Commentary by George Abraham in Ottawa
IN the summer of 2015, a roomful of Ottawa folks got together at the National Arts Centre, eager to gain insights into the question, “What Stories Swing Votes?” The next federal election – the one that eventually ended Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decade in power – were just around the corner, and up on the stage at this Canadian Journalism Foundation event were some of Canada’s best political pundits – Susan Delacourt, Frank Graves, Adam Radwanski, David Herle and Tom Clark.
I don’t recall much of what was said, except one particular expression Radwanski used. It has stayed with me ever since. He spoke of a “subterranean campaign” that would be waged in immigrant communities across Canada – presumably in foreign languages and in a vernacular that would be very different from appeals to the rest of Canada. He was predicting a different playbook in select ridings – a playbook that Radwanski assumed would be beyond his understanding.
Looking back, I suspect he was right: there indeed was a playbook that enabled the Liberals to win immigrant-rich ridings. It is widely believed that part of the Liberals’ victory in October 2015 came from immigrant communities switching their votes away from the Conservatives. The Liberals won the so-called “ethnic vote.”
However, Radwanski’s choice of expression has intrigued me ever since. The respected columnist writes for the Globe and Mail – a paper that I have consistently read ever since I set foot in Canada in 2002.
I know the paper to be resourceful, financially well-endowed and world class. As a reader, I see that it invests in its journalists, giving them generous travel budgets to report at great length from hotspots on every continent, but also giving its columnists lots of latitude. It is a great Canadian institution.
And so I was fascinated by the concept that a campaign could be “subterranean” when it dealt with massive, well-established communities, served by hundreds of ethnic media publications. Why did the Globe not already have a cadre of journalistic talent that would have helped it cover these “subterranean” communities just as it did all the other ridings in Canada? Why not use translators, when necessary, to make inroads into these sorts of communities?
Radwanski’s telling observation begged a larger question: Why is our journalism not as multicultural as the rest of society?
In the period since the October 2015 election, I have reframed my question to ask, Why are our journalists not as representative as our federal cabinet?
I would love to have been a fly on the wall as Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau shared with the head of his transition team, Peter Harder, his thoughts on how he wanted to go about selecting cabinet ministers. Together they produced a masterpiece of Canadian diversity. How did they get it so right, without really inviting a backlash from those who have got so used to a monochromatic hegemony in all the levers of power?
More than one year on, I still have trouble reconciling to the fact that a turbaned Sikh immigrant is Canada’s Defence Minister.
I am not the first journalist in Canada to shine a light on the lack of diversity in Canadian journalism. A few years after I set up New Canadian Media, I had the honour of meeting John Miller, a former chair of Ryerson’s journalism school, somebody who made it his life’s mission to make newsrooms more representative, more reflective of their readership and viewership. Miller has researched the issue and written extensively on the topic, to little avail.
There are still spaces in Canada that media don’t understand and have made barely an effort to try to understand. The less charitable side of me thinks they’d simply label these spaces as “ghettos” and be done with them. I suspect there are newsroom managers who argue that these newcomer enclaves don’t see themselves as Canadian.
It is incumbent on our media to do better: our journalism must enable all Canadians to feel equally included.
Given that one in five Canadians born in another country and an equal number are the children of first-generation Canadians, the “immigrant” ethos is writ large. We’ve been adding 1 million new Canadians every four years. And, generally speaking, their ethnic profile tends to be different from that of earlier settlers – for the last three decades, the majority of our newcomers have come from Asia, nations such as China, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Canada is changing right before our eyes.
In 2012, I took a tentative step toward blending my experience as a journalist in Asia into the Canadian milieu. By then, I was convinced that most newcomers and their children share a sense of dislocation, having moved to North America from regions that are racially and socio-politically very different from the origins of earlier arrivals. They have different mores, a different worldview and a different “lived experience.” They consume news differently and view the world through a different lens.
Interestingly, Canada has had a robust ethnic media sector for a very long time. Visit any grocery store in the suburbs outside the major cities and you will encounter scores of publications stacked in neat piles. A local radio station will play music from “back home,” and the newspapers will say very little about happenings in Canada.
This anecdote may be apocryphal, but a respected ethnic journalist recently told me about a Vancouver radio station that launches its broadcast with the words, “Good morning, Vancouver! The weather in Chandigarh is …”
Each of these publications covers a particular immigrant community, in a specific geographic region, often in a foreign language. Most ethnic media continue to be narrowly focused on issues concerning their communities.
