New Canadian Media

By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC

Nearly 70 years since South Asians won the right to vote in Canada, Jagmeet Singh has become the first non-white leader of one of the country’s major political parties.

Media coverage of Singh’s historic victory has ranged from admiration of the new leader’s alpha-male swagger to questions of whether he will hinder his party’s appeal at the Quebec polls. While most stories have understandably commented on the visible symbols of his Sikh faith, a few have taken an oddly suspicious tone of whether keeping a turban and beard is a gateway to misplaced loyalties — in Singh’s case that being in supporting Sikh separatists.

Ironically, the one media outlet that seemed to fumble over itself to roll out this unwelcome mat was none other than Canada’s public broadcaster, the traditionally left-leaning CBC.
In an aggressive Fox-style interview on Power & Politics, veteran journalist Terry Milewski interviewed Singh for his first appearance on the station since winning the NDP leadership. He tossed Singh a few softball questions about his leadership plans before cutting incongruently into a question that rhetorically implied a connection between Singh and the Air India bombing from three decades ago: Does Singh condemn Sikhs who venerate Talwinder Parmar, the man considered to be the architect of the bombing of Flight 182 in 1985?

The broadside seemed to take Singh by surprise. He deflected while the CBC host kept doggedly pressing him. Eventually the awkwardly un-Canadian exchange ended in a stalemate. The post-mortem discussion on social media, however, questioned the fairness of this line of inquiry.

Milewski’s cross-examination was loaded, first of all, with the assumption that Singh, a Sikh born in Canada on the cusp of the millennial generation, should be studied in the history of Talwinder Parmar, and the intricacies of an Indian separatist movement from 30 years ago. This would be on par with assuming that Tom Mulcair, the previous NDP leader, should know the history of Sinn Fein just because his father was an Irish Catholic immigrant.

But even if Singh knows his history of 1980s Sikh separatism, was he being asked to denounce the personal views of other Sikhs who venerate Parmar because Singh himself is a baptized Sikh?
Or was he being asked because there are such followers in his political base?

Either way, these questions lead to a troubling double standard when compared to CBC’s treatment of other politicians, such as the Conservative Party’s new leader Andrew Scheer. In an interview earlier this year, Scheer was asked about his views on same-sex marriage and abortion, but at no point was the devout Catholic asked to openly condemn his fellow Catholic congregants who view same-sex marriage as an abomination.

Meanwhile, other Canadian politicians with a significant following in the Sikh community have also been spared Milewski’s rough treatment. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has never been asked to condemn the portion of his Sikh base who view men like Parmar as martyrs. In the 2015 election, Trudeau benefited mightily from the Sikh vote, delivered to him by organizers from the World Sikh Organization — a group that once advocated for the creation of an independent Sikh homeland, on the heels of the Air India bombing. The WSO has also delivered for past Liberal leaders, including Jean Chretien.

Media hypocrisy, however, reaches its apex each spring in Surrey, when dozens of federal, provincial and municipal politicians, along with senior representative from the armed forces, RCMP, major banks and other federal bodies congregate at the Khalsa Day Parade on 128th Street. The event, which drew 300,000 attendees this past year, is hosted by Dasmesh Darbar, the largest Sikh temple in B.C. At this temple, a kind of Sikh version of the Yasukuni Shrine, Parmar and other Sikh separatists are lionized through posters and photo memorials.

In the years since the Air India bombing, mainstream media has leaned heavily on a false, and self-perpetuated, binary of “moderates” versus “fundamentalists” when reporting on news with a Sikh angle. This was partly the consequence of non-diverse newsrooms in the 1980s and 1990s struggling to decipher the inner-workings of a complex community with which many were unfamiliar.

So media outlets created go-to contacts, such as temple presidents and politicians, who became the default spokespeople for an entire range of issues, regardless of their familiarity on these topics. These individuals, in turn, used their privileged positions to perpetuate this divide in which “moderates” became seen as forward-looking secularists who, typically, didn’t wear turbans, while fundamentalists were orthodox in religious practice and ardent supporters of an Sikh homeland independent of India.

In the three decades since Air India, two generations of Sikhs have grown out of the shadow of the separatist turmoil. These youth tend to speak English and French better than they do Punjabi and they are politically active through social justice causes.

Singh is part of this new educated generation which continues to advocate — arguably with more passion and idealism than their parents — for redress on behalf of the 10,000-plus Sikhs systematically murdered by government supported pogroms in Delhi in 1984. Singh, and other young Canadian Sikhs, however, are equally as impassioned by other Canadian-based causes such as attaining meaningful reconciliation for this country’s Aboriginal communities and protecting the environment.

