the nearby mosque had just ended, the moot question is whether the timing chosen for the stop was deliberate. But as Trudeau’s campaign bus moved on, no one complained about the cramped space or limited parking. And the halal pizza laid out for the party volunteers quickly recharged energy levels for another round of phone calls, door knocking and distribution of lawn signs.

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