They are staffed mainly by the hundreds of journalists who arrived in Canada wanting to continue in their profession, but find it hard to gain a foothold. About 200 of them have worked with New Canadian Media or participated in our training sessions. They possess experience and language skills that could perhaps help the mainstream media demystify their communities, but nobody has quite figured out a way to marry their talents with the current needs of newsrooms.
I would be the first to admit that not all journalists are created equal. Having lived in five countries, I know first hand that every nation has its own ways of doing journalism. I also know that ethnic and “mainstream” could not be further apart in their professional standards. It would be the rare ethnic journalist who has had the luxury of paying for a journalism degree in Canada.
Working for multicultural media is very different from working for, say, the Globe. The reporters often double up as advertising salespeople. Ethnic publishers roll from one financial crisis to another; scores of them go under every year, while others sprout in their place. The line between editorial and advertising is blurred.
These publications, though, remain a vibrant part of Canada’s media ecosystem and play a critical role in informing and welcoming new immigrants. They fulfill a vital democratic function – albeit an insufficient one.
We in the media need to do a better job of speaking for Canadians and being a mirror to society. This is a cliché, but readers, viewers and listeners want to see and hear themselves reflected in our newsrooms. They want to hear foreign-sounding accents and even a mangled English or French sentence once in a while.
Journalism is about reflecting the lives and times of all Canadians – in all their diversity, colour and socio-political complexity. Newcomers invariably do not fit into the preconceived notions of today’s mainstream media editors.
That’s why it is very important for newsroom managers to specifically empower journalists in our newsrooms from diverse backgrounds to speak up, not to be cowed by those who perhaps unwittingly crowd out more timid voices and offbeat perspectives. In short, let’s privilege diversity, rather than conformity.
As we imagine a new media landscape for future generations, I suggest a “third way” that enables Canada to become the first nation in the world to marry ethnic and mainstream – a true reflection of our unique demographics. Let’s recognize that our highly corporatized media organizations have lost touch and are excluding large segments of our population by continuing to hire candidates who could not possibly do justice to the worldviews or lived experiences of many communities, including immigrants.
I realize it will take more than a generation to achieve in the media what Trudeau has done with his cabinet. It will take more than resolve and window dressing. In the meanwhile, let’s find ways for the two media silos to work together, discover common ground, and, in the process, improve the coverage of communities that feel left out.
This commentary was first published in Policy Options and part of a special feature The Future of Canadian Journalism.
The Philippines is one of the Asia Pacific economies bound to get hit by the impact of possible shifts in foreign policy in the United States after the November elections, credit watchdog Moody’s Investors Service said in a report released this week.
Nomura, an Asia-based financial services group also shared the same view, said the Manila Times.
Asian Pacific Post
Commentary by Rinaldo Walcott in Toronto
There is widespread consensus that social media has impacted legacy media in a significant way. And, legacy media is fighting back in ways that undermine responsible journalism.
One way the impact has been felt by legacy media (also called "traditional"/"mainstream" media) is that almost everyone can get their opinion out on social media in a way that circumvents news organizations. The proliferation of multiple and different points of views now on offer in both social media and legacy media appear on first instinct to be a good and necessary societal change.
There are more voices and positions to be heard and read.
But, as social media has impacted the public sphere, a growing and dangerous trend has emerged that requires careful thought.
The two sides conundrum
Recently, on a segment of The Current a CBC Radio 1 show, I suggested that the prevalence of ‘two sides to each story’ in media reports needs to be rethought. More specifically, I suggested that the ‘two sides’ method of reporting has become a significant problem while writing about racism, xenophobia, fascism and the far right.
I see it as a problem for telling the story because this kind of reporting legitimates a politics that need not be legitimated.
In western liberal representative democracies, there is consensus that the far right is an illegitimate political position and formation. The consensus supposes that racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant views, Islamophobia and so on are positions of the far right that must – and rightly so – should be repudiated.
The idea of repudiation is lodged in the history and notion that giving credence to such ideas can and could plunge us back into the sort of abyss marked so powerfully by the Jewish Holocaust in western societies.
And yet, in contemporary media culture, the far right is increasingly presented to us as the ‘other side’ of the argument; as the legitimate other side.
Balancing the story
Why is this a problem?