This complexity, however, becomes lost in translation for reporters like Milewski because they still insist on viewing the Sikh community through the tenuous lens of Air India and the separatist struggle that long ago withered on the vine. The community has changed but their narrative framework for reporting has not evolved.

Consequently, Singh’s social activism and even his belief in self-determination becomes recklessly conflated as support for a man accused of terrorism three decades ago. And it happens on national television, as it did on Power & Politics where CBC got caught judging a book by its cover as Milewski shamelessly tried to pin down Singh as a Sikh “fundamentalist.” 

If there was any extremism in Canada that day, it was in the manner by which CBC treated the new leader of the NDP.

Singh won his party leadership and the support of the party grassroots because he is a person who embodies the modern nuances of multicultural Canada. Until CBC figures out how to articulate that, Canada’s public broadcaster will continue to foster uncomfortable exchanges that do little to bring together Canadians of all backgrounds.


Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional and journalist based in Vancouver. Mann is also a member of the NCM Collective and regular contributor for New Canadian Media. This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.

Published in Commentary

Commentary by: Rodel J Ramos in Mississauga

It seems our Filipino leaders have no vision and no ambition except to lead their small ethnic tribes and followers to socials, beauty contest, religious, sports and yearly traditions that lead to nowhere and no future for our people. While some are involved in politics, we do not seem to know how to play the game and benefit from it. Some of us are already proud to know well known politicians and kiss their ass.

We can’t blame anyone else but ourselves. When you do nothing and just watch your people being abused by the system and politicians, you are to blame. Most of us do not go out and vote and therefore are irrelevant to the system. Yet it is our taxes that make the government work and it is our efforts that make Canada grow. We need good leaders but we are good at doubting, maligning and shooting our leaders who rise above us specially when it comes to money. We do not know how to encourage and reward good leaders who have the our concern and have the expertise to lead and manage. We always doubt their intentions. And then we go to court, spend hundreds of thousands of our money just to prove that we are right.

While other ethnic groups get millions of grants from the Government, we are getting peanuts and our concerns are not being addressed. Our community gets ignored. They approach us only during election time to get our votes. Our community is only good at fiestas and small parties every weekend which only drains the pockets of our people. No wonder we all retire poor. After more than 40 years we can only see a few significant accomplishments and legacies. Yet we claim to be a great people.

We are more than 350,000 Filipino Canadians in Ontario and less than a million in the whole of Canada in a country with less than 35 million population. And we are acting as if we are powerless and being played around by politicians.

We are the most active community with more than 350 organizations in Metro Toronto alone. We have chapters in most of the Churches specially Couples for Christ and Bukas Loob sa Diyos. We even have an organization of Filipino priests. Our Filipino Freemasons, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Rizal, Jaycees, and Rotarians have wide influence in our society. Even our caregivers who work for the rich specially the political leaders have connection and influence. We rejuvenated the Catholic Churches and other religious churches. Our talents and taxes have contributed much to the progress of this country.
Most of us are well educated but our foreign education is not recognized.

It is time we show that we have the power to bring down a government that is not responsive to our needs and concerns and just flatter us during elections. It is also to show that we can make an unknown leader take over the government with our help. The Liberals in power have no room for Filipinos to rise because all their positions are filled. And they show no desire to even appoint our best in any position in the government. They talk about diversity but only appoint the whites.

The Progressive Conservatives under Patrick Brown have accepted Atty. Angely Pacis as their official candidate in Mississauga Centre. She is a lawyer, a journalist and a graduate of Harvard, the daughter of the late Doctor Lydia and Antonio Pacis. She is most qualified to be a Member of the Provincial Parliament and a pride for our people. I am sure with her qualifications, Patrick Brown will give her a portfolio as a Minister when they win.

The Liberals in spite of our years of loyalty to them has never done much for our people. They never appointed any of our people to high positions in government. The Conservatives under former Prime Minister Harper appointed Senator Tobias (Jun) Enverga, and Ontario Supreme Court Judge Steve Corroza and helped the caregivers with cancer who were about to be deported stay in Canada and brought their families here. He brought about the Juana Tejada Law.
The smaller communities have better strategies than us. They can elect their own people into high offices by mere show of strength and manipulations. Look at what happened to Atty. Antonio Villarin in a nomination in Scarborough where he was defeated by a Sri Lankan, a Tamil, a small ethnic community. Shame on us all. We can also have our own representative but we have to know the game, work harder and stand together, otherwise we are powerless and hopeless as a people. We have to cultivate and train potential politicians in our community. It takes years to learn the game. And it needs the whole community to raise a candidate. We have to contribute to the funds and promote them. We have to be there to vote during the nomination and election. We can’t just brag about our greatness but show nothing.

