Courting the ethnic vote

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has been trying to present the Liberals’ campaign promise to give a $10,000 tax credit to employers of new Canadians as a liability for the Liberals as he works to win votes.

The proposed tax credit is to offset training costs for up to one year for Canadian citizens who are in professions such as architecture, accounting or engineering and have been in the country for five years or less.

The Liberal promise is specifically aimed at providing Canadian experience for foreign-trained professionals who come here because they are invited and encouraged to migrate and are then left to fend for themselves.

There are an estimated 15,000 foreign-trained engineers in Ontario along with some 5,000 who have graduated from Canadian universities, so any attempt to work with the numbers in this profession with regard to generating employment deserves a look.

This promise by Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty is only one attempt to right a long-ignored wrong. For years we have heard the anecdotal stories of doctors and engineers driving taxicabs downtown. It has become a bit of a sad joke that if you need a doctor, call a cab. Until now, no one has been able to really address this issue with any level of discernable success. The way we see it, this proposal, if implemented, will give recently arrived professionals the chance to get the experience they will need to be able to fully contribute to the future of this country. What’s so wrong with that?

Why aren’t McGuinty and his people articulating this more forcefully? Why are some Liberal candidates distancing themselves from it? And why are the leaders of the communities which will eventually benefit not showing more support?

As the recent federal election has shown, the so-called ethnic vote has become a very important constituency for any political party because of the significant numbers it represents. Policies aimed at helping members of those communities can’t hurt in an election. So yes, this promise by McGuinty might be an attempt by the Liberals to attract ethnic voters. But it is also an attempt to right a historical wrong. We need the skills these people bring to Canada, but not to drive taxicabs.

The majority of immigrants to Canada still come from Europe. The statistics prove that fact. Yet the trend has been shifting over the past two decades to increasing immigration from South and East Asia. So when politicians speak now of the ethnic vote, it is a coded reference to the growing Asian and South Asian populations, all people of colour.

It is surprising that the Ontario PCs have not so far made greater overtures to ethnic voters given the success that the federal Conservatives have had with that strategy.

The concentrated efforts of federal immigration minister Jason Kenney to cultivate the ethnic vote has reaped rewards for the federal Conservative Party and helped them in no small way to finally gain the majority government which had eluded them for so long.

While it is both shrew and pragmatic for political parties to court the ethnic vote, those being courted need to ensure that this strategy is beneficial to their communities and not just good photo ops for the politicians. They must make certain there is substance along with the overtures and that their appointed or self-appointed community leaders take with them to the halls of power the true concerns of the communities from which they are drawn.

As Ontario’s and indeed the rest of this country’s new Canadian population grows in number and influence we expect that influence to translate into meaningful policies that will support the growth of these communities. That means providing or increasing services that will enable the newer members of these communities – the more recent immigrants – to become strong contributors to Canada’s economic and cultural fabric as McGuinty seems to want to do.

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