In my view, to present the far right as the legitimate other side of an argument does two important things: Firstly, it suggests that the far right’s arguments on racism, xenophobia and anti-immigration are legitimate views and arguments that the larger society must grapple with.
Secondly, it suggests that a balanced story is being presented to media consumers.
Indeed, nothing can be further from the truth.
And, furthermore, there are ways to present the arguments of the far right without giving them a platform to further cement their dangerous arguments and potentially recruit others to its anti-human political project
Indeed, one might argue that this kind of ‘two sides’ reporting has aided in the emergence of Marie Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in the U.K. and Donald Trump in the U.S. All of them are politicians whose views would have been clearly and unequivocally rejected and got no airing in the post-World War II era.
In our historical moment, the re-emergence of a much more public far right requires a necessary and urgent response: a response that does not equivocate in unmasking its hate-filled rhetoric, politics and political formation.
The question is, how do we do this?
I propose that we do this by not giving them a media platform. The way in which we do it is to first present the counter argument. The media has been fairly good at offering the counter argument. So, I will not quibble there too long. Let me instead turn to where the media is failing us.
Shut them down
It appears that the media seems to believe that it must produce far right personalities and voices as the balance to the story. I want to suggest that this is not the right approach.
Those who study the far right and who can speak clearly to their appeal, resurgence, and political formation should constitute the other side of the conversation.
What this means is that debating the far right should be a no-go in our media landscape.
Therefore, those who can help us make sense of the far right’s more public re-emergence in the age of social media should constitute the opposite side of the coin.
Now, some will say we need to hear from them directly, to not censor them, to unmask their hate-filled agenda. Not giving them the public airwaves is not censorship at all.
So, my answer is a blunt, No.
Rinaldo Walcott is Associate Professor and the Director of the Woman and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto.
Read also: Does Facebook Owe Its Users a Public Editor?
by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa
Elections Canada would need a bare minimum of six months to carry out a referendum on electoral reform, owing in large part to a loss of corporate memory on how to manage the process, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand said Thursday.
Appearing before the standing committee on procedure and house affairs, Mayrand was asked by Conservative democratic reform critic Scott Reid to elaborate on a risk highlighted in the agency’s 2016-17 report on plan and priorities (RPP).
In the RPP, the agency states that it isn’t currently prepared to hold a referendum — something Reid and the Conservatives insist is essential if the Liberal government changes the way Canadians vote.
Reid believes that any change to the electoral system requiring a boundary redistribution isn’t going to allow enough time for one.
And he’s convinced the Liberals are trying to run out the clock on the possibility of a referendum without rejecting the idea outright — though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted strongly on Tuesday that it was off the table.
“It might be difficult now, but it’s more difficult than it would’ve been six months ago,” Reid told iPolitics.
“And I’m trying to make the point now — because maybe it’s still possible — but a month from now it’ll be less possible. And with every passing day it becomes less feasible, which I think is the whole point.”
The Elections Canada RPP notes that the committee on procedure and house affairs began but didn’t complete a 2009 review of the Referendum Act, and Elections Canada suspended “readiness activities” pending the implementation of legislative amendments.
“In order to conduct a referendum, the agency would require a minimum of six months following legislative changes,” the RPP says.
Reid asked Mayrand Thursday whether six months was, in fact, the minimum amount of time they would need.
“It’s an absolute minimum — six months. Corporate memory is loose now, after more than 25 years. Not many people have run a referendum in our organization. So there’s a lot of work to do,” Mayrand said.
Furthermore, though it would be feasible to conduct a referendum under the current legislative framework, Mayrand said that wouldn’t be his preference.
“The Referendum Act is outdated — it has not been changed since 1992, which is the last time we had a national referendum. In that regard, it’s very much out of sync with the Elections Act — particularly around political financing,” he explained.
There would be no limit on union and corporate donations, for example.
“There’s no limit on contribution by any entities, so this might come as a shock. But again, the legislation still stands. Is it possible to conduct a referendum on the current legislation? It is possible,” he said.
“It would be, at times, awkward. But it is possible. It is feasible. My preference would be to see it amended, updated. But again it would not be impossible.”
For the NDP, which doesn’t see the need for a referendum, the greater concern is that the clock will run out on electoral reform itself.
NDP MP David Christopherson asked Mayrand to provide a “trigger point” after which it will no longer be possible to have reform in place for the 2019 election.