Patrick Brown is our chance to shine. He is close to the Filipino community. He choose to take not just one but three vacations in the Philippines instead of other places. Patrick loves halo halo and even had a Halo Halo Party at Queens Park. He was even inducted by Sir Joe Damasco as member of the Knights of Rizal. He recognizes the talents and strength of the Filipino community.

There is no room for us to grow in the Liberal Party. I understand the loyalty of the Filipinos to the Liberals. Some say because of Pierre Trudeau who opened up Canada to the Filipinos during his time. Did he open Canada to us because of his love for Filipinos or that Canada needed the talents and industry of the Filipinos? We worked hard and paid our taxes for many years. We are not free loaders. It was this contribution that enriched Canada. Even if we owe our gratitude, does it mean we have to serve all our lives with gratitude or servitude?

The Provincial Liberals under Kathleen Wynne wasted millions of dollars with their bad decisions of cancelling the two energy power plants in Mississauga in their incompetence. They sold the Hydro shares and made our electricity so expensive, yet we subsidize electricity in the U.S.

They are not doing anything to bring the cost of housing down. Let’s make this housing crises into job opportunities for Ontarians specially the poor. We are attracting a million immigrants every 3 years and 40% of that goes to Ontario. They should open up lands in farming communities close to Toronto for housing. We should built houses for these people at an affordable rate. Our children will not be able to afford the present real estate prices.


Republished under arrangement with The Philippine Reporter.

Published in Politics

By Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer introduced a handful of new policy ideas during the nine month long leadership race, but Tory strategists suggest they likely won’t be part of the Tories 2019 election platform.

Scheer has vowed to take away federal funding from universities that don’t defend free speech. He’s proposed displaying the flags of countries that export oil to Canada on gas pumps. Scheer, who sends his own children to a faith-based school, has proposed a tax break for parents who home-school their children or send them to independent schools. He also suggested in an interview with a community newspaper that he would axe CBC’s news division.

Conservative strategist and vice chair of Summa Strategies Tim Powers said he would be surprised if more than 20 per cent of Scheer’s ideas became a part of the Conservative party’s 2019 platform.

Powers said Scheer’s proposal to de-fund universities that don’t protect free speech could be an election promise — because that idea has appealed to more than just Conservatives — but he called the flags on gas pumps idea “gimmicky.”

Powers said he thinks that Scheer’s tax credit for home-schooled families and for families who send their children to faith-based schools likely would present problems for him because his opponents will say he’s beholden to certain faith groups.

Keith Beardsley, a longtime Conservative strategist and former deputy chief of staff to Stephen Harper, said Scheer’s policies are easy to implement, but … “Stickers on gas pumps? I doubt many motorists will give a damn. Raise the prices and you have a problem.”

Beardsley said a tax credit for homeschooling or faith-based schools could be opening up a can of worms. “Which faiths? How much will it cost the government when Scheer promises to balance the books?”

Beardsley said that while attacking the CBC is popular among Conservatives and makes for good rhetoric, it’s not practical.

“[Scheer] said he wasn’t going to present anything in 2017 that he wouldn’t run on in 2019,” said Nancy Bishay, a spokesperson for Scheer.

“There are many interesting proposals he put forward and he’ll work together with the caucus, and also through the grassroots conservative policy process, to put together a platform to present to Canadians in 2019,” said Bishay.

Scheer’s ideas will have to be taken under consideration at the Conservative party’s policy conference in Halifax next year. But since he has championed a few very specific policies, delegates likely will support his wishes, said Susan Elliott, a Conservative strategist and partner at Strategy Portal.

But Elliott, who favoured Michael Chong for the leadership, suggested that the Conservative party is still going to have a hard time appealing to millennials in the 2019 election — by which time, she said, they will have become the largest single voting bloc, surpassing the baby boomers.

“I personally don’t think millennials will find those issues motivating. I just don’t think they are high on their top issues of concern,” said Elliott of Scheer’s ideas, specifically tax credits for home-school or faith-based schooling, and taking funding away from universities that don’t protect free speech.

“Millennials will want a credible climate change plan. A revenue-neutral carbon tax – also eliminating cumbersome regulations and directives – is the most cost-effective and conservative way to achieve that, but both party members and the new leader rejected that proposal.”

Powers said Scheer likely will “beg, borrow and steal” ideas from other candidates — but that Chong’s carbon pricing idea won’t be one of them.

Elliott said millennials don’t want to reopen debates on social issues like women’s reproductive rights and equal rights for LGBTQ citizens. In fact, said Elliott, “they don’t even understand why those are debates.”

She said political hostility towards people of diverse backgrounds and contrary points of view is a foreign concept to most millennials — but it was front and centre during the CPC leadership race “in a way that would not attract millennials to our party.”

