Kenney Slams Liberal Ethnic Outreach

Kenney slams Liberal ethnic outreach
Tory accuses Grits of funneling grants to 'community godfathers'

Andrew Mayeda
Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, July 31, 2008

LEVIS, Que. – The man charged with spearheading the Harper government's “ethnic-outreach” efforts has accused former Liberal governments of running “Tammany Hall”-style operations that funneled grants to local immigrant “godfathers.”

“Typically, I think, the Liberals pursued what some people have called an ethnic-brokerage model of outreach, where they would identify leaders of certain groups who somehow magically would become the recipients of substantial grants and subsidies for their community organizations,” Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism, said when asked how his government's approach differs from that of the Liberals.

“They would establish a kind of Tammany Hall operation of patronage with certain individuals and certain organizations. That, I think, is the kind of cynical and passe approach that is not relevant to the diversity of Canada today.”

Tammany Hall refers to the political machine the Democratic party built in the late 18th century to win votes in New York City. The system worked by channeling patronage money to immigrant communities in the city, in particular the Irish.

Since being appointed last year, Kenney has spent much of his time attending banquets, weddings and other community events in an effort to reverse the Liberals' traditionally strong support among recent immigrants.

Wooing new Canadians is a key part of the Conservatives' strategy to win seats in urban ridings, said Kenney.

“Obviously, it's no secret that the vast majority of new Canadians do settle in our largest cities, typically our three largest cities, . . . so I think it's vitally important to the future prospects of the Conservative party in our metropolitan areas.”

The secret of the Conservative approach is to treat new Canadians as “individuals,” and appeal to “small-c conservative” values within ethnic communities, he added. The party has had some success in western cities but is hoping to broaden its support to the metropolitan areas surrounding Toronto and Montreal.

“We do listen, and if there are particular issues in communities of interest, we try to be responsive to those,” said the junior minister. “But I can tell you one thing: we don't go around trying to set up community godfathers in different communities, which is the Liberal model. We don't go around picking winners and losers for government grants.”

The Harper government caused a stir this spring, when it introduced changes to Canada's immigration law that will allow the immigration minister to fast-track certain applications for permanent residency.

The government says the changes are designed to reduce a massive backlog of permanent-residence applications, but some ethnic organizations fear the move gives too much discretion to the minister.