“I would put before the committee that legislation enacting reform should be there at least 24 months before the election…There’s all sort of hypotheses — I don’t know exactly what the reform will be — but if it involves a (boundary) redistribution exercise, which PR (proportional representation) does by definition — this is a significant undertaking,” Mayrand answered.
In accordance with both the constitution and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, after each decennial (10‑year) census a riding redistribution process has to be undertaken to reflect changes in where Canadians are living. That was last done in 2012, adding 30 seats to the House of Commons.
“How long would it take to engage the Electoral Boundaries Redistribution Act? I assume an amendment would actually be required to allow it to happen out of normal sequence. But how long would the actual process take?” Reid asked Mayrand Thursday.
“You’re correct. It would need legislation for it to happen. And the bare minimum — and again, it’s difficult, because I’m not sure what’s on the table — the bare minimum for a standard redistribution is 10 months,” he answered.
That, however, is only from the setup of electoral boundary commissions to the issuance of their final reports for the redistribution.
“There’s another seven months after that for implementing,” Mayrand said.
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Susan Korah in Ottawa
Approximately 500 Taiwanese Canadians from Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver travelled to Taiwan to vote in the country’s recent presidential election.
They say they are proud of the democracy in their home country and value it as a precious gift for which their parents and grandparents fought so heroically.
Most of these voters, who spent between $1,500 and $2000 each on an airline ticket, are in their 50s and 60s, says Jack Chen, a Taiwanese Canadian scientist with Environment Canada living in Ottawa.
Unlike younger people, who often wish they could go, but don’t have the opportunity, this demographic is more likely to have the time and the financial means to make the trip, he adds.
“Many of them are first generation immigrants to Canada with strong ties to the home country,” he explains, emphasizing that they also have first-hand experience of living without any civil and political rights under repressive governments. They have a deep appreciation of their hard-won right to vote.
Growing up in Taiwan
Grace Bui, one of the Taiwanese Canadians who made the trip to vote, says she remembers the days of repression in the 1950s.
“My brother, 15 years older than me, lived his high school years in fear because many of his classmates were dragged away from the classroom and were never seen again,” she recalls. “I could see the fear in his eyes. He warned me never to discuss this because the secret police could take us away.”
Shin-Youg Shiau, an Ottawa resident and community leader, is another of those first generation Canadian immigrants that Chen refers to.
“It’s a great sacrifice for us in financial terms,” Shiau explains, just before leaving for Taiwan with his wife to participate in the election. “We not only have to pay for our flights, but also hotel rooms because we don’t have any family left there to stay with.”
He adds, however, that the sacrifice is worth it and that they are happy to have had this opportunity.
Eligibility of overseas voters
From the Taiwan government’s point of view, there are certain conditions voters must meet to make them eligible.
“Overseas Taiwanese who want to vote must still possess our citizenship,” explains Simon Sung, Director of Information at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, the equivalent of a Taiwanese embassy in Ottawa.
“They need to maintain a valid household registration in any place in Taiwan and must activate that registration six months before the election so that the local election commission can prepare documents and ballot papers for them,” he adds. “When they show up at the polling station they can cast their votes.”
Chen, who is also the vice chair of the parents’ advisory council of the Ottawa Mandarin School run by the Ottawa Catholic School Board, was unable to go to Taiwan himself, but closely monitored the campaign and the presidential election on Jan. 16 from Canada.
He points out that unlike Canadian elections in which non-resident citizens can vote by mail, voters must be physically present in Taiwan to cast their ballots.
Optimism for the future
Chen says that regardless of party affiliation, most Taiwanese are proud of the election of Tsai Ing-wen – the country’s first female president – and also of the peaceful transfer of power.
Kuomintang (KMT), the party of defeated President Ma Ying-jeou, was in power for eight years and people wanted a change, but unlike in the election of 2000, there was no violence whatsoever, he adds.
“Our democracy has become strong and mature and we are all proud of that,” Chen says.
Louisa Ho, a retired businesswoman from Ottawa, is another Taiwanese citizen who could not make the trip to vote. She also watched the election from overseas and says she is pleased with the final results.
“Our new president, Ms. Tsai Ing-wen, is very calm and composed and very knowledgeable,” she says. “I’m also happy that her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has won the majority of seats in the legislature because now their new policies and legislation won’t be blocked.”
Ho adds that most people in Taiwan want to lead peaceful lives with an improved economy.
