Thursday, December 25, 2008

Conservatives "Out of... Comfort Zone" Dealing With Minorities

Just paging through the acres of Conservative tripe about how they think they are "massaging" visible (and "invisible") minorities, when I "re-discovered" this little gem:

"The “outreach team” used a Canadian Heritage government computer to create the initial version of a document that was provided at the political training conference in March. A spokesman for Mr. Kenney explained that the final version, including Conservative logos, was modified on another outside computer.

In another presentation, Conservative community relations manager Georganne Burke told Conservatives that outreach calls on them to work beyond their traditional base, even if it means “to look outside your normal comfort zone.”

Concretely, Ms. Burke urged Conservative candidates and organizers to break down each riding's ethnic and religious composition, and directly target potential voters.

She said that Conservatives should use all available opportunities to “build the database” of ethnic voters, by renting or buying lists of names from third parties and by attending events where they can gather business cards and guest lists."

Wow.  Just... wow...

You know, Conservatives talk about how they are working to be "the party for new Canadians".  They couldn't be more wrong.  They are certainly working certain angles, but they forget the big picture.  

What angles?  

They firstly feel they can court "economically concerned" new Canadians...  Most new Canadians who are "monied" (after years of struggling against the conservative "old boys networks", and "glass ceilings") have a pretty good understanding of who the best fiscal managers in Canada are.  Errr... that would be Liberals (if you haven't figured that out in the last couple of hundred years).  What the Conservatives DO manage with this "angle" is to attract SOME 2nd generation children of visible minorities, who are all too distant from the struggles of their parents against the same conservative mindset (which held them back, forced them to drive cabs when they had 5-star qualifications, etc.).  These 2nd and 3rd gens often are involved in business, and think they have "arrived".  For the Conservatives there is no better window dressing, than a Tim Uppal type, or a Rahim Jaffer.  Eluded by the myth of Conservative fiscal responsibility, these monied (often less educated than their parents), children of new Canadians get sucked into the same fallacy the media has.

Another "angle" is the religious equation.  Being rather extreme in their religious views, this current brand of Conservatives feel they can appeal to anyone who is remotely religious.  They seek to divide Canadians along these lines.  It's all or none - you're either religious, or you're not.  The Conservatives seek religious "wedge issues", then attend a minority religious event and focus on that issue.  They feel they can focus on the one issue and be successful.  It works on SOME - but for those who are more adept at looking at the big picture, or who have been informed by the other sides about other issues, it doesn't work.

Lip service to immigration issues is another Conservative strategy.  They talk about increasing immigration, then they reduce the numbers of past Liberal governments (as percentage of population).  They try to reduce refugees.  They kill family reunification in favor of "skilled workers" from pretty much one distinct region (Europe - no "visible" minorities there).  These workers will be summarily dismissed back to their home countries when they are no longer needed in the Alberta oil patch (it is already happening - I hear often from Immigration attorneys on this matter).  Conservatives have not addressed the issue of "foreign trained professionals", even though they made many promises.  They symbolically removed a portion of the "new head tax", yet this was quite rightly a by-product of their "slash and burn" taxation policies, rather than any great feeling for immigrants (remember it is out of their "comfort zone").  The monies the Conservatives have killed off in the taxation area has led to cuts in funding to "arts and culture" - two areas that impacted new Canadians in a huge way.

Conservatives - in their "lip service" to immigration, have shown, time and again, that they are really more about taking power than anything else.  In this shameless power grab visible minorities are nothing more than pawns.  Cattle to be driven into nomination meetings, and pulled on election day to support "their" Candidates.

Speaking of "their" (visible minority) candidates, it is interesting to trace the past lives of many of these opportunists and "flakes".  I recall reading a very good book by Harriet Beecher Stow, which aptly described many of these candidates.  Several (of the very few) backbenched visible minority MPs sitting on the Conservative side of the aisle were former Liberals who lost "popularity contests" within their communities, then flooded Conservative nomination meetings (back in the Reform days) to get to Ottawa.  They are never given anything more than a "Parliamentary Secretary" role (if even that).

How does this work?  Why would people who have very little in common with the raging masses of the conservative movement end up on that side of the aisle?  To understand this, you need to understand how recent immigrant politics often works (how "any party will do"), and how politics works in most of the rest of the world (in particular, in Asia, Southern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South America).  