“We must trust Andrew Scheer, now that he has been chosen to lead, to understand these truths about the current electorate. I believe he is a smart man,” she said.

Elliott said she thinks Scheer will show wisdom in adopting “millennial-friendly policies” and convincing the party and caucus to come along.

“What did Trudeau campaign on in his leadership race in 2013 that became Liberal policy?” said Powers. “It’s hard to recall because it’s not often policy that determines who wins leadership races.”


 By arrangement with iPolitics.ca 

Published in Politics

By Crawford KilianAndrew NikiforukJudith Sayers and Paul Willcocks in British Columbia

A new world for BC
By Judith Sayers

British Columbia sits on a precipice and will either fall into a minority Liberal government, an NDP minority government or a possible Liberal majority, depending on the results of the absentee votes and any recounts. This is one election where one vote could turn out to make the real difference.

Christy Clark is, of course, trumpeting the line that the BC Liberals will continue to govern and not wearing the fact that people wanted a change and her popularity has wilted drastically. If Clark retains power, I would predict she doesn’t make any change in the way she governs and that this election will not be a wake-up call to the Liberal party.

If there is a minority government, which many predict, it will definitely be a new world for B.C.

Will the government be able to build a better future for those of us who make B.C. our home? I sure hope so.

Whether many of the needed changes are made will be in the hands of the BC Greens, who hold the balance of power. The NDP and Liberals will have to work with the Greens to make decisions. The key to success of any initiatives will be finding agreement with the Green Party.

It is going to be a very interesting four years. Reversal of decisions on major projects like Site C and Kinder Morgan is a real possibility. Achieving electoral reforms, including an end to unlimited political donations, is now closer. If we thought the B.C. legislature was a battleground before this, it is nothing compared to what we will witness ahead.

As a First Nations person I am disappointed that more people didn’t vote to make the difference we needed. We are at a critical state in this province and only 57 per cent of voters went to the polls.

Uncertainty will be something we will live with until we get final results. If there is a minority government, that uncertainty will continue while parties wheel and deal on their priorities. This is a time when people will really learn about the values of the Green party as they will play a major role with a minority agreement.

Clark’s survival shows our system is broken
By Andrew Nikiforuk

It is outrageous that a government so Trumpish in character, so wedded to alternative facts and so visibly supportive of growing economic inequality still won a minority government. It proves that Canadians have as many political problems as the Americans and that a diminished press allows those with the most money to engineer political control.

Expect more volatility. And another election soon.

A Schrödinger election?
By Crawford Kilian

Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment seems very applicable to B.C. politics after yesterday’s election. Imagine, he suggested, a cat put in a sealed box. A source of radiation may fire a random particle into a Geiger counter, causing a hammer to smash a vial of cyanide and kill the cat. Or it may not.

Schrödinger argued while the box is closed, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead, in a state of “quantum superposition.” When we open the box, reality “collapses” in a single cat, alive or dead.

The B.C. 2017 election box won’t be opened until May 24 and the official vote count. Given the outcome of the vote, all three parties are in a similar state of superposition, simultaneously alive and dead. Recounts and the absentee vote may cause reality to collapse into a majority Liberal government; or a majority NDP government; or a Liberal-Green coalition; or an NDP-Green coalition. (A Liberal-NDP coalition, with the Greens as the opposition, seems too weird even for B.C.)

Even then, a coalition would be another kind of superposition. If Andrew Weaver makes a deal with Christy Clark and becomes a cabinet minister in a Liberal government, he’ll have to extort an end to Site C and the Kinder Morgan pipeline — or go the way of David Emerson, who defected to the Harper Conservatives within days of being elected as a Liberal MP. His whole party would lose credibility.

Both Weaver and his party seem likelier to survive a deal with the New Democrats, who are largely on the same wavelength. But they would have to get past some hard feelings about vote splitting and Weaver’s late-campaign blowing of kisses toward the Liberals.

Whatever the coalition, its members should bear in mind that its half-life will be short. The larger party will ditch its Green allies the moment it seems opportune to do so, and we’ll all be back in Schrödinger’s box again, awaiting yet another political reality.

Green voters helped Liberals stay in power
By Paul Willcocks

You don’t have to support strategic voting to recognize it could change the outcome of elections.

On Tuesday, Green voters who ignored the idea of strategic voting handed three seats to the BC Liberals, turning a potential NDP majority into a Christy Clark minority government.

It’s not reasonable to assume all Green supporters would consider voting strategically. And in three ridings, the party had a realistic chance of winning.

But assume half the party’s voters in other ridings decided to cast a vote to ensure the party they preferred — Liberal or NDP — formed government. That means 74 per cent go NDP, 26 per cent go Liberal, according to a Mainstreet poll on voters’ second choices.

