Minister Teresa Wat on Multiculturalism

Photo courtesy of the Province of BC

Photo courtesy of the Province of BC

In an interview for The Source, Teresa Wat, Minister for International Trade and the Minister Responsible for the Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism, talks about multiculturalism in Canada based on her personal experience.

Wat believes that communication between groups is essential in promoting multiculturalism.

“We should take advantage of the leverage of diverse communities as essential to promote the economy,” she says.

Wat left journalism to engage in politics, motivated by what she believes would be the wish of her late husband. The two both studied journalism together in Hong Kong.

“My husband would always say, ‘You do not do just one thing in life.’ One has to have a colourful life and give back to the community.”

Through the geographic lens

Wat says Canada was the first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy in 1971.

“The whole country embraces multiculturalism,” says Wat. “Vancouver and Toronto stick out because we both are diverse communities, but we are different in terms of ethnicity. Vancouver is located on the Pacific Rim, so more Asian countries intend to come to Vancouver. I can give you some figures: 17.4 per cent from China, 12.2 from India, and then the Philippines, Korea and Malaysia.”

Promoting international trade

Minister Teresa Wat. | Photo by Marissa Chan-Kent

Minister Teresa Wat. | Photo by Marissa Chan-Kent

Wat still has professional, political and family ties with Hong Kong where she grew up, and feels she can use them to promote international trade.

“For a local Canadian, it’s difficult to promote exporting to Asia, because they do not speak the languages; they do not know how the system works; but if a Chinese and local Canadian work together, I can help them because I know how to do business in Asia,” says Wat.

Wat has been organizing various round tables with Chinese, Punjabi, Korean, Japanese and Filipino communities in order to promote Canadian exportingto Asia.

“This is how I see multiculturalism: it is not that we are not continuing to celebrate multiculturalism through festivals or programs to eliminate racism… but we want to leverage the multicultural community to promote the economy,” says Wat.

Cultural understanding – a must

Wat believes cross-cultural understanding is improving. When she first came to Canada, although she had a MA in Communications from the University of Hawaii and was fully bilingual, she could not get any responses to her job inquiries- even for jobs requiring little to no qualifications or experience.

Wat feels these situations have improved now, with more people from all over the world working for the provincial government. She says that several years ago, it may not have been probable for a politician such as herself to be appointed as a cabinet minister.

Wat says it is important for the people of a multicultural society to understand each other’s cultures, the environments they grew up in and those accepted cultural norms. She believes that discrimination arises from ignorance, so interaction between groups and knowing one another culturally is a must.