Why are new immigrants attracted to politics?

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By Pradip Rodrigues

Recently I received an email soliciting my support for an aspiring South Asian hoping to be nominated as candidate for a provincial party in a Mississauga riding. The candidate as expected is a first-generation businessman who happens to be reasonably successful and comfortably rich. The volunteer’s email with an attached membership form informed me that I did not have to worry about the $10 membership fee, the candidate would take care of it, he promised. And come nomination time, our dear candidate would even chauffeur me to the venue if a transportation mode was an issue. I suspect I would also be compensated for my time if requested.
In the past election cycles, federal and provincial political parties have often lowered the bar and standards when it comes to candidates from ethnically-diverse ridings, the lax rules and system has encouraged many new immigrants who either have a low educational background or have failed to make it professionally to consider two careers- real estate followed by politics. Party leaders have looked the other way as ethnic candidates vying for nominations have flouted rules and brought in unsavory and unethical election practices that many observers say is corrupting the system. It gives me the sense of déjà-vu, I’ve seen this playbook used before- in Indian politics.
The members each nominee signs up is required by law to pay the $10 nomination fee out of their own pocket, however in recent times this is seen more as a suggestion than a rule. But in mostly white-dominated ridings where many still follow the tradition and rules seriously, this is still the case.
This is one reason why for example a morally upright non South Asian nominee in many ridings in Peel Region would not stand a chance against a South Asian candidate with experience hustling and playing the kind of politics that is responsible for sending them packing to Canada in the first place.

Foreign students are playing an active role
Now to make matters even more complicated, a person hoping to be nominated has to be above the age of 14 and not only can PR card holders become party members, but even foreign students can participate and they are active as hell.
In Peel Region, foreign students who are still trying to navigate the transit system are being signed up as paid members who are expected to vote when the time comes.
Foreign students who have ostensibly come here for an education are being schooled in provincial politics and must be quite amused to know that they have been inducted into the political process! Foreign students from India must find a lot of the politics very familiar. Who knows in the near future, even visitors will qualify for party memberships!

Second-gen political aspirants sidelined
A while ago I recall talking to a second-generation Punjabi who was disdainful of first-generation so-called community leaders spoke for and represented the South Asian community. And political party leaders do little to nurture and create an atmosphere more conducive to encouraging the second-generation to stand for elected office. “The way they conduct themselves in politics is the same as they would had they been in India, we (the second-gen) can’t operate in that way and so we don’t join in. I have spent time in Punjab but do you think if I settled there I would dare stand for elections? Even though I am Punjabi, not living in a place long enough would make it hard for me to be an effective leader,” he said. I suspected at the time he must’ve harbored political aspirations until he hit some roadblocks.
This brings me to another point. Many South Asians active in politics are in it for all the wrong reasons. Here is how it works. A new immigrant will become a businessman, which normally means a real estate agent, he makes a fair amount of money and naturally gravitates toward becoming a community, leader, soon they ingratiate themselves with leaders of political parties. Since they don’t have strong principles, likes or dislikes, their party affiliation depends upon their chances of landing a ticket.
He claims a wide support-base and becomes either a candidate or a local powerbroker/ fundraiser which naturally earns him the eternal gratitude of party leaders which soon translates into political support.

Ethnic politicians behave like local community leaders
Today’s ethnic politicians often function like they were community leaders, they take up causes that sometimes have nothing to do with their riding but have everything to do with foreign affairs concerning their countries of origin.
These, MPs and MPPs find themselves in positions of power only on account of the parties they represent not because they have any political acumen or experience, their only claim to the office is their heritage and cultural background which is supposed to appeal to their own community base.
I am all for the full participation of all immigrant groups in the political process. But I really think that political aspirants should do a few things before announcing their political ambitions:
They need to tour the provinces if not at least get out of the GTA and understand what exists in Ontario. They need to read up on Canadian politics, know the players and the history. They need to build bridges not just within their communities but with other Canadians. And most important become fluent in English or French and take a crash course in public speaking. I know it’s politically incorrect to say this but being a great communicator with a wide range of knowledge is something that would make a great politician.

Politics here mirrors politics there
Back in India, the educated and professional class by and large eschew politics simply because it is seen as dirty and corrupt. I am hearing the same thing is happening here in the South Asian community. The professional class and second generation is by and large steering clear of politics. Perhaps the time has come for party nominees to be selected by virtue of their experience and track record in being the community, by which I mean all Canadians living in the riding and not just their community which happens to be a sizable majority. But that is unlikely to happen as long as we select our candidates based on their race and religion rather than their genuine accomplishments.

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