by Shan Qiao (@dmaomao) in Toronto
Toronto showed off its diverse colours by holding its inaugural Newcomer Day at Nathan Phillips Square on Friday. Of the 2.8 million people living in Toronto, half of them were born outside of Canada and hail from 188 countries all over the world. A photo essay by Shan Qiao ...
by Mark A. Cadiz (@markacadiz) in Toronto
Many Canadians boast about their country’s diversity. There is a sense of pride attached to it. Yet, when it comes to the foundation of Canada’s democracy, proportionate representation fails miserably.
From municipal levels straight up the parliamentary halls of Ottawa, the demographic remains largely the same — middle-aged, white males.
A study by macro economist, Kai L. Chan titled “Canada’s governing class: Who rules the country?”, reveals that as of September 2014 there were, “relative to the makeup of the [country’s] population, 107 ‘extra’ white males in Parliament, 64 ‘missing’ white females and 45 ‘missing’ minorities.”
“The numbers are the numbers . . . and the under-representation is relative to the general population,” Chan says. “I am not surprised by the findings, but it was interesting to note that women and minorities are equally under-represented relative to their levels in the population.”
Chan, a government and public policy professional who moved from China to Toronto when he was four years old, conducted the study to highlight the political issues he felt were important to address in the western world.
As he states in his study, since Parliament is the highest policymaking and political governing body, it is also the final decision maker when it comes to issues that affect minorities. He believes those decisions are at a high risk of being uninformed and may not be reflective of the general population.
The country’s political parties will have to do better than just skin colour. They need to attract people with real life experiences and thoughts reflective of the populations they’re supposed to represent. Politicians need to be qualified and be able to push for change, he explains.
In the 2011 National Household Survey more than 200 ethnic origins were reported living in the country revealing that about one out of five people in Canada is a visible minority; in Ontario, it’s one in four.
In Toronto, the country’s largest city, where half the population is foreign born, out of the 45 city councillors that serve the GTA, only six are from visible minority backgrounds. City councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, representing Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale, is one of them.
Wong-Tam, an immigrant and a member of the LGBT community, arrived in Canada when she was four years old. In 2010, with the odds already stacked against her as the only racialized woman at Toronto City Hall, she also became the first ever gay woman elected to public office in Ontario, a few years before Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne took office.
“As a racial minority and as an immigrant woman I come to the table with different experiences,” Wong-Tam says. “I come from a working class family where my parents worked in hotels and factories, and English is not my first language.”
Wong-Tam, with her petite stature, is not in a conventional sense what you might imagine a political leader to be. Yet, she serves the second most populous ward in Toronto, considered to be a major employment zone and tax base. “From the city’s perspective this is where the wealth is created,” she says.
Statistically speaking, Wong-Tam faced tremendous hurdles to win her seat. Based on her minority statuses, she traditionally would be seen as a weak candidate — a person unable to gather a large number of votes. But she’s come out on top, twice, as she was re-elected in the last city election in 2014.
Time to Get On Board
At the time of Chan’s research (September 2014), Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) had the highest number of racialized MPs, while the Liberals and Conservatives trailed behind. As of this year the NDP is still on top with 14 visible minority MPs representing 13.6 per cent of the party’s caucus. The Conservatives have 12 representing 7.2 per cent and the Liberal Party have just two members, representing 5.9 per cent.
In total there are 49 parliamentarians of visible minority background (including First Nations), but since minorities represent 23.3 per cent of the population they should be holding somewhere around 93 seats instead.
Political scientist and Concordia/York University professor Bruce M. Hicks is well versed on the low count of visible minorities in Ottawa. He says no political party has really put diversity onto its radar even though it’s clear they’ve fallen way behind.
“Since we are not doing anything actively to fix it we are probably a generation away from it at least,” Hicks says. “The change will just happen as the younger generation, who is colour blind or gender blind, start to be the elites.”
And it’s getting better, at least for women, Hicks says. On one hand more and more women are starting to hold political positions, but on the other there has only been a slight shift forward for visible minorities. Over the years parties have acknowledged the gender gap and made efforts to improve it, that can’t be said for visible minorities. “No party is going out and recruiting actively, there are no programs in place for them,” Hicks says.
“Historically there is a belief that if you choose someone from an ethnic minority group you risk alienating other ethnic minority groups . . . therefore they (political parties) are hesitant, but it just doesn’t work that way,” he continues.
Deeper Social Issues
After she was first elected as city councillor, Wong-Tam unexpectedly received calls from the LGBT community from across the city and parts of southern Ontario voicing challenges and concerns, essentially looking for her help.
At the same time residents of the Chinese-Canadian community from other parts of Toronto like North York, Etobicoke and Scarborough have also turned to Wong-Tam instead of their local councillor, because they think she will have a better understanding of their issues.
“They (Chinese-Canadian community) specifically want to work with me . . . This is a real condition and a real set of circumstances that I do my job in,” she says. “I don’t believe other councillors are being called from across the city on these issues where residents don’t feel their councillors will understand.”
