As many new Canadians get ready to celebrate Canada Day, by wearing Tshirts emblazoned with the Maple Leaf, waving the Canadian flag and feel so proud about being part of the Canadian family, lets pause for a minute, shrug off that inflated sense of pride and do a reality check. Ask yourself a hard question- why do so many native born Canadians perceive us to be part off the Canadian family?
A series of investigative articles in the Globe and Mail should really give every new Canadian and ethnic minority something to think about.
Canada’s spy agency has had Ontario’s Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade Michael Chan, a naturalized Canadian of Chinese descent under the radar, suspecting him of being under the influence of the Chinese government. The investigation throws up many examples of his cozy relations with senior Chinese officials. His loyalty to Canada has come under scrutiny and is being questioned. On a 2009 trip to China, he was quoted praising his former homeland. “Great is my motherland, and great are the people of my motherland,” he said. “The Beijing Olympics last year made us overseas Chinese feel that we could finally hold up our heads and breathe freely. Today, seeing the army on parade with such precision and the high spirits of the people, I am moved even more by the strength and power of my motherland.”
Ethnic politicians are in a tough spot
While Michael Chan being a public figure is suspected of being disloyal to Canada over his conduct, I have heard similar sentiments echoed by dozens of Canadians of South Asian descent and I suspect a large number of new Canadian citizens hold similar emotional sentiments for the countries of their origin. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Canada recently, there was jingoism on display. Thousands of Canadian citizens of Indian origin made their unswerving love for their Motherland very evident, that too in front of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Not that there is anything wrong with it, in fact our multicultural policy encourages such close ties to the Motherland. Political parties use MPs and MPPs of ethnic origins to woo their respective communities for votes, fund-raising and to schmooze with embassy staff from their country of origin as well as senior politicians and bureaucrats when they visit their Motherlands on trade missions. Michael Chan’s importance in Ontario’s Liberal party cannot be understated. He is a top fund raiser for the party and courts the growing number of Mandarin voters which has increased by 32 percent. And with China’s economic fortunes surging, so has Mr Chan’s importance within the party.
South Asian politicians at the federal and provincial level are similarly used by their parties to serve in similar capacities. Their job is often to talk on behalf of the government to ‘their’ people. Politicians like Mr Chan are encouraged to forge deep ties with ‘their’ people here and ‘back home’. They are forced to play their race card so to speak. Their images are used quite literally to flaunt their respective political parties’ unwavering commitment to multiculturalism and everyone is quite happy to go along with the charade. But the Michael Chan incident should make new Canadians and all politicians of ethnic origin sit up and pay attention. It is unlikely Michael Chan would’ve made it this far in politics had he not been Chinese. He was brought in to do a job (bring in the Chinese vote, money and trade deals) which he did maybe a little too well. Perhaps he gravitated toward his Motherland because he was treated like part of the family, like one of them. Maybe he felt like an outsider at Queen’s Park. Michael Chan makes it clear he is a Canadian first, but today the perception is that being Chinese comes a very close second!
Marginalization is the outcome
Ethnic politicians are often not perceived to be real politicians with real power. Mainstream Canadians often consider them as political lightweights, a little more than ethnic community leaders because that often is their primary role.
As the Indian economy grows and the number of Indians multiply in Canada, more Indian candidates will be courted by political parties. A few will be given a high status as a result. I feel a little sorry for Michael Chan. In an interview with the Globe, just prior to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s first trip to China, he pointed out that his own first trip would be to Washington, and he had many other destinations in mind. “It will be balanced in general. I do not want to be seen as China-only man. That’s not good.”
Ethnic businessmen and politicians want to be seen as Canadian
I suspect deep down no ethnic politician wants to be seen as merely an ethnic politician. They want to be mainstream Canadian politicians but aren’t often given that opportunity because they have tasks to perform within their own communities. Just check the calendar of politicians and see how much time they spend or are expected to spend with members of their own ethnic group. It’s an expectation. It’s how things work in Canadian politics today.
Last week I met a really successful and well-known South Asian businessman running a large and thriving business. What he said to me struck a chord: “I don’t want to be known as just a South Asian business. I want to be seen as a successful Canadian company. He is struggling to make that transition. In business and politics, there comes a time when a truly successful individual wants recognition and acceptance in the mainstream but often find themselves shut out by invisible forces. No one wants to be marginalized or to play a marginal role in politics and business forever.