Run the calculations on all 87 ridings, and you’ll find the NDP would have taken Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, Richmond-Queensborough and Vancouver-False Creek, all seats that went to the Liberals. Two NDP seats at risk of being lost to recounts — Courtenay-Comox and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows — would be secure.

And the New Democrats would have the slimmest of majorities, with 44 seats to the Liberals 40 and Greens three.

Republished with permission from The Tyee.  

Published in Politics

by Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

The establishment got another burning in the French elections on Sunday, revealing again that there is no level of voter disgust that will not find some voice in the current range of elections.  The terror for pollsters and the establishment now is whether Marine Le Pen will realize her anti-Euro project and drag the French nation kicking and moaning into a new, even more fractious order. In her way will be the pro-European Union figure of Emmanuel Macron.

The French example is similar to others of recent times: parties with presumed tenure were confined to a punitive dustbin, rubbished for stale, estranged obsolescence.  The Gaullists got what was a fair drubbing – 19.9 percent for François Fillon of the Republicans, a figure crusted and potted with corruption. 

It did not, however, mean that both candidates in the first and second positions were political virgins.  In that sense, the U.S. election remains an exemplar, a true shock.  France retains a traditional appearance to it, albeit a violently ruffled one.

Macron, with his 23.9 percent, supposedly deemed outside the establishment, still held office as minister for economy, finance and industry but flew the Socialist coop in opportunistic fancy.  Blooded in traditional harness, he has managed to give the impression that he has shed enough of the old for the new, notably with his movement En Marche.  He is blowing hard from what commentators have termed a “centrist” position.  (To be at the centre is to be in the middle, which is not necessarily a good thing in current times.)

Just to weaken the sense of Macron as outsider, both establishment parties – the Socialist, led by Benoît Hamon, and the Republican – urged voters to go for the centrist option.  This all had the appearance of a gentleman’s seedy agreement, plotted in a traditional smoking room to undermine an unlikable contender.  The losers wanted to be vicarious winners.  The tarnished Fillon urged voters to “reflect on your conscience.” In effect, Macron as a quantity is being sanitised for stability, the firebreak against the Le Pen revolution.

Le Pen herself speaks to a particular French and nationalist sensibility, tutored to a large extent by her father, who also ran in the 2002 Presidential elections and lost to Jacques Chirac.  She is hardly one to be unfamiliar with the political argot, which has retained a reactionary punch in more measured guise.

Le Pen kept her approach punchily traditional, milking the killing last Thursday of a policeman on the Champs-Elysees with old apple and oranges comparisons on security and immigration.  Having her in the Presidential office would see the stop of “mass immigration and the free movement of terrorists.” 

For Le Pen, the May 7 runoff election would enable a choice to be made between “savage globalisation that threatens our civilisation” and “borders that protect our jobs, our security and our national identity.” 

Macron provides an attractive target for the Front National: having worked for Rothschild, he supplies the front for corporate interests, and is “Hollande’s baby” uninterested in French patriotism.  He certainly promises to be friendlier to companies in France, with a policy envisaging a cut of the corporate tax rate from 33 percent to 25 percent, while also permitting them to re-negotiate the sacred 35-hour week.  His vision of the European Union, in short, is business as usual.

Under Le Pen’s particular tent lie appeals to critics of globalisation, a force that has rented and sunk various industries while also seeking to reform the French labour market.  But this nostalgic throw back entails barriers and bridges, building fortifications, holding firm and wishing for the best.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon proved to be another dark horse, the spicy left-wing option to Le Pen, and a candidate who experienced a surge of popularity prior to the poll.  His result is a story that has invigorated the left while gutting the socialists, providing us a reminder of the time of a greater radicalism. 

“Len Pen,” claims Roger Martelli, “was counting on turning this election into a fight with the Socialist party government, but she had to compete with a radicalized right-wing opposition and socialist opponents who had moved more sharply to the left than she had expected.”

Nor were things pretty for Hamon, with a devastating result to compare to Gaston Defferre’s 5 per cent showing in 1969.  The socialists reformed by the 1971 Épinay Congress in the wake of that electoral catastrophe, have been well and truly buried.

What Mélenchon’s popularity suggests is that the European system, at least the model as it stands, needs reform and a degree of disentangling vis-à-vis the state.  Nor has he told his supporters to vote for Macron, a paternalistic ploy that can irritate voters. 

“None of us will vote for the far-right,” went the consultation to 450,000 registered supporters of the France Untamed movement.  “But does it mean we need to give voting advice?” As Der Spiegel opined with characteristic gloominess, “The presidential election in France is becoming yet another end game over Europe’s political future.”