Both Ho and Mai Chen (no relation to Jack Chen), a resident of Kingston, Ontario, express hope that the new party in power will restore Taiwan’s ‘space’. They say that under former President Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan was leaning too close to China, and they perceived this as a threat to Taiwan’s democracy.
“If the KMT [party of Ma Ying-jeou] had continued to be in power, there was a distinct possibility that Taiwan could go the way of Hong Kong,” says Mai Chen.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
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.
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.
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!”
Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist, called the women’s elections a historic day for Saudi Arabia.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
by Anita Singh in Toronto
With a tour in Bosnia, three tours in Afghanistan and a 15-year career in the Gang and Drug Unit of the Vancouver police, the new Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan, has been lauded as an exceptional choice for the post due to his significant experience.
Despite these qualifications, Sajjan was the target of an inappropriate comment made by a high-ranking member of the Canadian forces on Facebook. The comment pertained to Sajjan’s racial background, and while the post itself was not made public and the department’s response was swift, it did raise the question of how members of the Canadian cabinet were perceived—particularly those that come from ethnic or immigrant backgrounds.
Considering this, what explains why Indo-Canadians have had such success in elections and in receiving Cabinet positions?
In a “cabinet that looks like Canada", seven of 28 Ministers in Prime Minister Trudeau’s new Cabinet are members of a minority group; four of those seven come from Indo-Canadian backgrounds. This proportion isn’t surprising, given that more than half of all immigrant MPs elected into the Liberal caucus come from Indian backgrounds.
There are a few reasons why this may be the case.
Indo-Canadian immigrants have been long familiarized with the political system that exists in Canada. Since India’s independence in 1947, Indians have operated within a bicameral British parliamentary system. In fact, India’s political system has complexities that make Canada’s elections seem like a walk in the park.
India has 1761 registered political parties, six of which have official status at the national level and 23 of which are represented in the current government. Its elections are massive affairs, demonstrated by the fact that 8251 candidates ran for a mere 545 seats in India’s last election.
In addition to this complexity, a total of 131 seats are reserved for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Two additional seats are reserved for the Anglo-Indian community, and if Women’s Reservation bill finally passes, eventually 33 per cent of the lower house will be reserved for women.
If you can navigate India’s democracy, Canada offers a welcome simplicity within a familiar political system.
History also makes a compelling case for Indo-Canadians' current involvement in Canadian politics. While others have rightly noted that Indo-Canadians were not actively contesting elections until later in the 20th century, the community has been very politically active since the arrival of the first Indo-Canadians in the early 1900s.
One hundred years ago, Indo-Canadians formed the first ethnic political organizations in the country to contest the restrictions against Indians in those early days. They challenged race-based immigration policies, landing fees charged to Indian immigrants arriving by port, in addition to the rights to own property, run businesses and of course, to vote.
Needless to say, there is a deep history of engagement from the Indo-Canadian community in the Canadian political system.
What explains Indo-Canadian success in cabinet?
In some ways, there is evidence that success has indeed bred success.
In the 1990s, Herb Dhaliwal made history as the first Indo-Canadian cabinet minister, holding significant portfolios such as National Revenue, Fisheries and Oceans and Natural Resources.
Similarly, Ujjal Dosanjh held the Ministry of Health in the Paul Martin government, but only after serving as the first (and only) Indo-Canadian provincial premier in Canadian history.
Further, Indo-Canadians have exhibited a high level of political success, but this is not limited to electoral politics. There is significant integration of Indo-Canadian interests in non-profit, community-based and interest group organizations.
Organizations like Seva Food Bank in Peel Region, VIBC in the Greater Vancouver Region and the India-Canada Women’s Association have provided important platforms for social engagement for Indo-Canadians.It has resulted in a community that is engaged, comfortable and active in Canadian political and social environments.
What's more, increasing numbers of second generation Indo-Canadians have run for federal office, combining their familiarity with Canadian politics and community activism with significant professional experience.
Numerous examples exist within the current Liberal caucus, including Amarjeet Sohi, Anju Dhillon and Kamal Khera. From this group of young, ambitious Indo-Canadians, Bardish Chadder, a first time MP, has become the Minister of Small Business and Tourism in the Trudeau cabinet.
What does this mean for other immigrant groups in the country?
There’s no ultimate answer as to why Indo-Canadians have been successful in the Canadian political environment and more significantly, in Cabinet.
