It is usual for different Chinese organizations to gather candidates from the community and hear them out in places like shopping malls at election time. They also invite candidates, regardless of ethnicity, to speak at community events in ridings with large Chinese populations.
Last week, the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations (CTCCO) held a media event at its head office in Scarborough, Ont. to present candidates of Chinese heritage contesting for the federal elections from ridings in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
The invited politicians were Liberal incumbent Arnold Chan (Scarborough-Agincourt) and candidates Shaun Chen (Scarborough-North), Bang-Gu Jiang (Markham-Unionville) and Geng Tan (Don Valley North); Conservative incumbent Chungsen Leung (Willowdale) and candidate Bin Chang (Scarborough-Agincourt); NDP candidate Olivia Chow (Spadina-Fort York); and the Green’s Elvin Kao (Markham-Unionville).
“I think it’s particularly important that we celebrate the fact that we have so many Chinese Canadian candidates who are running for all political parties across the political spectrum,” said Arnold Chan at the event. “I think it’s a reflection of maturity of our community that we can have such a diversity of candidates.”
Criticisms from within community
But the lack of ethnic diversity among those invited had its share of critics in the Chinese community. They contend that asking ethnic Chinese to vote for their own people is different from merely ‘getting out their vote’.
“Not including candidates from other races is somehow dangerous. It makes mainstream and other cultural communities trust these [Chinese] candidates less.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to other opponents who were not Chinese and excluded from the event,” said Jane Ng, an independent political commentator. “Not including candidates from other races is somehow dangerous. It makes mainstream and other cultural communities trust these [Chinese] candidates less.”
“I used to think such promotions helped Chinese voters. But what I see now is unfairness and irrationality,” said Tony Ku, former Editor-in-Chief of Singtao Daily, the largest Chinese newspaper in North America. “I also doubt the intention of a particular community organization behind such an event if it’s not to promote itself or a particular political ideology.”
Pointing out the CTCCO media event as an example, Ku said the organization claimed it represented the Chinese community’s sentiment when it publicly denounced Globe and Mail’s story on Ontario minister Michael Chan this summer.
“I can’t agree with their position and I don’t think they can represent me. They can only represent their members,” Ku argues.
Chengyi Wei, CTCCO’s president, said his organization is not affiliated with any party and “neither am I a supporter of any. However, I’m very happy to see Chinese candidates running for office and working for our country.”
The four Liberal candidates at the media event demonstrated the increasing clout of the Chinese Canadian community in the suburbs around Toronto.
“I came to Canada in 1998 from China as a visa student. I am as same as all of you around,” candidate Tan Geng told the audience. “I have experienced what you’ve experienced and that’s why I can understand your issues.”
Tan, a scientist and rising star in the Liberal party, has publicly criticized the Globe and Mail’s story on Michael Chan, saying the newspaper chose to publish it before the federal election to discourage Mandarin-speaking immigrants from taking part in Canadian politics.
“We need to have Chinese Canadians come out to vote. We need better participation in the political arena.”
Bang-Gu Jiang, another candidate who also emigrated from the Mainland, said her party’s principles of “fairness, inclusiveness, respect and diversity are Canadian values.”
Jiang said, “If I can work for you, I want to make our society fairer. I want you to have a better future no matter what your background was before you immigrated to Canada.”
Shaun Chen, who has served as a school trustee since 2006 and was elected as Toronto District School Board chair in 2014, said he hopes events like the one organized by CTCCO would result in better engagement within the community.
“We need to have Chinese Canadians come out to vote. We need better participation in the political arena,” Chen said.
The Conservatives at the event highlighted their government’s achievements in improving relations with China. Chungsen Leung, who was unable to attend, said in a pre-recorded video: “Our government highly values China-Canada relations. I hope it will raise to a new level in the future.”
Bin Chang, an immigrant from the Mainland and an university professor, also promoted the government’s fiscal discipline, stressing it has held the tax rates low since being elected in 2006.
[A B.C.-based] association said that although more and more Chinese Canadians are taking part in the political process, their total number in Parliament is still quite low compared to their population.
Olivia Chow, who quit her federal seat to fight the 2014 Toronto mayoral election, had the highest profile of any politician at the CTCCO event.
“Our health-care system is very precious,” said Chow, the lone NDP representative there. “Rich or poor, no matter how urgent is your sickness, you will benefit from our free health-care system.”
The other lone party representative at the event was the Green Party of Canada’s Elvin Kao. A university graduate, he has been involved with the Markham Greens since 2011.
Getting more Chinese Canadians involved
The outgoing House of Commons had eight MPs of Chinese heritage, including Chow. Half of them were Conservatives. The other half was equally split between the NDP and Liberals.
In terms of Chinese candidates in the 2015 election, there are 22 so far, with the Conservatives fielding nine, Liberals seven, and NDP and Greens three each. In 2011 there were 23 and in 2008 election 18.
The CTCCO is not alone in promoting politicians of Chinese ethnicity.
The Richmond, B.C., based Canada China Chamber of Industry and Commerce Association (CCCICA) has been pro-active in getting out ethnic Chinese votes.
In a recent press release, the association said that although more and more Chinese Canadians are taking part in the political process, their total number in Parliament is still quite low compared to their population.
In last year’s B.C. provincial elections, CCCICA’s mobilization efforts included organizing a volunteer fleet of 60 vehicles to help Chinese Canadians cast their votes.
Additional reporting by Ranjit Bhaskar
Shan is a photojournalist and event photographer based in Toronto with more than a decade of experience. From Beijing Olympic Games to The Dalai Lama in Exile, she has covered a wide range of editorial assignments.