A Stronger Voice is needed

Tung Chan, Sept 7, 2009

There are more than 10 elected officials who are of Chinese heritage in various levels of Governments in B.C. Many of them owed much of their electoral success to strong financial and organizational support from the Chinese-Canadian community. Yet the community has placed very little political demand on them to advance the community’s interests. And none of them have openly stated that they are there to represent the Chinese-Canadian community.

Douglas Jung, the first MP of Chinese descent once told me the Chinese-Canadian community was his best ally as well as his harshest critic during his tenure from 1957 to 1962. Raymond Chan, the present day MP from Richmond, was relentlessly criticized for his change of stance in the human rights issue in China. The strongest voice of criticism came from the Chinese-Canadian community.

There is a Chinese proverb that says: “The more you care about an individual, the more critical you are of that individual.” Many Chinese-Canadians certainly live up to that proverb fully in dealing with political leaders from their own community.

Yet there is a lot of pride when members of the community were elected to political positions. After I was elected to office in 1990, I was invited by a friend from the Taiwanese-Canadian community to a dinner to celebrate my success. When my wife and I arrived at the venue, we were surprised to find there were over 200 people there ready to meet their newest “father and mother official” as municipal officials were called in old China.

The community is known to rally behind aspiring politicians during the nomination and election process. People who are intimately involved in the 1993 federal election will remember the nomination fight in the Tory camp between Dr. K. K. Wan and Geoff Chutter and in the Liberal camp between Raymond Chan and Herb Dhaliwal. Literally thousands of people from the Chinese-Canadian community turned out to support Dr. Wan and Mr. Chan. They also worked hard during the election and volunteered for the multitude of jobs that were required in an election campaign. Many even worked across political lines in both campaigns.
With that kind of effort, one would expect that members of the Chinese-Canadian community would want to vote overwhelmingly for one of their own. Surprisingly, that is not the finding of a survey conducted in 1996. Only 5.1% of the 948 Chinese speaking respondents in the poll commissioned by Ming Pao and the Vancouver Sun named ethnic origin as one of the three key factors in their selection of a political candidate. The top three key factors identified were programme (31.6%), ability (24%) and achievements (16.4%).

And what does the community expect of their politicians once they are elected to office? The community certainly expects their politicians to attend a great many number of banquets and events. Every Chinese-Canadian politicians in town will tell you it is not uncommon for them to attend three to four banquets a night during the Chinese New Year season in the month of February. Cutting ribbons in official openings of businesses is another chore that Chinese-Canadian politicians have to perform a lot more than their non-Chinese counterparts. During my three years as a Councillor of Vancouver, I had cut ribbons for businesses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond.

What about on a more serious note? In May of 1995 a series of articles were written by several columnist of Sing Tao Newspaper about whether politicians of Chinese descend should fight for the welfare of the Chinese-Canadian community.

The question in itself would seem odd to the uninitiated. Politicians elected from B. C. are expected to fight for the welfare of British Columbians. In the same token, one would assume that Chinese-Canadians expect politicians elected from their community to fight for the welfare of their community. Surprisingly again, this traditional point of view did not gather much support from the established columnists. The proponents of the classical point of view were actually held in contempt for preaching reverse racial discrimination! They were ostracized for being too narrow minded and undemocratic.

Guo Ding, an editorial writer for Ming Pao seemed to capture the wishes of the Chinese-Canadian community in his editorial after the 1996 civic election. He suggested that the Chinese-Canadian incumbents should first act on their election promises. He admonished them to make policy decisions from the perspective of the whole community (not just the Chinese-Canadian community) and be careful not to use a double standard when dealing with the Chinese and the non-Chinese community.

There is a divergence of value between the recently immigrated Chinese-Canadian community and the rest of the Canadian society. The presence of a strong work ethic, the value placed on education, the yardsticks used to measure success, the affinity towards one’s own community and the strong group identity are some of the characteristics that set the new Chinese-Canadian community apart.

But this divergence of value has not led to a divergence of interest. The interests of the Chinese-Canadian community, by and large, are that of the interest of the larger community.

The voting intentions and expectation of politicians from their own community demonstrate clearly that Chinese-Canadian voters want members of their community to be part of the governing body. They want to take part in the action as full participants rather than staying on the sideline as spectators. They want to be part of the process rather than part of the equation.

The support given by the community to the aspiring politicians indicates the community’s desire to have someone to articulate its aspirations. The community is craving for someone to represent their point of view in the political process. They want someone who is sensitive to their cultural values. They need someone who is willing to address their issues. Issues such as English language training, job training, unemployment, under-employment and recognition of foreign training and work experience.
The Chinese-Canadian community is looking for “facilitators” rather than “spokesmen.” There isn’t any one single person or group whom can be the sole representative of the 300,000 plus, multifaceted and diverse Chinese-Canadian community.

The Chinese-Canadian community will welcome in future elections stronger voices that can express their diverse values. Politicians from all communities who can successfully articulate the new immigrants’ points of view will play a useful role in helping them to integrate into the Canadian society.

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