Race in the Election…in Canada!

by Special Correspondent Thea Lim

SURPRISE! Canada is having an election this year too!

However, wily characters that we are, our election was called as recently as September 7, and we’re still going to beat our American neighbours to the polls when we vote next week. However, that’s basically it for pluses when it comes to Canadian politics: advance polls are saying that we will most likely end up with a Conservative majority. *

On Tuesday my friend Leslie sent me this Globe and Mail article on “sophisticated new methods” that parties are turning to in order to figure out how to lure in those mysterious “ethnic” voters.

For the first time in a federal election, three of Canada’s five main political parties are using a sophisticated new micro-targeting voter-profile tool, which outlines people’s ethnicity, social values and income level, cross-referenced with their political support.

The tool, developed by Environics, allows political strategists to fine-tune their message for voters at the neighbourhood level, helping candidates win key battleground ridings in Ontario and British Columbia, many of which have large ethnic communities.

“This tool not only gives you the big picture, but goes to a riding level and tells you which percentage of voter groups live in the riding and whether ethnicity is an issue,” said Jan Kestle, president of Environics Analytics.

There is a sudden demand for multicultural research tools such as this one, as Canada’s ethnic communities grow in size and political importance. Now that immigrants no longer vote exclusively for the Liberals, all parties are reaching out to them.

Please note the equation of “ethnic communities” with “immigrants.” In case you are foggy on the Canadian history: similarly to the US, people of colour have been living in Canada for almost as long as white folks have. Sure many people of colour in Canada are recent immigrants, but many (especially in Western Canada) have been here for generations.

“It’s a numbers game. The election can turn on a dime. Ethnics play a key role in this and happen to be living in the ridings that are close,” said David Crapper, president of Genesis Public Opinion Research Inc., the Conservatives’ official pollster in the 2006 election.

Goodness, “Ethnics” playing a key role in an election? What is the world coming to??


For example, in Newton-North Delta, suburban upscale ethnic voters comprised 64 per cent of eligible voters in the 2006 election. However they were 68 per cent of the Liberal vote and only 54 per cent of the Conservative vote in the riding.

Suburban upscale ethnics are described as recent immigrants from China, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, with white-collar and service-sector jobs. They tend to have children who play outdoor sports, own lots of computer electronics and enjoy rock concerts and amusement parks. They aren’t interested in ecology or status recognition, but are global in outlook, tend to be savers, and enjoy trying new products and services.

“This information helps candidates with messaging, how to talk to these people and what their core belief systems are,” said Ms. Kestle. For example, a candidate could emphasize crime, but not environmental issues, when talking to a suburban upscale ethnic audience.

The question on my mind is, why are these shadowy ethnic communities so enigmatic that political parties have to rely on fancy pants high-tech tools to understand what’s important to these communities?

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to include members from these communities in political parties and political decision-making? If these dadburned ethnic communities were more represented within the parties, parties wouldn’t have to go digging up data on whether or not Pakistani children like amusement parks. They wouldn’t have to go hunting for the interests of communities of colour, because they would actually share them.

I guess equity is just that much more expensive than micro-targeting voter-profile tools.

* Just in case you are wondering why a Conservative majority government is a bad thing, here are some of the things the incumbent minority Conservative government (led by Stephen Harper) has done in the past 3 years:
- Cut funding to the Status of Women office, so that women’s advocacy groups whose activities included “lobbying” could no longer receive funding. As well the word “equality” was removed from the Status of Women’s mandate.
- Passed changes to immigration laws so that now just one person (the minister) has the power to approve or reject immigration claims
- Tried and failed to pass Bill C-484, which would “allow separate homicide charges to be laid in the death of a fetus when a pregnant woman is attacked”, raising concerns from pro-choice activists that the bill was a step towards the re-criminalization of abortion
- Tried and failed to outlaw same-sex marriage
- Made official apologies both for the Chinese Head Tax and Residential Schools, but the lack of real commitment to racial equity makes both these apologies seem pretty hollow. In fact, they seem more like sleazy politics: an easy (and meaningless) way to make the Conservatives look progressive, without any actual work. Read Jessica Yee’s take on the topic here.