Much will depend on voter turnout come May, and the seasoned opportunism of Le Pen.  Her latest play is to place herself above partisan considerations by stepping down from the leadership of the National Front.  “So, this evening, I am no longer the president of the National Front.  I am the candidate for the French presidency.” 

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Published in Politics

BY BRUCE ANDERSON & DAVID COLETTO / Abacus Data Inc.

HERE’S what our latest political mood data looks like:

(The online survey was conducted with 2,000 Canadians aged 18 and over from May 17 to 20. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of over 500,000 Canadians.)

* 46% say they’d vote Liberal tomorrow, 27% Conservative and 15% NDP.  That’s an improvement over the election outcome for the Liberals and a falling back for the other two main parties.

* In Ontario, the Liberals won by 10 points over the Conservatives, and 28 points over the NDP.  Today they are 20 points ahead of the Conservatives and 35 points ahead of the NDP.

* In B.C., the Liberals won by 5 points over the Conservatives, and 9 points over the NDP.  Today they are 13 points ahead of the Conservatives and 31 points ahead of the NDP.

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Published in Politics

 Captain Amarinder Singh to visit Vancouver and Toronto  

CANADA’S powerful and rich Sikh community has always been wooed by Punjab politicians – and now former Punjab chief minister, who heads the state’s Congress Party that is in the opposition, is to visit Canada and the U.S. from April 19 to May 7 to try […]

 

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in India
Tuesday, 05 January 2016 21:49

Historic Election for Saudi Women

Commentary by Ghadah Alrasheed in Ottawa

This year was marked by important elections around the world. Here in Canada, the Liberals leaped to a majority government, bringing Stephen Harper’s decade of power to an end.

And last month, in Saudi Arabia, women voted for the first time in municipal elections, not long before the nation made international headlines for increased tensions with Iran.  

The 2015 municipal elections were the third in the history of the kingdom; previous elections were held in 2005 and 2011, and were open only to male voters and candidates. The polls for 2,100 seats at 284 municipal councils across Saudi Arabia ended with roughly 47.4 per cent voter turnout.

The most prominent feature of this year's elections was the presence of women as voters and as candidates.

Giving women a chance to vote may not only increase women’s participation, but also the wider society’s propensity to engage in politics.

A historic day for Saudi Arabia

Thousands of Saudi women headed to polling stations across the kingdom, from the largest urban centres to smallest rural areas, in order to give their voices.

Twenty women won seats in the Saudi councils, some in what are known to be the most conservative areas of the kingdom, such as Qassim.

Although the 20 candidates represent just one per cent of the total seats across the 284 councils, this is seen as a significant step for wider women’s suffrage and democracy in Saudi Arabia.

Out of 130,000 registered female voters, 82 per cent cast ballots in comparison to approximately 50 per cent on the male side. This reveals Saudi women’s determination to take opportunities to prove their presence and influence on the level of politics and civic participation.

An important step for women’s empowerment, it also has the potential to expand the democratic experience in general and affect citizens’ propensity to engage in politics.

Before the day of the election, for example, a Saudi woman made a video called “Banat Baladi” (“My Country’s Daughters”) that explained the significance and the process of the elections.

Giving women a chance to vote may not only increase women’s participation, but also the wider society’s propensity to engage in politics and awareness of citizen responsibility.

The decision to allow women to participate was made by the late King Abdullah, who also appointed 30 women in the Saudi Shura Council.

Under King Abdullah, women had been given bigger roles, such as sending more of them to universities – some of which are in Canada – and opening more opportunities for employment. Many hailed these steps as part of his legacy.

It is encouraging now to see King Salman fulfilling Abdullah’s commitment to integrate women into the political space, continuing his careful reform of women’s rights.

Saudi women took selfies after they voted.

Challenges to voting

This is not to suggest that the elections were without hurdles: reports of women facing difficulties surfaced.

Bureaucratic measures made providing proof of identity and address challenging. A conservative group distributed flyers renouncing women’s presence in the elections and asking voters to refrain from voting for women.

Other difficulties related to transportation, an issue that prompted Uber, in collaboration with a Saudi women’s empowerment group, to offer free rides to polling stations on election day.

Despite these challenges, many received the elections with celebration. Saudi women took selfies after they voted. Some voters brought their moms and others brought their kids, which made the elections a cross-generational event.

Saudi men and women rushed to the Twitter accounts of the women candidates to congratulate them on winning the elections.

Among the first elected was Rasha Hefzi, who received many congratulatory tweets. One tweet said, “You entered history.” Similarly, another applauded Hefzi’s “entrance into history” stating, “Congratulations to us, to Jeddah. How lucky we are!”

I believe women’s participation in the civic realm is a positive small space in terms of wider women’s participation and empowerment.

Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist, called the women’s elections a historic day for Saudi Arabia.