Instead, the explanation lies in the congruence of numerous historical, experiential, political and personal reasons. There is no reason why Chinese, Filipino, Middle Eastern or Eastern European communities could not be similarly successful.
There are hopeful signs that other communities have started on this trajectory. In particular, the accomplishments of first-time MPs Ahmed Hussen and Maryam Monsef from the Somali-Canadian and Afghani-Canadian communities demonstrate that the Canadian parliament is well on its way to truly becoming a representative institution for Canada’s immigrant communities.
But representation in parliament does not mean much unless it translates to representation in cabinet. At least Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet is a solid step in the right direction.
Anita Singh is a founding partner of Tahlan, Jorden & Singh Consulting Group and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.
by Imad Al-Sukkari in Ottawa
This year’s election campaign has been one of the longest in our country’s political history, characterized by the usual kinds of political messaging, policy debates and ethical questions on governance.
The campaign seemed a typical one until four weeks ago, when the devastating, powerful image of a dead three-year-old Syrian refugee lying on a beach in Turkey made international headlines and arguably pushed the Syrian refugee crisis to the forefront of the federal election.
The crisis has also propelled Canadian Arabs, a generally silent and politically inactive minority, to become more engaged and visible in the Canadian political scene.
Indeed, members of the community have taken action to make their voices heard, such as publishing opinion articles critiquing the government's inaction on the crisis (see the Arab Pulse article published by New Canadian Media reporter Jacky Habib), appearing on news shows such as CBC's "Power and Politics", and sponsoring local election panels to ask candidates why their party is best suited to serve the interests of the Arab community.
Thirty days remain for Canadian voters to decide which party they would like to see lead the country into the future.
Refugee crisis sparks reactions
Dr. Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) and associate professor at the University of Waterloo, comments on how the crisis has affected the relationship between Arab Canadians and the Harper government.
“The Harper government has demonstrated a lack of urgency in dealing with this issue,” she says, arguing that this has made the Conservative government appear unsympathetic in the eyes of many Canadians and, more specifically, members of the Arab community.
Omar Alghabra, a former MP and a Liberal candidate of Syrian descent running in the Mississauga Centre riding, states his dissatisfaction with the way the current government has handled the refugee crisis.
He points to its delinquency in carrying out the proposed plan to resettle 10,000 refugees over three years, inefficiencies at the bureaucratic levels, and the shifting paradigm of what is supposed to be a humanitarian issue.
“There is a disproportionate emphasis on the security risks, and not enough on humanitarian aid,” Alghabra says.
Alghabra also adds, “During the campaign I have engaged with many people [in the riding] on this issue, and I would say the majority of them are embarrassed by this government’s response and feel we could have been more generous in allowing Syrian refugees in.”
Encouraging voter participation
The Canadian Arab Institute (CAI), an organization whose vision is to empower and engage the Arab community in Canada, started a campaign called Sowtek, or “Your Voice,” to encourage Arab Canadians to vote in the upcoming election.
Your Voice has utilized many mediums to provide educational resources to its members, such as webinars, the Canadian national anthem in Arabic (“Ya Canada”), a short animated video explaining the importance of voting and panel discussions across major Canadian cities with a sizeable Arab population such as Ottawa, Toronto, London, Windsor and Montreal.
Raja Khouri, president of CAI, states that the refugee crisis has led members of the Arab community to share their frustrations about the Canadian government, but it is by far not the only issue the community is concerned about.
“Members of the community have expressed frustrations with a number of government policies, from economic policy to Bill C-24 (a new law giving government more power to revoke Canadian citizenship from a dual citizen) and the Mideast policy,” Khouri says.
“We usually end our discussions by trying to encourage people to convert frustration into action by voting in the upcoming federal elections,” he adds.
An increase in community engagement
It has not been all frustration and no action for the Arab community, as 23 candidates of Arab descent are currently seeking election or re-election in various ridings across Quebec, Alberta and Ontario, with nine running for the Liberal party, seven for the Conservatives, five for the NDP and one for the Bloc Québécois.
“It is fantastic and refreshing to see an increased level of engagement from members of the community; it demonstrates that Canadian Arabs have come a long way in the last decade,” Alghabra says.
