Courting the ethnic vote

An invitation to “ethnic” Canadians from the Conservative Party to a photo op and suggesting they show up in “ethnic costumes” has signaled that this party believes its hoped-for majority lies with the support of so-called ethnic voters in the federal elections on May 2.

Long before this election campaign, the Conservatives, who have not traditionally been seen as the party of choice for most new Canadians of identifiable ethnicity, have been working hard to change that image. Jason Kenney, the Harper government’s immigration minister, has made it his personal mission to cultivate connections with this country’s immigrant and ethnic communities – mainly Asians and South Asians – in anticipation of just such a day.

But, are campaigning politicians paying enough attention to crucial issues such as poverty, access to jobs and better funding for support groups in urban centres that assist mostly ethnic minorities and immigrants? While Kenney is courting ethnic groups, his government has significantly cut funding to immigrant settlement organizations, especially in Toronto where support for the Conservatives is seen to be weak.

And what about ethnic workers, more specifically visible minority and immigrant workers, who earn 20 to 40 per cent less than the mainstream White Canadian working population? Or the issue of family reunification compared to the increasing numbers of temporary worker visas issued?

The focus of the Liberals on health care and their assurance that it will remain universal matters to all of us. So are their promises to help families, especially poor families, and students.

The Harper government has maintained a firm hand on the economy and government’s control of the banking system and tax cuts, especially for business, have helped to make our economy one of the best among the G8 countries. But we do carry a huge debt load, thanks in large part to the recent economic downturn. (It could be argued, though, that were it not for the strong leadership of former Liberal finance minister/prime minister, Paul Martin, who left the books in very good shape when the Conservatives took power, things could have been much, much worse.)

But Harper is notoriously controlling and very guarded and his campaign has been marked by it. He allows few questions from the media at rallies, and there were puzzling incidents where people interested in hearing his campaign message were barred from entering his rallies because they were thought to be supporters of other parties. This strikes us as counterintuitive in an election campaign where a politician seeking votes would logically try to appeal to as many people as possible, especially those who are not already on side.

Another concern is that, as with what ultimately led to the defeat of the last Liberal government, the current Conservatives appear lax on integrity. The question of that $50-million having been spent in Industry Minister Tony Clement’s Muskoka riding (which Clement just barely won in the last election) to gentrify places that had nothing to do with hosting G20 leaders during last summer’s summit is but one example.

Members of our community must be interested in how elected politicians and those who seek our support at election time respond to our concerns once they are elected. The focus for us must be on how their promises and policies will directly affect our community. We must weigh these things carefully before casting our votes.

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