Canadian and international media also agreed it was a historic and symbolic victory for women in the kingdom.

A victory with substance?

But is it really a victory, taking into consideration the fact that the powers of the municipal councils are limited to local planning and development issues such as public parks and trash collection?

Regardless of the subject of the powers of the councils, I believe women’s participation in the civic realm is a positive small step in terms of wider women’s participation and empowerment.

It provides a healthy model for future generations and normalizes women’s presence on both the social and political levels.

It also reveals, in opposition to the dominant discourse centred on deep-seated cultural impediments to women’s participation in Saudi Arabia, that the Saudi society, like any other, is ready for change.


Ghadah Alrasheed was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She finished her bachelor’s degree at Princess Nora University, Riyadh. She has been in Canada for about 11 years and is currently doing a PhD in communication at Carleton University in Ottawa. She is a contributor to New Canadian Media and Saudi-based Al Hattlan Post and Sofaraa.

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 18 October 2015 18:50

Latinos Encouraged to Make Their Vote Count

by Raul A Pinto in Mississauga, Ontario 

For a long time the Latin American community has felt widely overlooked in Canada, according to Liberal candidate Michael Levitt, who is running in the Toronto riding York Centre. 

The Liberal candidate, who has one of the largest Latin American populations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in his riding, says this may now be changing, especially after the recent Pan Am Games helped spotlight the rich community that exists.

Levitt referred to the Liberal party leader’s announcement earlier this year to lift visa requirements for Mexican visitors to Canada as one way to build in-roads with Canada’s Hispanic community.

He says lifting the bans that were put in place in 2009 is one of many “immigration initiatives” related to family reunification that the Liberals have promised.

The Latin American community has felt widely overlooked in Canada.

Levitt recalls one conversation he had with an Ecuadorian-Canadian living in his riding. The man spoke of the difficulty his family in Ecuador had when trying to meet the requirements necessary to come to Canada for a visit.

“He said that the feeling [he had] was by the time they got all of this done, it wasn’t going to be worth it, it would be too much paperwork,” says Levitt. The constituent’s family felt it would just be easier if he visited Ecuador instead.

“We have to embrace [Canada’s Latin American community],” Levitt explains. “We need to work with Latin America to develop trade, to develop closer relationships.”

Latin Americans and Canadian politics

The 2011 National Household Survey placed people of Latin, Central and South American origins at just over 1 per cent of the Canadian population, with over 540,000 people spread around the country. The largest of these communities are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Vancouver and Montreal.

Through an informal survey of listeners of the radio show “Radio Voces Latinas”, which airs on CHHA 1610 AM in Toronto, New Canadian Media found that for many Canadians of Latin American heritage, their main concern was having a more established place in the Canadian political agenda.

Cesar Palacio, councillor for Ward 17 Davenport, is the first person of Hispanic heritage to be elected to Toronto’s city council. He was born in Ecuador and arrived in Canada with his parents in 1972. Today, he is serving his fourth term in the position. 

A passionate defenders of the power of democracy among the Latin American community, he says Latinos can only hope to become a larger part of the political agenda if they get involved.

“It’s very important [for] our community, which in spite of not being so numerous is growing faster than other communities in Canada, to be conscious that we have an opportunity through vote,” says Palacio.

Latinos can only hope to become a larger part of the political agenda if they get involved.

Palacio is concerned about apathy in the community, though Statistics Canada reported that 66 per cent of eligible people of Hispanic heritage voted in 2000. He advises the ones not interested in voting, to “think ahead.”

“We need to move from our personal issues to the community issues. If we think as a community, we’ll have more things,” he states.

But one radio show listener who was surveyed sees things differently.

“In many of our countries in Latin America [it] is mandatory to vote and I don’t think that’s right,” says Peru-born Alberto. “Some people now complain about Harper, but I heard the same about Chrétien a few years ago. If someone says, ‘I don’t want to vote,’ that’s okay to me. To me all politicians are the same.”

Getting Latinos to the polls

“If we want to be part of the system, and to make ourselves noticeable as a community out there, we need to do it,” Claudio Ruiz told New Canadian Media.

Ruiz is the executive director for the Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples (CSSP) in Toronto. The organization is one of several that worked together to launch the campaign “Tu Voto Vale, Tu Voto Decide” (Your Vote Counts, Your Vote Decides) in order to motivate Hispanic-Canadian citizens to vote.

“Our vote is the capital we have in the political system,” he continues. “If we don’t exercise our right to vote, our privilege to vote, our voices will not be listened to and the issues in our community will not be considered by the government when they begin to formulate plans in their platforms.”

“Our vote is the capital we have in the political system."

Ruiz says the “Tu Voto Vale” program allows community members to access information by phone, Internet or in person information about how to vote and where to vote. 

