How “Majority” Riding Influences the Election Conversation in Canada
When Ally Wong recently launched her website, CCGTV.org or (Chinese-Canadians Go To Vote), her intention was to engage Chinese-speaking voters in her constituency of Richmond Center.
The Municipality of British Columbia is recognized as perhaps the quintessential “majority minority” Canadian city, with nearly three in four Richmond residents speaking a language other than English or French at home.
This cultural diversity is why the bedroom suburb is today the Asian food capital of North America, but it also appears to have helped make Richmond the most politically apathetic city in the country. In the 2019 federal election, Wong’s constituency of Richmond Center had the lowest voter turnout of any constituency in Canada.
Wong is trying to do something about this state of affairs. Its site provides voters in Richmond with information in Chinese on how to register to vote, as well as details of each major party’s platform on issues such as immigration, taxes and housing – from topics of general concern to all Canadian immigrants.
But as she engages with voters, Wong also uncovered another layer of more community-specific hot topics that are not on the national radar, such as the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, heightened tensions between China and Canada and how the Chinese community is portrayed in the English media.
“The Chinese community is very concerned about the safety of our elders. People think more action is needed from our politicians, ”she said, referring to the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic.
“How the Chinese community is portrayed in the media (English) is also important, stories need to be more careful not to cause harm. “
These community-specific issues are often invisible to non-immigrant Canadians. These are certainly not the broad, newsworthy topics like housing affordability, climate change and reconciliation that you would think could – or should – tip a federal election. But they can prove to be as impactful as any of the spending promises made in this election which seems more defined by general opposition to it than any burning political issue.
Of Canada’s 338 federal ridings, 41 now have majority populations among visible minorities. While there is some evidence that South Asian and Filipino voters tend to lean to the left and Chinese voters to the right, partisan allegiances can be thin with 400,000 new immigrants arriving each year, all without any deep connection to a particular party. And given the neck-and-neck polls of this current race, the difference between a minority and majority government can come down to how the candidates (as well as their parties) in these key “immigrant ridings” position themselves – Or take a stand – on what otherwise may seem distant, such as the Kashmir issue, the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong or agricultural deregulation in India.
In Surrey — Newton, a constituency where about 60 percent of voters are of South Asian descent, the “country of origin” issue of concern to voters is the grim future of Indian farmers. In September last year, the Indian government hastily passed a series of farm laws against which Indian farmers, not consulted, have since protested vigorously despite brutal police crackdowns.
The Indian government argues that the bills are necessary for economic reform. Farmers – the majority of whom are family businesses with small farms – say the bills will eject them from their ancestral rural lands.
Over the past nine months, South Asian Canadians from across the country have organized numerous rallies and demonstrations to support their families and brothers at home. In the constituency of Surrey — Newton, its current MP, Sukh Dhaliwal, tweeted in November last year that he was “very disturbed by the treatment of farmers in the Punjab in India” and that he stood “at the sides of #PunjabFarmers ”.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government also released a statement last fall, supporting the rights of Indian farmers to protest. He was strongly reprimanded by the Indian government.
Gurmant Grewal, a former Tory MP who represented the Surrey constituency of Fleetwood-Port Kells from 2004 to 2015, believes India’s heavy-handed agricultural reforms could be a critical issue in those South Asian constituencies.
“Here in Surrey, you see candidates prioritizing Canada-China tensions and the Indian farmer crisis,” Grewal said in an interview with New Canadian Media, a Canadian outlet that focuses on coverage of immigrants.
Even the Bloc Québécois, which has traditionally focused its energies on the francophone base of Quebec, has attempted this electoral cycle to reach out to immigrants. The party recently issued a statement condemning human rights abuses in Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan.
In 2019, the Indian government repealed the state’s constitution and placed control of the region under central authority. Speaking on behalf of Kashmiris resonates with Muslim voters in Quebec.
Immigration patterns have continued to reshape Canada’s demographics and the cultural mix in political constituencies across the country. In each election, the diversity of representation in the House of Commons has kept pace with the overall proportion of immigrants to Canada. The total number of visible minority Members elected increased from 47 in 2015 (14%) to 51 in 2019 (15.1%).
But there is also a greater diversity that is surfacing in the issues voters ponder, including topics that otherwise would not be played out in a federal election but which are now because they are relevant to voters. voters living in 12 percent of majority minority ridings in Canada. In recent years, we’ve seen how an American election can boil down to the concerns of voters in a handful of counties in Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Florida. We may see in a few days how a functional majority in Canada comes down to winning over Chinese or Sikh voters in places like Richmond Center and Surrey — Newton by addressing issues only visible in their communities.