As to how Canadian Arabs will vote in this election, Sherif Rizk – an Ottawa lawyer and host of the Rizk Assessment, a political show broadcast on the Christian Youth Channel (CYC), also known as the Coptic Youth Channel – offers his analysis as to which federal party Arab Canadians may be leaning towards.
“Domestically speaking, Arab Canadians will mostly focus on the changes that the Conservative government have made to Canadian citizenship (creating the right to revoke citizenship for dual-nationality Canadians), Bill C-51 and the government's ban on niqabs in citizenship ceremonies,” Rizk says.
“I think these issues have largely pushed a lot of younger Arab Canadians away from the Conservative Party, but not necessarily to the arms of the Liberal Party. I think Arab Canadians will be making a greater effort to make their voice heard in this election."
by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriya) in Scarborough, Ontario
“Jack Layton, before there was any hope of winning any sort of racialized riding, would come out to events and speak on issues that matter,” deputy leader of the Ontario NDP, Jagmeet Singh, told New Canadian Media during a dinner the party held in Scarborough Monday night to mix and mingle with ethnic media outlets representing more than 20 diaspora communities. “[He’d] speak on human rights and take positions on human rights that were actually in line with the community wanted.”
Sincerity Is Key
Singh, who was elected in the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton in the 2011 provincial election, is known for being vocal about human rights and issues affecting racialized communities – most recently police carding. He says it’s important for ethnic communities to not buy into the “false sense of support” that comes from politicians attending particular cultural events when they’re on the campaign trail.
“[T]here’s no doubt that political parties will come just at the eve of an election and show up just at the right time and shake hands with the right people and get the right pictures just to show that they are in support of that community,” he says. “You have to actually look into what they say, what policies they bring forward, what is their message that actually connects with the community.”
Andrea Horwath, NDP leader in Ontario, says her party has a great opportunity in the upcoming election to do the type of engagement work Singh speaks of across the country – starting with the diversity of the candidates themselves.
“I know the slate of candidates that we have has got a number of people that reflect diverse communities and that’s very exciting, but it’s a matter of making sure that it’s not a matter of those candidates in isolation,” she told New Canadian Media.
Making Real Inroads
Engaging diverse communities in meaningful and respectful ways continues to be an area that Canada’s various levels of government need to become better at. Horwath spoke of meeting with a community group earlier that afternoon that serves Spanish-speaking people in North Toronto and their concerns with the government around a lack of engagement in the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games coming to Toronto in July.
“That’s a failure of the government to recognize not only an opportunity, but an obligation, quite frankly,” Horwath says. “If you’re going to host the Pan American Games and the Parapan American Games, then you have to actually be respectful of those people whose cultures and languages who [are reflected].”
Viresh Fernando, a self-claimed “political junkie” and resident of Toronto’s Thorncliffe community – where, according to Statistics Canada, 71 per cent of the population’s first language is neither English nor French – says the best tool politicians could use to engage ethnic communities is intimate, meaningful dialogue.
“Stop listening to self-appointed leaders and really sit down for a couple of hours with a small group of people and let them talk to you and keep asking them questions without having your handlers around you,” he says. In fact, he points out that during the NDP’s dinner event he would have liked to see Horwath circulate more from table to table during dinner and speak informally to the various ethnic media and community members in the room.
Staff, Media Engagement Needs to Become More Diverse
Further to that, Fernando points out it’s important for any political party to not only encourage diversity amongst their candidates but also amongst those candidates’ staff members. “The political staff tend not to represent the ethnic communities at all,” he says.
Fernando added that he believes why Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne encountered such a backlash from various ethnic communities around her recent sex-ed curriculum – something many members of the media asked Horwath for her take on during the event’s press scrum – was due to a lack of understanding. If Wynne had more diverse voices on her staff, she may not be spending $1.8 million on communication messages around the curriculum, Fernando says.
More involvement in the system is something many representatives of the ethnic media collectively agreed they’d like to see.
“We want to be part of the system, someone who can represent us,” said Mohamed Busuri of the Somali Canadian Times.
“We encourage participation of members of the Filipino community in politics to show the strength in our community,” agreed Rose Tijam, president of the Philippine Press Club, adding, “Filipinos don’t want anything different from mainstream Canadians – work, jobs, housing.”
