Fraser Valley community leaders ‘saddened’ by B.C. Liberals’ ‘ethnicgate’ scandal

Published: March 8, 2013

ROCHELLE BAKER
ABBOTSFORD TIMES

Satwinder Bains

Satwinder Bains, director of the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, said the document and the narrow view it presents about cultural communities was distressing. Submitted photo

A controversial draft strategy detailing how the B.C. Liberals might court the ethnic vote in the run-up to May’s provincial election has angered members of Abbotsford’s
South
Asian
community.

Satwinder Bains, director of the Centre for Indo-
Canadian
Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, said the document and the narrow view it presents about cultural communities was distressing.

“Employing one-issue topics [for votes] just minimizes who I am as a participating Canadian citizen,” said Bains.

“Canadian society says immigrants can fully participate, yet when we do that, we are still labelled as ‘ethnic groups,’ and seen as an enclave that needs a specific tactic. I think that’s very sad.”

The New Democrats leaked the Liberals’ ethnic vote outreach plan last Thursday.

The 2012 document suggests officials from the premier’s office, the multicultural ministry and the Liberal caucus planned to use taxpayer resources to glean voters from visible minority groups and better their chances in key ridings.

The plan also suggested the government offer apologies around historical wrongs as a means to gain “quick wins” for the Liberals.

Bains said that immigrant communities are extremely diverse and can’t be pandered to with simple schemes.

“They are employing low-grade tactics,” she said.

Like any demographic group – such as women, youth and seniors – immigrants have certain political concerns, she said.

But politicians need to work long term to build real foundations to understand the issues important to those communities.

“Haven’t we evolved as a mature society to deeply engage with one another?” asked Bains.

Premier Christy Clark offered several apologies for the document, which has prompted resignations from former deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad and Multiculturalism Minister John Yap.

Deputy minister John Dyble is now conducting a review of the strategy, and once it is finished, Clark has promised to take further action if necessary.

Jati Sidhu, president of the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association, said he was disappointed by the document.

A long-time Liberal supporter, he said allegations taxpayer resources were being used for the plan should be investigated vigorously.

“Using taxpayers’ money to please a group when there’s no substance to it and at election time . . . it’s not acceptable for any party,” said Sidhu, adding the controversy will hurt the Liberals within the South Asian community.

Despite the alleged outreach plan, Sidhu said all MLAs in Abbotsford have done legitimate work to develop real and lasting relationships with the South Asian community and other cultural groups.

Minister of Finance and Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong said Wednesday he was equally “disappointed” with the offending document.

“The document contains language that is inappropriate, and in certain instances recommends activities that would clearly cross the line about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour within the [premier’s] office,” said de Jong.

Abbotsford Coun. Moe Gill, a former Liberal supporter now running as an independent in Abbotsford West, said the outreach documents are offensive.

“It’s outrageous, this is not how you run a campaign or deal with any group regardless of their ethnicity.”

Political candidates need to spend time in a constituency and develop a platform that has wide appeal to everyone, said Gill.

“We are Canadian and have the right to vote for who we wish to,” he said.

“Let individuals campaign in a riding and draw the vote from all the voters in that riding.”

To read more, visit the Abbotsford Times.

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