There are many good councillors, she adds, but she thinks they will have to go above and beyond of what they normally do in order to connect with the minority groups they serve in their wards.
Her experiences as a councillor are warning signs at the municipal level that should be taken seriously as they may be applicable at all levels of government.
Wong-Tam has tried to address some issues informally assigned to her by residents outside her ward, but there is only so much one person can do.
“Actually I think it’s wrong for me to be given this additional work, simply because I happen to be racial minority, an immigrant and a woman of colour,” she said.
In the last census (2011) nearly 6,264,800 people identified themselves as a member of the visible minority population (not including First Nations people). That number has definitely grown since then.
“I think it’s really important that we have members of city council and elected officials reflect the populations they serve,” Wong-Tam adds. “And it’s not possible if the majority of the elected officials don’t look like the people riding public transit.”
Chan agrees, saying it is absolutely paramount that the governing body reflect the diversity of a country, or its legitimacy is threatened.
“How odd would it be for a society in which the majority population is from one group while the ruling class is from another?” Chan asks. “This is what transpires in colonialism and certain dictatorships. If a democracy yields such anomalies, I suspect that it’s a reflection of deeper social issues.”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
by Rachelle Cruz (@rachellecruz_) in Toronto
If Friday’s state visit of Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III was any indication of the Harper government’s political orchestration in obtaining votes from the Filipino-Canadian community, then it’s safe to say that winning over Filipinos in the upcoming federal elections won’t be an easy feat.
Kababayans (Filipino word for countrymen) across the Greater Toronto Area flocked to Roy Thomson Hall to show their support and excitement to meet the Filipino leader. Some men donned the traditional barong, and some women were dressed in Filipiniana iconic butterfly-sleeved gowns. It was the first visit of Aquino and the first by a Filipino president since 2002 with the visit of then president Gloria Arroyo.
But in the periphery, there was also a group of other Filipino organizations that rallied outside. Jesson Reyes, a spokesperson from Migrante Canada said that they are ultimately calling for Aquino’s resignation because of his dismal record in protecting Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) like Mary Jane Veloso and failing to address the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances rampant in the country, among other issues.
Though the three-day state visit of Aquino was clearly divisive, it was still a rare occasion to celebrate and witness. He arrived in Toronto, home to Canada’s largest Filipino community, on the second of his three-day visit.
Philippines-born Senator Tobias Enverga Jr. (pictured to the right) was the evening’s emcee; he introduced Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the stage, shortly followed by President Aquino. Both leaders received standing ovations, applause and cheers from the crowd, as waves of small Philippine flags broke out from the audience.
“I’m excited to hear his speech,” Art Viola, the nostalgic former Lord Mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake expressed. “When his mother came to visit Toronto, I was also invited. A couple of people from Niagara Falls attended the dinner. So it was double excitement. I was really surprised to see him here; I just got the invitation last night. It was very informative and positive.”
An electric mix of excitement, nationalism, pride and unity hung in the air, as both leaders took to the expansive stage that was adorned with Canadian and Philippine flags.
As the two national anthems were sung one after the other, Filipino-Canadians experienced that feeling of duality – of loving both their motherland and now their adopted country Canada.
Other dignitaries and officials were present; Harper was backed up by some of his Cabinet officials including Finance Minister Joe Oliver, and barong-clad Defence Minister Jason Kenney. Toronto Mayor, John Tory, was also in attendance.
Positives in Bilateral Relationship
In his speech, President Aquino respectfully told the Prime Minister that in this rare occasion to meet with fellow Filipinos, he’d like to deliver his remarks in Tagalog, to which Harper then intermittently put headphones into his ears for translation.
President Aquino humbly boasted about the reforms and progress made under his administration, from infrastructure/road projects, boom in coconut water exports, updates on procuring second-hand fighter jets, and his steady fight against corruption. Mostly, his remarks highlighted economic growth in the country.
“Bigyan mo lang nang isang pagkakataon, ay talagang magpapakitang gilas ang Pilipino,” Aquino said, which translates to, “Just give him one chance, and the Filipino will surely show his prowess.”
He continued stating that what the Philippines had accomplished economically was “no joke”. “Let’s peek at the economy, formerly Sick Man of Asia, now tagged Darling of Asia. We achieved the all-time high foreign direct investments of $6.2 billion in 2014. From 2010 to 2014, we had an average GDP growth of 6.3 per cent,” he noted, garnering applause from the audience.
The President added that this year’s target would be seven to eight per cent GDP growth.
“This is a very significant visit here, one of the largest Filipino populations is here in Canada,” said Julius Tiangson, officially nominated Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) candidate for Mississauga Centre riding.
“It’s a good report and it’s wonderful that a Philippine leader can actually come and visit Filipinos who are overseas and give some good, positive report in what’s happening in our country. It is wonderful that the people-to-people relationship is already there. Now we can mutually develop the trade relationship.”