Being of South Asian extraction I can best illustrate how things work in this community.  Politics in "the old country" is usually led by community "power brokers".  The brokers are community leaders (often self-proclaimed), who hold some position of respect.  Often they are local "strong-men" (and it's almost always men) who have led the community on some count.  The power brokers are often corrupt and willing to go the "the highest bidder".  An "informed" electorate is the last thing on their wish-list. 

When the politics of the old country moves over here, the situation is created that is "ripe" for the picking for enterprising party reps from the "New World" political parties.  This is more true today than yesteryear.  Today, large numbers of less-educated, more "old-country" immigrants tend to agglomerate in certain centers.  They often don't venture into the community at large (while the early settlers in the 60s, 70s, and earlier, had to).

Traditionally, in the "old days" of the 60s and 70s, visible minority communities were small.  People of South Asian descent did not live in any great concentrations in any areas.  When they got involved in politics it was over principle.  It was over what appealed to them.  This was the heyday of the Trudeau and Pearson governments.  Governments which opened the doors, so to speak, to visible minority immigration to Canada.  These hard-working new immigrants in the 60s and 70s not only cherished the "gift" of immigration the Liberal PMs had given them, but their politics also "fit":  Fiscally responsible governments supporting the "little guy", while also upholding the "charter rights" of the new Canadians.  The approach to human rights AND fiscal responsibility - the centrist Liberal way - appealed to all new Canadians, and fit their lifestyle best.

In the last 10 to 15 years, we've seen the "brokered" politics return to the South Asian world.  It isn't a whole group associating to a party "ad hoc".  Rather, community "leaders" (often self-proscribed) reach out to family members, and networks of relations, and bring them to a candidate.  The candidates themselves have changed.  Community divisions are accentuated by the "new parties" trying to establish a foothold.  Communities are split along these divisions.  Candidates who lost nominations for the Liberal Party or NDP often slide over to the Conservative side.  They know that they are only going to represent (mostly) the issues of their own community (mostly immigration related), so ideology doesn't matter to them.  It has become a question of the role of MP for the people (a very specific group), more directly, and very little to do with party ideology.  This is how you get MPs like Deepak Obhroi (sp?) and Gurmant Grewal.  These opportunists sought nominations with the Liberal Party.  When they could not run for that party, they overwhelmed Reform nomination meetings and won those "tickets".  It was all about being an MP (at any cost) for these folks, and they succeeded.  It matters naught to them that they spend their days languishing on the back benches - never allowed to bring their views forward.  They know they can sit in their offices and send off "letters of inquiry" to the immigration department for their grateful, newly arrived supporters.

While the sad fact of recent immigrant politics has helped the Conservatives somewhat, there are few minorities who can benefit from the continued erosion of minority rights, the destruction of government, the attack on equality, the breaking down of our multicultural identity (the Conservative Party's policy is distinctly aligned AGAINST official multiculturalism), and the general way conservatives "defend the good old days" (meaning 19th Century Canada).

The net result is a Conservative policy of attempting to win over new Canadians, while offering little in the way of policy effecting them positively.  When Conservatives come out and admit publicly that new Canadians put them out of their "comfort zone", you know that their policy is full of holes, and ready to be taken down by a concerted Liberal or NDP attempt.

In the next few months, and years, the new Liberal Party must make our multicultural policy a key in our work with and for new Canadian communities.  Educating the communities about how our ideology - our policies - benefit them will continue to build on the tradition of the Trudeau Liberals.  We don't patronize new Canadians, and we have never had to.  Now is not the time to try to mimic the Conservatives in doing so.  The last thing a proud people need is someone coming to them in a patronizing and demeaning way.  Sure, the Conservatives will still get some community leaders on their side - who will surely bring some unaware new Canadians with them (perhaps the same people who will end up voting at a Liberal nomination meeting weeks later), but our party will continue to take the high road we always have.

Happy Festivus!

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Anonymous said...
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WesternGrit said...

A lot of thoughtfulness goes into these posts. I would welcome an equally thoughtful response. Typical anonymous Conservative name-calling will not be accepted. A well-thought out and well-backed argument will be welcome.

We're here for debate and thoughtful comment - not blind name-calling and insults. Take your insults somewhere else "Anonymous".