“We had people here at the centre, and many told us that, once they became Canadians, they never received any mail regarding elections,” Ruiz explains, pointing out that new citizens must check mark a special field on their citizenship paperwork asking to receive the information via mail to their homes.

“All those opinions made us take measures to motivate people to vote, and at least eliminate the barriers to those people who didn’t vote because [of] external reasons.”


Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Politics
Sunday, 18 October 2015 15:41

I Pay 40% in Taxes, but Can’t Vote

by Yaldaz Sadakova in Toronto

Facebook knows me well, but not that well. The other night a sponsored ad popped into my newsfeed, asking me if I could “afford” a Liberal federal government, with Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau’s picture on it. 

First of all, I’m not a fan of the Conservatives, but more importantly I can’t vote in the upcoming federal election because I’m a permanent resident. I’ve been in Canada less than three years, so I don’t have a passport yet.

Here’s my biggest problem with not being able to vote: I’m not represented. The government wants me to pay my fair share for being here and I do; about 40 per cent of my pay cheque goes to taxes.

Yet, this Monday I’ll have zero say in important federal issues that affect me just as they do Canadian citizens. 

Voicing my concerns

This Monday I won’t able to tell Ottawa that it’s placing a disproportionate emphasis on a candidate's age and a narrow set of skills when deciding whether to let certain foreigners in under its federal immigration program. 

The government says bringing in people with specific skills will help Canadian companies address talent shortages, but the economy changes and so does the need for certain skills. A year ago, Alberta’s energy sector was booming; now it’s in a recession due to declining oil prices.

By focusing on certain skills, we’re leaving out many people who can still make economic, social and cultural contributions. One of my favourite Canadians, award-winning author Rawi Hage, who’s originally from Lebanon, likely wouldn’t have made it here under the current federal immigration skills program. 

He would have never written Cockroach, a brilliant novel about an Arab immigrant on welfare who struggles with social alienation in Montreal after a failed suicide attempt. 

This Monday I’ll have zero say in important federal issues that affect me just as they do Canadian citizens.

I won’t be able to cast a ballot to tell Ottawa that Canada should accept more Syrian refugees than what the country recently pledged. We’ve only taken in just over 2,300 refugees since the Syrian unrest began in 2011 and Ottawa has promised to accept a total of 11,300 over three years

The usual argument against accepting more refugees is that they’re a burden. True, there’s an initial cost to resettle them. But studies have shown that if they receive help with integration — language training, skills assessment, school access and so on — they can make meaningful economic contributions.

This Monday I won’t be able to express that I have a problem with the Conservatives’ proposal to make it illegal for Canadians to travel to terrorist-controlled regions if they get re-elected. The only exceptions would be travel for humanitarian or journalistic reasons, but the onus would be on travellers to prove their reasons. 

As Anthony Furey wrote in a recent Toronto Sun op-ed, it shouldn’t be “up to the driver to prove he's not drunk. It's up to the police officer to prove he is drunk. It's called due process.”

He continues, criticizing the government’s attempts to increase security, “The ‘humanitarian’ exemption is also a joke. These days, aspiring jihadists can easily sign up with many so-called humanitarian organizations, which are really just front groups for terrorism.” 

I won’t be able to tell the government that we need a mandatory increase of the Canada Pension Plan monthly benefit so that those who aren’t lucky enough to have a workplace pension (which includes many immigrants) can still have enough money in retirement.

Feelings of belonging

Beyond not being able to voice my opinions via the ballot box, what bothers me about not being able to vote is this: I don’t feel like I fully belong here, even though Toronto is my home. 

Every once in awhile, I’d be in a group of Canadian friends and the conversation would turn to the elections. Everybody would vow to vote out the Conservative party. 

When all looks turn to me, I’d inevitably explain that I can’t vote because I’m only a permanent resident. That’s when I feel like a guest in this country rather than a valued resident.

I don’t feel like I fully belong here, even though Toronto is my home.

On election day, I won’t get to share in the exit poll excitement alongside my Canadian friends. When everyone else is refreshing their computer screen every half hour to see how the person they voted for is doing, I won’t feel invested in the outcome.

Of course, not allowing permanent residents to vote isn’t limited to Canada. It’s the norm worldwide, but that doesn’t make it less wrong. If you pay taxes, you should be able to vote, no matter how long you’ve lived in the country. 

Preventing newer immigrants from political participation makes no sense. If the government can trust passport holders to inform themselves and make a choice, it can definitely trust newcomers to do the same.


Yaldaz Sadakova is a Toronto-based journalist who’s worked in New York City and Brussels. Born and raised in Bulgaria, Sadakova arrived in Canada almost three years ago.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Page 1 of 5

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

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No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

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The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

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