Recruiting by race is no way to build a party
Des Verma, Lenn Chow, Martin Collacott, and Steve Kaufman in Vancouver
National Post, Wednesday, August 13, 2003
We are deeply concerned about the manner in which the federal Liberal party has been expanding its membership in a manner which will promote divisions within Canadian society. According to recent reports, the party has achieved a record number of more than 37,000 members in British Columbia by using what are essentially race-based recruitment techniques. The result is that people of Indian and Chinese origin constitute two-thirds of Liberal Party of Canada members in B.C., even though they comprise only 15% of the population of the province. One recent report in the Vancouver Sun stated that one Liberal campaign official had indicated as many as 80% of B.C. members were Sikhs.
We and our families combine many backgrounds — South Asian, Central European Jewish, Chinese, English, Latino, Vietnamese, Irish and Caribbean. We, like most Canadians, are pleased that Canada is by international standards a very tolerant society, increasingly colour-blind, where people of all origins are regarded as equally Canadian. Unfortunately the Liberal Party of Canada wants to divide Canadians by race to further its own political interests.
We regularly listen to and read the ethnic media and are well aware of how certain leaders in these communities, including journalists and even federal Liberal politicians, use the language of race to promote their own narrow agendas at the expense of broader Canadian interests.
The Liberal party is deliberately exploiting this communalism as a recruitment tactic. Communalism and communally based political recruitment breeds resentment among ethnic groups not only towards the “white mainstream” but also between ethnic groups. We now hear prominent Chinese complaining that the Indians have more power than the Chinese, we hear of other ethnic groups complaining about the “Chinese agenda” and so on.
Creating ethnic-based voting blocs in ridings is an effective way to recruit new members, but the result is anti-democratic. This approach is known as “vote banks” in India where it has contributed to communal strife in that country. These voting blocs can be used to determine the outcomes at both nomination meetings and elections themselves, with the result that winning candidates are left with a debt to specific ethnic groups rather than to the whole electorate. While this may bring with it short-term electoral benefits for the party, it is clearly not good for Canada.
It is natural and right that newcomers get involved politically, and it is understandable that on some issues they may have interests that are specific to their particular ethnic group. In general, however, Canada is a better place if all Canadians vote based on their own opinions and interests as individuals and are not merely organized as ethnic voting blocs for the benefit of certain politicians. The Liberal party has a responsibility to promote the responsible democratic participation of all citizens and is doing the opposite.
We express these concerns more in sorrow than in anger. We have voted for the Liberal Party of Canada for most of our lives, and for many years, regarded it as the most effective federal party for realizing our dream of a united and tolerant nation where all citizens work together in the best interests of everyone in the country. It is clear, however, that the party has abandoned these principles when it comes to increasing its membership by recruiting new members on the basis of their ethnic background.
The Liberal Party of Canada is currently in a position of unprecedented power, with most observers predicting that it will not be seriously challenged at the polls for some years to come. Surely this is the time for it to begin acting in a principled manner and in the best interests of the country.
Stephen LeDrew, president of the Liberal Party of Canada, will respond in this space tomorrow.