As the NDP continues to ramp up its engagement with diverse communities at both the political and federal levels with events like this one, there is one thing Fernando warns it and other parties should never do on the campaign trail: “Please don’t insult people by dressing in their costumes . . . do not engage in tokenism.”
by Richard M. Landau (@Richard54) in Toronto
There was a time when the vast plurality of new Canadians voted for the Liberal Party of Canada. With the exception of some of those who had escaped the tyranny of the Warsaw Pact, immigrant communities, once established, voted Liberal. Some of the thinking was: “I came into this country thanks to a Liberal government. To them I will remain loyal.”
In recent years there has been an uneasy alliance between new Canadians and a Liberal Party that is driven by a progressive social agenda increasingly at odds with traditional and fundamental religious values. I remember the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United Nations standing before the General Assembly in 1967 admonishing America and the West for its promiscuity, its miniskirts, its bikinis and its hot dogs, while lambasting Robert Kennedy as the son of a whisky merchant.
The Conservative Party saw that growing rift and exploited it with a strategy to engage new Canadians. So we saw Prime Minister Stephen Harper visiting the Sikh holy city of Amritsar and the then Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney assiduously executing a policy of dialogue with new Canadians – especially South Asians.
Here’s what they did. The Conservatives spoke to the values of hard working new Canadians. Instead of avoiding them, the Conservatives embraced their aspirations by emphasizing lower taxes and continued economic prosperity, or, in other words, security. The Tories repeatedly made the case of, ‘we are the best managers of a thriving economy that benefits your families.’
The Conservatives had a reputation for being a party full of White people who were hard on immigration. So they took steps to ease immigration.
Finding Common Ground
Jason Kenney waded into the Ontario’s 905 area – a ring of ridings just outside Toronto – which had been a sea of Liberal red in the 2008 election.
His strategy was to persuade the new Canadians who populated these ridings in large numbers.
Kenney, to his credit, proved himself to be a master of intercultural and interfaith discourse. He gets it. He listens, and he doesn’t patronize.
It became clear that Liberals thought of new Canadian communities as vote pools whose support they took for granted – not as vital groups of interest.
Kenney and company understood that there was more to be done than showing up, eating an ‘exotic’ meal and saying a few words in (insert any language here).
So, they made common cause with new Canadians on their desire to put down roots, start businesses, prosper and preserve their traditional values.
When the Conservatives spoke to the aspirations and beliefs of these communities, it wasn’t simply a cold vote-grabbing calculation. Some of the Conservative Party’s traditional base values are very similar to those of many new Canadians. They had built a new coalition of values.
Speaking of the Conservative base, it has long admired and supported Israel. So it was a calculated move when the Conservative government became one of Israel’s most vocal supporters. That policy allowed the party to make inroads in three of the five Toronto-area ridings with significant Jewish populations.
Adding it all up explains how the Conservatives have made inroads into the new Canadian vote. The 905 area code went blue in 2011, and the Conservatives went from a toehold to a full-scale incursion.
Not Yet Comfortable With Accommodating All
However, like the Liberals before them, the Conservatives also have a cleavage problem. They support the ethical and moral agendas of the world religions.
But, with an eye on their mainstream support, they are not comfortable with the public expressions of those non-Christian religions and communities they have begun to court.
Thus, when the Prime Minister opposes the wearing of niqab in a citizenship ceremony, he knows that plays to a rural, small town and suburban Conservative base that may share the moral and ethical values of new Canadians in terms of faith – but is not comfortable with all manner of accommodation.
In regards to this balancing act, Kenney, now Minister of National Defence and Minister for Multiculturalism, was quoted in an interview with John Geddes in Macleans, March 10, 2015.
He said: “… There are certain important hallmarks of integration. They (new Canadians) don’t believe that multiculturalism should be construed as cultural relativism. They believe that multiculturalism should mean a positive regard for what’s best about people’s cultural and religious antecedents. But it should not mean a completely unquestioning acceptance of every cultural practice, especially those of the most abhorrent nature.”
Kenney’s multicultural approach has worked because he carefully avoids toadying or pandering. New Canadians are continuously less likely to be influenced by tokenism and patronizing gestures. More new Canadians have responded to the Conservatives because they have actually taken the time to understand and reflect on their values and beliefs.
Richard M. Landau has been responsible for adjudicating disputes and enforcing a television network code of ethics in a religious broadcasting setting since 1992. He is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. A leader in interfaith dialogue, Landau has consulted with the U.K. Home Office, and the White House Office of Community- and Faith-Based Initiatives. He works closely with leadership in all of the major world religions. He is author of What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit