Locals question predictions that the Conservatives have a stranglehold on the Vancouver South riding during federal elections

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Stephen Phillips, a Langara College political science instructor believes other parties such as the NDP can appeal to immigrant voters since they favour low-income voters — something which many in ethnic communities can relate to. Photo: Steven Chua

Conservatives are poised for decades of federal rule because they have wooed immigrant votes in high-ethnic population ridings like Vancouver South,
according to a book by Ipsos Reid pollster Darrell Bricker and Ottawa-based Globe and Mail journalist John Ibbitson.

It’s a claim some people in the district are questioning.

Why federal elections will be won or lost over ridings like south Vancouver

South Vancouver, an area where immigrants comprise 60 per cent of the population, is an example of the kind of riding that will determine who governs Canada in the future, according to the book The Big Shift.

Phillips believes that targeting immigrant voters can sometimes backfire, if the party goes about it in an insensitive way, as revealed in the case of the BC Liberals’ leaked ethnic vote memo. Photo: Steven Chua

Winning over the votes of immigrants is the key to election victory, and the Conservative government will have the upper hand because it has been successful at winning over one of the nation’s fastest growing demographics — Asian and South Asian immigrants, according to Bricker and Ibbitson.

Both authors credit the party’s success to Canada’s changing demographics.

Immigrants tend to have conservative values, and because more of them are coming to Canada, the nation will naturally become conservative, according to the book.

The current administration has observed this trend and are capitalizing on it, the authors say.

For example, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has spent huge amounts of resources touring the country and appealing to the ethnic vote.

The approach seems to have worked in south Vancouver, as the Conservatives have already managed to capture that vote in the previous federal election.

MP Wai Young amassed 19,389 ballots — over 43 per cent of the vote — to beat out the opposition in 2011.

So while the reigning federal party appears to have adapted their campaigns and policies to capture immigrant votes in Vancouver, will other contenders be able to match their success?

Conservatives don’t have a monopoly on immigrant voters

“I don’t think by any means it can be said that the Conservatives have got a monopoly or permanent advantage in immigrant communities,” said Stephen Phillips, a Langara College political science instructor. “I think there’s a real competition for support we can expect to see among the main parties.”

However, other groups battling for south Vancouver’s vote believe they’ve got some catching up to do.

“I think the NDP is very well accepted and supported by the South Asian community but they need to do a lot of work with the Chinese communities,” said Meena Wong, the 2011 NDP candidate for the Vancouver South riding.

The NDP needs to do more to get new immigrants engaged in elections, said Wong, who plans on running again in 2015.

Many recent Chinese immigrants still are unaware of who their local parties and politicians are, she said.

However, the NDP’s programs that advocate foreign worker rights and credential recognition make the party attractive to immigrants, Wong said.

Phillips agrees.

Stephen Phillips, Langara College political science instructor doubts the Conservatives have sole monopoly on the immigrant vote.Photo: Steven Chua
Stephen Phillips, Langara College political science instructor doubts the Conservatives have sole monopoly on the immigrant vote. Photo: Steven Chua

“There’s an opportunity there for the NDP to appeal on economic grounds to those communities,” he said.

Pro-immigration policies don’t determine the election winners — money does

On the other hand Jean de Dieu Hakizimana, who ran for the Green Party in Vancouver South during the 2011 elections, says Conservative success isn’t based on immigration friendly-policy, but a superior advertising campaign.

“How do you think I can win the vote when competing with someone who spends $200,000?” he said when comparing the Green Party’s ad budget to its opponent’s.

While Hakizimana would like to extend his campaign to reach more in the immigrant community, funding problems rather than a lack of ethnic-friendly policy are the main barriers, he said.

Hakizimana plans on running for the Green Party again in 2015.

Targeting the immigrant vote can backfire

However, garnering immigrant votes can be risky business.

In their haste to gain popularity among ethnic voters, political parties can be labelled as insincere.

“It’s frustrating to see [political parties] go into Chinese communities and slap peoples’ backs and take photos,” said Wong. “But they don’t address issues.”

The recent leak of a BC Liberal memo outlining a plan to use government resources to score “quick wins” among immigrant voters has drawn the ire of some in the province’s ethnic community, as well as the general public.

Using government funds to finance a party’s political campaign is forbidden.

The plan calls for making apologies to immigrant communities for past discrimination in order to win their favour.

“The particular community in question may not appreciate being used as political fodder,” Phillips said.

-Reported by Steven Chua

In this video interview, Steven Chua asks Langara College political science instructor Stephen Phillips whether or not he believes the Conservatives will have a monopoly on the immigrant vote, as predicted by the book The Big Shift.

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