Going beyond ethnic silos: why the federal Liberals are losing control of the ‘ethnic vote’

By Mark M. Persaud, The Hill Times, January 7th, 2008

A recent editorial in The Winnipeg Free Press with the title “Courting
minorities,” admonished a federal Liberal’s sense of entitlement to the “ethnic
vote” in Canada . This amusing notion has largely been constructed over the
years as a result of a cosy relationship with ethnic minorities and a big tent
approach by federal Liberals. This was complemented by a constant demonization
of the federal Conservatives as racist or, at minimum, unfriendly to minority
communities. This strategy was successfully employed by the federal Liberals. So
it is not surprising that any attempt to interfere with this sense of
entitlement elicits criticisms, including irrational ones, from federal Liberal
circles.

The federal Liberals should have paid attention to the incremental loss of
support from ethnic communities over the passing years. A new reality has
emerged primarily as a result of their failure to understand and address the
changing demographics in Canada . Traditionally, the party has relied on “ethnic
brokers” to help organize and maintain support in various ethnic enclaves. Many
in these communities have been satisfied over the years to pledge their support
sometimes for as little as the “privilege” of having federal Liberal politicians
attend their community events and, in many cases, chasing after dangling
promises by Liberal politicians. But the massive increase in the sizes of many
ethnic communities, especially in urban areas, has created a new playing field.
This should have prompted the federal Liberals to rethink and revise their
outreach strategies to ethno-cultural communities. Their failure to do so may
well become their Achilles Heel in
future elections.

The federal Liberals’ “ethnic brokers” are now faced with the unenviable task of
effectively mobilizing the “ethnic vote” in communities which have ballooned in
size over recent years. Additionally, the growing professional and business
classes, together with a burgeoning second generation have prompted a movement
away from ethno and religious specific organizations and events to a greater
engagement in professional and mainstream Canadian institutions and
organizations. For many new Canadians, being integrated Canadians has become
just as important, or in many instances more important, than spending their free
time in ethnic silos where the “ethnic brokers” operate. To their detriment, the

Liberals appear to have ignored this new reality.

Their ethnic outreach efforts have not evolved to address the new sophistication
that has emerged in the professional and business classes in these communities.
The Liberals also apparently lack an appreciation of the fact that a growing
second generation of Canadians, and those who came to Canada young, are more
critical, have greater expectations and often focus on different interests than
their parents’ generation.

Compounding their problem is the matter of a lack of respect. In his recent
book, Life’s A Campaign, American political commentator Chris Matthews noted
that people don’t mind being used by politicians. What they do mind is being
discarded. Disrespected can be added here. The Liberals have become very adept
at disrespecting new Canadians including those from large ethnic constituencies.

The fact that the Liberals refused to call a judicial inquiry into the Air India
disaster, Canada’s worst act of terrorism, is still a sore issue among many
South Asians many of whom, including Liberals, opine that had the victims been
Caucasian Canadians, a judicial inquiry would have been automatic.

The divide and conquer approach by the federal Liberals to the Chinese head tax
issue will always be remembered by Canadians of Chinese heritage. The fact that
Chrétien and Martin boasted about large surpluses while refusing to reduce the
landing fee for immigrants, many of whom are still unable to re-enter their
professions in Canada, cannot be understood by most of those who paid the full
landing fee only to find themselves doing menial jobs to support their families.

Lack of respect of minorities by federal Liberals is not reserved for outsiders.

The mistreatment of prominent federal Liberals Akaash Maharaj and Herb Dhaliwal,
among many others, is still often talked about. While every political party has
its own culture of enforcement, bullying and obstructing minorities including
those seeking riding nominations and other positions, not sanctioned by party
insiders, have become commonplace in the Liberal Party in Canada–an art
perfected under the
Martinites.

The emergence of a more informed, critical and sophisticated constituency in
ethno-cultural communities has not been matched by efforts of the federal
Liberals to address many issues that should have been dealt with credibly while
they were in government. The fact that the federal Conservative government has
demonstrated better leadership on many issues– including, the Air India Inquiry,
cutting the landing fee for immigrants in half, credibly addressing the Chinese
head tax, taking credible positions on international human rights concerns and
very importantly, addressing domestic issues that impact on the everyday lives
of all Canadians such as taxes–has now placed the Liberals in a very awkward
position. The federal Conservatives have delivered where the federal Liberals
failed.

Fostering fear of the federal Conservatives including demonizing a previously
untested leader from the West is quickly becoming a benign strategy as Canadians
of all backgrounds are responding with a growing respect and appreciation of the

Harper government’s leadership on many issues. Even in opposition, the federal
Liberals appear to be consumed by their arrogance. In Toronto , Canada ‘s most
multicultural city, there is only one visible minority Liberal Member of
Parliament who had to fight a vigorously contested nomination battle as she was
apparently not blessed by the Martin insiders. Both the NDP and Conservatives
are expected to have more visible minority candidates in Toronto for the next
election. The fact that the federal Liberals claim that they are aiming for 33
per cent of female candidates in the next election is commendable however many
aspiring minority candidates feel sidelined, discarded and disrespected.

No wonder some federal Liberals are starting to get anxious. It appears that as
a result of effective outreach and a number of commendable initiatives by the
federal Conservatives, there is a discernable exodus to the federal
Conservatives and to a lesser extent to other political parties. Indeed, it
seems that an accelerating train has left the station and many federal Liberals
are still wondering why.

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