Many faces of the political landscape

Photo courtesy of Olivia Chow

Photo courtesy of Olivia Chow

According to Elections Canada statistics, while visible minorities remain underrepresented among electoral candidates, minorities have expanded their presence among the ranks of candidates and MPs in recent elections.

In the 2011 federal election, 28 visible minority MPs were elected (9.1 per cent of all MPs) up from 2008, when 21 visible minority MPs were elected (6.8 per cent of all MPs).

Political powerhouse

A study published in 2006 by Elections Canada revealed that the South Asian community has made the transition from being under-represented to achieving proportional representation in the House of Commons in less than 15 years.

Members of the community hold 3.3 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons while the community comprises 3.1 per cent of Canada’s population. In contrast, Chinese Canadians hold only 1.6 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons but comprise 3.7 per cent of the general population.

“There has been a massive change over the last two decades, a positive change,” says Rattan Mall, editor of Voice. “South Asian politicians are becoming highly qualified professionals, meaning that people take them seriously. They’re no longer upstarts and they know what they’re doing.”

According to Mall, there are currently 12 South Asian candidates in B.C. running in this federal election – four for the NDP, three for the Conservative party and five for the Liberal Party.

“South Asians participate in politics, in their home country and in Canada,” says Mall.

In the South Asian community in Canada, the electoral process is diverse in terms of votes. The community is divided based on origin and religion. Some South Asians vote for politicians of South Asian descent because they feel comfortable discussing issues such as immigration with a politician of the same background, but not all of them vote for South Asian politicians.

“The people really look at the candidate’s qualifications,” says Mall.

Mall notes that while in the past the South Asian community tended to favour particular parties at the federal and provincial levels, those leanings are no longer so clear-cut.

“It used to be that the Liberals are their federal party and the NDP their provincial party in BC. But over time, that has changed. Now, no party can take the South Asian community for granted,” says Mall.

Chinese Canadian candidates

In this upcoming election, Jenny Kwan (NDP), Olivia Chow (NDP) and Alice Wong (Conservative) are the major candidates of Chinese descent running at the federal level.

“All three are very strong with support from the middle class, working class as well as the Chinese community,” says Guo Ding, producer of Omni TV.

Ding suggests that the level of political engagement in the community as a whole may be lower than among other visible minorities.

“Also, the voting rate in the community is low compared to other ethnic groups,” he says.

Ding explains that Chinese people focus more on family life and are not interested in politics, but this is changing.

“Compared with their economic status in Canada, their political position does not match. Chinese people understand that their voices need to be heard and that they need to participate and contribute,” he says.

In the community, the support for the contending parties varies.

“The older generation tends to vote for the Conservatives, and the younger generation – the students, vote for the Green Party or the NDP,” Ding says.

Many Chinese Canadians are in favour of the Conservative Party because of the party’s family and traditional values, drug policy and law enforcement, says Ding.

The Liberals also get support for their history of immigration policies. Fewer Chinese Canadians vote for the NDP with an exception of the second or third generation.

“Mainstream Chinese Canadians think that the NDP is not strong on economy, but they support the NDP’s stance on human rights and environment policies,” Ding explains.

Calder’s legacy

According to the 2006 census, only seven Aboriginal MPs represent the almost 1.2 million Aboriginals in Canada. These seven MPs occupy 2.3 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons, while Aboriginals represent 3.8 per cent of the population.

They follow in the footsteps of Frank Arthur Calder. Born in Nass Harbour, B.C., Calder was the first Status Indian to be elected to a legislative assembly in Canada and was also a champion for Aboriginal rights.

A story of the Nisga’a people tells that Calder was destined to move a mountain.

When Calder was a small child, Chief Nagwa’un declared that he would learn the ways of the non-Aboriginal people and be able to move the mountain – an obstacle representing the issue of land claims.

His court case “Calder vs. Attorney General of British Columbia” established that Aboriginal title exists in Canada and was the basis for the Nisga’a Treaty.

He was named Chief of Chiefs, an unprecedented tribute by all four Nisga’a clans. He had moved a mountain that was immovable for decades.

Perry Bellegarde, the chief of Assembly of First Nations (AFN), encourages First Nations to vote.

“Our people that don’t vote are not helping to get these people that make decisions elected,” he said to CBC News on Sept. 2.

He further explained that if First Nations do not vote, the running candidates will not be concerned about their issues.