Response to ‘A Reflection of Canada’s Pluralism

National Post August 21, 2003

Recruiting Grits by race is a bad idea

by Des Verma, Lenn Chow, Martin Collacott, Stephen Kaufmann In Vancouver

On August 13 the National Post published an open letter to the Liberal Party of Canada in which we expressed concern over indications that, in its recent recruitment of new members in British Columbia, the party had expanded its membership in large measure by appeals to race or ethnicity rather than the merits of the party's policies. While such recruitment techniques may provide an easy means of gathering in new members, it also encourages the development of ethnic block voting used to obtain special benefits for particular communities which in turn can lead to division and resentment within Canadian society.

In his response to our open letter the following day Stephen LeDrew, the president of the party, demonstrated that he either did not understand our concerns or chose to ignore them. He failed to address the issue of race-based recruitment policies that lead to division or, what is clearly an anomaly, – the disproportionate, and seemingly, unhealthy imbalance in party memberships in British Columbia. A situation that should ring bells and cause concern was dismissed by him as a call on our part to establish ethnic quotas based on Statistics Canada figures. This is nonsense.

Our concerns are selfish, but selfish for all Canadians – for those of us here today and for newcomers yet to come. Our charge is that ethnic block voting is harmful rather than beneficial for the country.

A good illustration of how such practices can lead to abuse was to be seen in the British Columbia provincial NDP leadership race in 2000. While the media at that time was filled with reports of recruitment irregularities, the wider community, ever mindful of being politically correct and bent in any event on dumping the party, simply chose to ignore what was happening. And yet the issue continues to fester behind the scenes.

Then there is the related question that begs to be addressed: how far should non-citizens (landed immigrants and refugees) be allowed to participate in party activities. Since they cannot as yet vote in national elections, should they, for instance, have the right to influence the process of delegate selection and eventually of the choice of the leader of the party? It would appear, in this regard, that ethnically based recruitment is aimed to a considerable extent at immigrants who are not yet comfortably established in their new country and are most easily swayed by calls of loyalty to the ethnic group.

It would make far more sense if newcomers who have a genuine interest in the politics of their new land were allowed to join parties as associate members who could attend the various activities of the constituency association but would not have the power to vote in the selection of candidates or delegates until they became citizens.

A major problem for Mr.LeDrew in trying to respond to the issues we have raised is that the Liberal Party seems committed to a vision of Canada as a post-modern country, a country where a collection of diaspora communities remain faithful to their ancestral culture and Canada is in many ways little more than a convenient place to live. The more ethnic activists there are lobbying for special benefits for their own communities, the easier it is for Liberals to buy their votes – with tax-payers' money.

While this vision may be attractive to some party membership organizers as well as people in ethnic communities who gain influence by delivering block votes, it is a hard sell to a majority of Canadians who want a strong united Canada they can feel passionate about. Mr. LeDrew and his colleagues would do well to heed the advice of Adam Allouba (LeDrew's spin, August 16): “I hate parties and politicos who segment society into special interests to be bribed. I don't want to be pigeonholed as an Arab or a student. Mr. LeDrew, don't tell me what you can do for my group. Tell me what you can do for Canada.”

Mr. Allouba has made a valid point that Mr. LeDrew seems to have missed – that surely one of the first responsibilities of our political parties is to educate Canadians to the fact that every individual from one end of the country to the other is a member of the same family and it is the duty of every one of us to devote our time and energy to the service of our larger family even where this may conflict at times with the pursuit of narrower interests.

Until now public discussion of these issues has been largely discouraged by those who have a vested interest in preserving and expanding such practices. It is regrettable in this regard that, rather than seriously address the concerns we have raised, Mr. LeDrew has resorted to calling our views odious, presumably in the expectation this will suffice to shut down debate. Such a response shows little respect for the intelligence and judgement of Canadians and will not make the issues go away.