Federal NDP follows Conservatives’ lead with ethnic outreach efforts

Published: April 16, 2013

Federal NDP

Tom Mulcair and federal NDP passed a motion to recognize Sikh human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khaira during their policy convention over the weekend. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

TOBI COHEN
POSTMEDIA NEWS

OTTAWA — The NDP appears to be taking a page out of the Conservative handbook, reaching out to ethnic communities in a bid to expand its base.

Shortly after New Democrats passed a motion to recognize Sikh human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khaira during their policy convention over the weekend, leader Tom Mulcair was in the crowd glad-handing with South Asian delegates.

After pointing out the presence of many “cultural communities” at the convention, he indicated to reporters that the vote-rich, multicultural 905 region surrounding Toronto would be a key battleground in the next election.

“We’re doing the groundwork, we’re reaching out beyond our traditional base, we’re working with those cultural communities, we’re connecting with people who share our values and we’re going to make sure that they understand that we’re going to be there for them after the election when we form the government,” he said.

It’s no secret that the Conservative election strategy has centred on ethnic outreach with Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney leading the charge. When not in the House of Commons, the minister is meeting with cultural and religious leaders or attending holiday celebrations. Monday night he was to accompany Prime Minister Stephen Harper at an event marking the Sikh celebration of Vaisakhi — a holiday the NDP also celebrated in Montreal over the weekend.

According to Kenney’s office, his efforts helped the Conservatives capture 42 per cent of the ethnic vote in the last election and 24 of 25 suburban Toronto ridings. Meanwhile, members of the British Conservative Party, Republicans and U.S. think-tanks have all sought his advice on courting the ethnic vote.

With ethnically diverse Ontario set to get half the 30 new seats being added to the House of Commons before the next election, it’s no wonder other political parties want in on the action.

In an interview Monday, Kenney welcomed the competition, but cautioned no party should “take for granted” the support of a particular group or treat new Canadians like “passive vote blocks,” somethings he said the Liberals did for many years.

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“Our approach is to suggest that people vote their values. We believe that the values of most new Canadians are demonstrably Conservative values — a tendency toward risk taking, entrepreneurship, an amazingly vibrant work ethic, devotion to family, respect for tradition, intolerance of criminality, typically support for robust, principled democratic foreign policy,” he said.

“If the NDP can convince immigrants that it’s in their interest to vote for higher taxes, reckless spending, big deficits and soft-on-crime policies, I say good luck to them.”

NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims, however, believes Kenney may be in for a rude awakening.

Many ethnic minorities she’s spoken with are disappointed with his moratorium on parent and grandparent immigration, and live-in caregivers are extremely upset with the program aimed at giving permanent residency to those who commit to providing care to seniors and children for a period of time.

She argues many newcomers who came to Canada in the 1970s came as agricultural and mill workers and actually “feel a very close affinity with the NDP.” Meanwhile, South Asians have a “strong affinity” for the party which “stood by them” during the Komagata Maru incident in 1914 that saw a ship carrying Indian Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims turned away.

Martin Singh, a New Democrat who run unsuccessfully for the party leadership and recently become co-chairman of the party’s visible minorities committee, said he believes the Conservatives have actually treated cultural communities as a “monolithic block” and that, despite Kenney’s assertions, there are many progressives among them who believe in NDP values like human rights, justice and equality.

“Our job is to reach out to those people who identify as progressives in all the various ethnic communities and say, you have a home in the New Democratic Party,” he said.

Singh believes the policy resolution on Khaira, who investigated the cases of missing, murdered and disappeared Sikhs in the Punjab and presented his findings to Canadian members of Parliament during a visit before his forced disappearance in 1995, is an example of how the party will “put actions behind the words” when seeking to appeal to a wider audience.

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