“Please support our Chinese speaking candidate!” a campaign foot soldier for Christina Liu – a city councillor candidate for ward 17, said to me in mandarin as she started her campaign pitch at my door. Rather than selling Liu’s qualifications as a city councillor, she stresses her Chinese Canadian background instead.
Liu had worked as Vincent Ke’s campaign manager in June 2018 provincial election, where Ke, a Chinese Canadian candidate beat his Liberal rival Shelley Carroll to be elected as the PC MPP for Don Valley North. Ke won the election by relying on the massive conservative support in this Chinese Canadian concentrated riding, and some believe that his winning reflects the strong voice from the Chinese community to elect an MPP on their behalf. It is not a surprise that Liu’s campaign team would tap into “I am a Chinese, vote for me!” strategy to motivate Chinese Canadian voters in the ward.
Amid a rising political clout from a rapid growing Chinese Canadian population overseas, Beijing has made unprecedented effort to export its authority abroad and influence political opinions in foreign countries including Canada. But the Toronto Chinese community is deeply divided along the political lines and many voters in the riding frown upon such influences. China’s dismal human rights record, its crackdown, torturing of political foes, religious groups and ethnic minorities have deeply upset those Chinese Canadians who embrace democracy.
Apparently, an individual candidate is unable to represent one ethnicity as whole, and “vote for a Chinese speaking candidate” pitch would only turn many voters away.
Courting ethnic votes is highly controversial in Canada and it is inappropriate to use candidate’s ethnicity to woo voters from the same race. In the multicultural city of Toronto, city councillors are required to represent interests of all races, and to speak on behalf of people with diverse ethnicity and cultural backgrounds. At the end of the day, Chinese Canadians live under the same sky as their mainstream counterparts in the city. They carry mortgages, ride subways and pay taxes, etc. Indeed, the “vote for Chinese candidate” slogan wouldn’t even make a dent in those no longer living in the ethnic enclaves.
“Don Valley North voters face a painful choice”.
Carroll’s defeat in the provincial election didn’t mean that she was not a qualified politician with the skills, proven track records and experience to represent the interest of residents in the riding. If her former MPP rival rode the party wave to victory, her current opponent may not be that lucky in this non-partisan municipal race. In the end, this election would be a tough competition over candidates’ skills, experiences and qualifications. Nothing more and nothing less.
The good news is that Liu seems to have changed her campaign strategy. “Experience that matters!” claim her election signs flooding the street. Indeed, to promote her qualifications, rather than to exploit ethnic vote, is the right way to make her campaign pitch.
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