Harper's trips play up to ethnic voters
Tories gain ground in what were seen as Liberal ridings
Published: Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Stephen Harper arrives in China today for his first visit to that country as prime minister. It comes just weeks after a first trip to India that was warmly received by the Indo-Canadian community at home.
While the Prime Minister is officially promoting ties and trade with the Asian countries, academics and community leaders say the high-profile travels dovetail nicely with the long-term Tory strategy to target ethnic votes in Canada that could decide a majority in the next federal election.
“The Conservatives are taking advantage of the Liberals' complacency — they are trying to displace them in terms of an ethnic advantage,” said Livianna Tossutti, professor at Brock University and author of the Electoral Participation of Ethnocultural Communities, a report commissioned by Elections Canada.
Ms. Tossutti said the party has made ground from 2006 and 2008 election numbers, and are on the verge of taking over previously Liberal-dominated territory.
She attributed the shift to a strengthened party image in ethnic communities, due largely to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney's highly publicized and frequent attendance of cultural community events, identified in 2007 as part of the party's Ethnic Outreach Strategy.
Manoj Pundit, a spokesman for the Canada India Foundation, said the trip to India capitalized on the Indo-Canadian community's sentiment that opportunities to build on bilateral relations between the two countries were being missed. He said the government has gone far and above past government efforts to consult the Indo-Canadian community.
Bob Dhillon, president and CEO of Mainstreet Equity, a real estate venture that buys and refurbishes apartments in the Calgary area, was one of the few to accompany Mr. Harper on his trip to India. He said the Prime Minister has done a “fantastic” job of understanding the Indo-Canadian community, as seen in one instance by his visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
“For me, as a Sikh, it transcended the trip from business to spiritual,” he said. “But it's not only him going to temple that will gain him Indo votes — for many years, the Liberals took Indo-Canadian votes for granted — but Harper and Kenney have done a great job of penetrating the community.”
Mr. Kenney said in an interview that electoral strategy does not enter his responsibilities as minister, and that Mr. Harper's trip to India “was made regardless of domestic political considerations.”
But Susan Eng , a Toronto lawyer and member of the federal Chinese-Canadian advisory committee, said that regardless of intent, the Conservative party will continue to see the benefits of its close contact with Chinese Canadians.
Ms. Eng was co-chair of the Chinese Head Tax Redress campaign, which led to the historic Government of Canada apology and resulting in ex gratia payments in 2006.
She said that while views on the Prime Minister's trip to China are divergent in Canadian communities, due largely to opposing views on human rights, the loyalties won from the apology continue to pay off.
“There are whole parts of the Chinese community, including old pioneers who got the ex gratia payments, and noticed which government it was that gave it to them,” she said.
Ms. Eng said the Liberal failure to address this key issue in Chinese communities was reflective of their taking past loyalties for granted, and resting on their party's “historical laurels.”
Ms. Eng also attributed the Tories' success in ethnic communities to
their acknowledgment of the important role of ethnic media.
Mr. Kenney conceded that there has been a greater government presence in ethnic media, but attributes the trend to increasing the government's accessibility to its audience.
“One of the first things I do every morning is to read a summary of what's been said and reported in major ethnic media outlets,” he said. “There are a large number of Canadians whose primary source of information on public affairs is through so-called ethnic media and we owe it to them to be accessible.”
Olivia Chow, NDP MP and immigration critic, said the Tory effort in ethnic communities, while effective, ignores the real issues at hand.
“If you're talking about a political outreach strategy — good jobs, decent wages and hiring people for what they're trained for so that ethnic communities' children won't be living in poverty –is what's needed.”
Maurizio Bevilacqua, Liberal MP and immigration critic, agrees.
“I think it simply is a cosmetic form of politics which I don't subscribe to,” he said. “It's an old approach — talking to ethnocultural communities and reminding them of who they are — they know who they are better than we do.”
Ridings with a high number of Indo-Canadian voters
Brampton Springdale Between 2006 and 2008, the Conservatives increased their popular vote from 31% to 39.3%. In 2008, they finished less than two percentage points shy of the Liberals (41%). In 2006, the gap between the Liberals and Conservatives was 16 points.
Bramalea Gore Malton The Conservatives increased their support by four points, from 33% in 2006 to 37% in 2008. They finished eight points behind the Liberals. In 2006, the gap was 18 points.
Brampton West The Conservatives gained about four points between 2006 and 2008, moving from 36% to 39.9%. That put them less than one point behind the Liberals in 2008. In 2006, the Liberals won that riding by 13 points.
Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=2292706#ixzz0Ygfv4BTJ
Related Topics :
Citizenship Immigration Jason Kenney