The visit is not only a reciprocal gesture from Harper’s official trip to the Philippines back in November 2012. This time around, the two countries engaged in discussions over free trade agreements, regional and global security challenges, and Canada’s foreign aid, in a move to further strengthen bilateral ties.
“We are starting negotiations on a FIPA (Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement) and we are going to start on a preliminary basis having a free-trade agreement,” said Finance Minister Oliver. “We already have a FIPA, we need to modernize it. We just want to broaden trade in all areas.”
Important Issues Overlooked
It wasn’t all pride and glory though. While those present could appreciate the moment, some were critical.
“You know what, if it walks like a duck, it talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” immigration lawyer and advocate for the live-in caregivers program, Rafael Fabregas, commented. “There were definitely elements of a political rally, but the people who are sitting around me, who didn’t know who I am and what my background is, they were cognizant of that, they picked up on it.”
Fabregas said he heard comments like, ‘Ano ba to? (What is this?) Rally ba ito or speech ni PNoy? (Is this a rally or speech of PNoy (Aquino)?)’ from audience members. “Filipinos are smart, they’re intelligent people, we know what the story is, it’s going to be difficult to pull a fast one over us,” he added.
Still, he had some positive observations.
“I think it was a very engaging speech, a lot of information,” Fabregas added. “I was looking forward to hear more about what’s going on in the Philippines. It was nice to hear him acknowledge the contributions made by the Filipino-Canadians, through the betterment of our country. At yun naman yung talaga ang gusto natin right? (Isn’t that what we want?) We always want to give back to our motherland.”
Others showed some disappointment.
The more contentious issues, like the plight of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW), were left out, or simply contained. Reports have stated that Aquino and Harper made a deal on the TFW program, but details of that have not been released.
A member of the Ladies of the Knights of Rizal voiced out, “I was a bit disappointed because I thought that he came here for that purpose. You know to bail out our TFWs from going home and applying again in four years, which is unnecessary. And most of the jobs of TFWs, the Canadians don’t even want to take it. That’s why they were hired in the first place, from the Philippines. They don’t want to do the jobs that the Filipinos are willing to do,” she said.
When The Philippine Reporter broached the subject with Minister Kenney, and asked if the TFW subject was raised between the two leaders, he replied: “It was only raised briefly, and I think both Prime Minister and President Aquino agreed that we want to protect the rights of contract workers, of temporary foreign workers.”
“Of course, we Canadians have to ensure that Canadians, immigrants, and citizens, have the first available access to available jobs,” he continued. “We don’t want to end up with permanent people who are on temporary status, which is why we have increased pathways to permanent residency and citizenship for TFWs and also put in a limit to how long those who don’t get permanent residency stay in Canada.”
When further pressed about the negative implications for migrant workers in relation to the Four-in/Four-Out rule that took effect early this year, he said: “The number of Filipinos [immigrating] to Canada with permanent residency has doubled since our government came to office. It has increased by over 100 per cent. It has gone from annual average of about 16,000 Filipino permanent residents' immigration to Canada prior to 2006 to about 28,000 on average now."
He continued: "So that’s largely because of the huge increase in the number of temporary foreign workers who can now access permanent residency through the Canadian experience class and, of course, the expanded live-in caregiver program, as well as the new Express Entry program. Obviously we are much more generous than before, but there are obviously going to be limits and anyone who comes here on a work permit knows full well that there’s no guarantee they’ll get permanent residency. So there’s got to be a balance.”
Filipinos are Philippines Greatest Resource
Yet like it or not, Filipinos are creating a niche for themselves beyond the common stereotype as caregivers or health-care professionals. There’s a surge in the community where Filipinos are now working to serve as political leaders, entrepreneurs, creative designers, activists, journalists and so forth.
Harper eloquently greeted the masses with “Bonsoir, Good evening, Magandang Gabi,” but it was his remarks later on that were foretelling: “Ladies and gentlemen, I think the President Aquino put it well when he said, and I quote, ‘The Philippines is blessed with the greatest resource. It’s people, who are hardworking, very loyal, and very adaptable . . .’ and I would add, love for family and commitment to faith. Filipino-Canadians have become an integral part of every single aspect of Canadians today,” he said.
And he’s right. Kababayans are no longer just sitting there waiting on the sidelines.
Published in partnership with The Philippine Reporter.
Our headlines this week: president of the Phillipines to visit Canada + debunking the 'ethnic vote' myth + a black chief of police for Toronto + Canada sends delegations to Armenia and Turkey + discussing race in the classroom + honouring Charlie Hebdo + 'root causes' of terrorism + much more
“Baltimore is burning. Surprised? Nah. (See Baltimore Riots of 1968),” author Dalton Higgins posted on Facebook this week.
“For those who have never actually been in a riot scene, it must be really hard to understand. Having walked down Toronto’s Yonge Street in 1992 as a young man; of shootings of Black men by Toronto Police,” Higgins wrote.
The Associated Press reported that “rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos Monday, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at police hours after thousands mourned the man (Freddie Gray) who died from a severe injury he suffered in police custody.”
The Caribbean Camera
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit