What aspiring Canadian politicians can learn from the news cycle

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Pradip Rodrigues

The Canadian news cycle has been dominated by two stories, both involving leaders of two federal political parties and having to do with the same issue- Khalistan and Sikhs. Not so long ago, the spotlight was on politicians who were accused of being soft on Muslim extremists and terrorism but now the spotlight is on Sikh separatism, an issue most Canadians assumed was dead like the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and other such liberation movements in the news a couple of decades ago. Forget about mainstream Canadians who are baffled by all this talk about Khalistan, even South Asians are struggling to make sense of all this.

At the heart of it all is identity politics, multiculturalism and what it means to be a hyphenated- Canadian in a country described as post-national by our PM Justin Trudeau.

To many NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s concerns with ‘Sikh genocide’ and the issues of a Sikh homeland reflects a post-national Canada where our future leaders will seek to solve issues and causes in other countries because those are concerns of ‘Canadians’ in his or her riding. Canadian parliament and provincial assemblies will quite possibly be places where a significant amount of time will be spent debating and discussing issues concerning conflicts outside Canadian boundaries.

An Egyptian-Canadian who happens to be Coptic Christian told me he worried everyday about the safety of his extended family in Egypt who live in fear of attacks from radical Muslims. As a middle-eastern Christian, he has always complained that Canadians don’t care about the ethnic cleansing of Christians across the middle-east, and that the killing of thousands of Christians and the destruction of their places of worship has never really resonated with the west. Of course he hasn’t gone so far as to push to label those killings a genocide. If only they had someone like NDP leader Jagmeet Singh taking up their cause, perhaps things could be different.

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There are millions of Canadians who’ve immigrated here partly because of upheaval in their homelands. They’ve come to Canada which is considered an oasis of peace in a world wracked by all kinds of problems. Initially immigrants are grateful for a chance to start a new life, but then they get bombarded by social media, television and community leaders who discuss in great detail the problems afflicting people back ‘home’. Eventually thousands of new Canadians are wracked by guilt and are encouraged to do something to remedy the situation.

Before you know it the immigrant is both looking forward and looking back and soon enough you have a community re-living the horror and coalescing around causes and community leaders who promise to do something about it once they are elected politicians. In the name of multiculturalism, any such cause is legitimately Canadian.

The beleaguered NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is actually a case study for all that can go wrong for any political leader who aligns him or herself too closely with an issue relating to their own ethnic background. People who aren’t from that specific background would always have the perception that these leaders are pushing an agenda that doesn’t have anything to do with local issues.

The Egyptian Coptic Christian I spoke with months ago was convinced that the federal liberals were being influenced by certain political leaders he believed were Islamists or sympathetic to their cause. A South Asian once told me that although he supported Liberals, he did not vote in the last federal elections because he could not bring himself to support a candidate he believed was pushing a Pakistani and Muslim agenda.

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The problems faced by PM Trudeau following his India visit should also serve as a cautionary tale for Caucasian politicians foolish enough to wade into any ethnic political cesspool or appear to be close to any specific community. Before you know it they will be off on a Fool’s errand like we’ve seen in the recent past.

What happens is that eventually the causes embraced by ethnic politicians ends up tarring immigrants as ‘outsiders’ and Canadian just by way of a passport.

Today many Canadians must secretly wonder about the loyalty of first-generation and second-generation ethnic politicians and not all of them are bigots. For example many of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s critics are non-Sikh as well as Sikh South Asians. Judging by the online reactions of many Pakistani-Muslims, he has many supporters who see him as a bulwark against perceived Indian aggression and arrogance.

Canadian politicians who willfully involve themselves with any ethnic cause ends up stigmatized or compromised in the long run. To begin with politicians are forced to take positions on issues relating to some back home politics that are important to the people in their riding. Such associations end up tainting these politicians.

I have always maintained that many South Asian politicians and aspiring politicians conduct themselves as if they were community leaders. Most of them aren’t taken seriously by either mainstream Canadians or their political parties. And this is because these individuals start out their lives seeking acceptance within their communities, then aspire to be a community leader and then perhaps a school board trustee, a MP, MPP or a municipal councillor in that order.

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The problem is when these community leaders aspire to enter mainstream politics they start off being beholden to the community that supported them in their leadership bid and invariably some diaspora politics is expected to make it onto the national or provincial scene.

Mainstream Canadians are naturally worried about politicians who adopt international causes and pet issues.

This is not to say that the issues of concern happening in other countries isn’t important, Canadians don’t want their politicians treating Parliament Hill like it was the UN.

Imagine if one day soon, our hyphenated-politicians start raising these issues and devoting a disproportionate amount of time trying to solve them, Canadians would start to wonder who they could be counted upon to take care of problems in our own backyard.

It is indeed wonderful that we have Canadian immigrants still vested in the countries they fled or left behind voluntarily. They do in a sense have a responsibility to give back and try to help those languishing in the old countries, and they should be applauded. However, if and when they choose to become Canadian politicians, they have to re-think those overseas commitments. For an ethnic Canadian who becomes a politician, he cannot do full justice to those overseas and neither is he fully able to focus his time and attention on more pressing issues concerning his riding, province and ultimately Canada. – CINEWS

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