Courting ethnic vote fraught with pitfalls, but parties still do it

By Sherry Noik
Yahoo Canada Politics | August 18, 2015

In a multicultural country like Canada, the word minority can sometimes be a misnomer — particularly when minorities make up the majority in 33 of the 338 federal ridings up for grabs in the Oct. 19 election.

According to the government’s 2011 census figures, visible minorities account for 19.1 per cent of Canada’s total population; more than two-thirds of them (65.1 per cent) were born elsewhere and emigrated here.

In that same census, more than 200 different ethnic origins were reported, and 13 of them had surpassed the one million mark.

Wooing the so-called ethnic vote can be fraught with pitfalls, but parties ignore it at their peril.

There are 15 electoral districts where the population is 70 per cent visible minorities, and another 18 ridings with 50-70 per cent visible minorities, according to data from research firm Environics.

For obvious reasons, immigration policies are of particular interest to foreign-born and minority Canadians, and the Liberals have, over the past couple of decades, lost their lock on these groups.

“They were the party of immigration, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was important to many groups who were concerned about their rights in a new country,” says University of Carleton professor and political commentator Paul Adams.

But the collapse of the party over the past couple of decades left its constituency ripe for the picking by the other two main parties, who swooped right in.

The Conservatives made the biggest inroads by maintaining high levels of immigration, gradually chipping away at the anti-immigration image that was a remnant of the now-defunct Reform Party.

. . .

But the NDP also made significant gains — mainly among the groups the Conservatives chose not to court, like West Indian/Caribbean Canadians, and Arab and Muslim Canadians.

The latter group in particular clashes with some of the current Conservative government’s more controversial policies.

“Canadian Muslims are extremely concerned with the political rhetoric that has emerged in recent months,” says Amira Elghawaby, of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “The terminologies around security and terrorism used by the federal government have cast a pall of suspicion over the diverse communities of this country.”

The government’s “divisive language” conflates religion with terrorism, she says, as does Bill C-51, the contentious anti-terror legislation that passed into law this spring.

The NDP opposed the bill and have vowed to repeal it if elected, while the Liberal Party supported it but promised to make amendments to the law.

“Canadian Muslims often bear the brunt of national security investigations, and often pay a higher price than fellow Canadians,” Elghawaby said in an interview with Yahoo Canada News. “This is troubling for Canadian Muslims because while many Canadian Muslims want to be partners in finding ways to effectively challenge this issue of extremist violence, they are being treated as the problem.”

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