Chinese 'feel betrayed' by Liberals
John Gleeson, Winnipeg Sun
January 5, 2006
If you want to take a measure of declining Liberal fortunes in the latter
half of the election campaign, look no further than Canada's
One million strong, Chinese-Canadians have long been counted on by
Liberal politicians to “deliver the vote” in the Grit strongholds of
Toronto and Vancouver. This time around, they could be the key to Paul
Martin's defeat on Jan. 23.
Just ask Susan Eng, co-chair of the nonpartisan Ontario Coalition of Head
Tax Payers and Families, whether she has noticed a shift away from
traditional Liberal support in Toronto's Chinese-Canadian community.
“You had better believe it!” Eng says.
She cites the head tax issue — which the Liberals “have handled very
badly” — as the key reason.
“It has wakened up the Chinese-Canadian community like nothing else. I
have been blown over by how avid the Chinese-language media has been over
But that's not all. The revelation that a senior Ontario Liberal
“jokingly” compared NDP candidate Olivia Chow to a dog on his website
has “done huge damage” to the Liberals, Eng says.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” she says. “I was born in Canada but just
listening to my parents talk about it — when you call somebody a dog in
Chinese culture, it's pretty low down. It's meant and only meant as a
“When you call someone trailer trash, everyone will cringe. It's that
kind of comment.”
And like other past Liberal voters, many Chinese-Canadians are put off,
says Eng, by “that arrogance — that sense of entitlement.”
The Liberals, she says, “felt they owned the (Chinese-Canadian) vote and
a lot of people in the community gave them that loyalty. Now they feel
betrayed — that they've been taken for granted.”
The head tax issue is a hot button for Chinese-Canadians. After
thousands of Chinese railway workers lost their lives building Canada's
“national dream,” the government tried to close the door to new Chinese
immigrants by imposing first a discriminatory head tax and then the
openly racist Chinese Exclusion Act, which separated some families for a
generation until it was repealed in 1947.
Promising to take appropriate steps to acknowledge this historic wrong,
Paul Martin's Liberals added insult to injury last year by refusing to
formally apologize or to even meet with the estimated 250 head tax
survivors, now in their nineties, to discuss a fair settlement.
Instead, in what can only be called true Grit fashion, the Liberals
announced they would hand $2.5 million over to the National Congress of
Chinese Canadians, a group that has no links to the head tax survivors or
the 20-year fight for redress — but does have plenty of ties to the
Liberal Party of Canada (and Martin's preferred trading partner, the
People's Republic of China).
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has — once again — taken a more
“compassionate Canadian” position on the issue than the Liberals,
pledging both fairly negotiated redress and an official apology if the
Tories form the next government. “He was first out of the gate,” says
Martin, of course, now out to save his bacon at any cost, can be
expected to promise anything to shore up critical Liberal support. Don't
be surprised if he promises to bring every Chinese head tax payer back to
life so he can apologize to each one in person. But, as with so many
Liberal misfires in this election campaign, Martin was caught showing his
party's arrogant disdain — and all the desperate, belated promises in
the world won't change that.
Whether it will be enough to “turn” a significant number of
Chinese-Canadian votes away from the Liberals remains an open question.
But one thing it has done, say those inside the community, is galvanize
Chinese-Canadian voters like never before.
“This is probably the first time in history that the Chinese will be able
to feel that their vote will make a difference,” says Raymond Lee, past
president of Sien Lok Society of Calgary.
About time, isn't it?
John Gleeson is the editor of the Winnipeg Sun. He can be reached by
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