The recent Vision Vancouver mayoral-nomination race demonstrated that when upper-middle-class Caucasians get their friends to participate, it’s called “democracy”. But when people with darker skin colours do the same, it’s sometimes painted in a more sinister light. Instead of democracy, you’ll hear people mutter terms like herding or temple politics.
This must end. So too must the racist and classist requirement that members of Vancouver political parties produce photo ID if they want to vote at a nominating meeting. This sharply elevates the risk of disenfranchising poor and elderly party members who don’t have driver’s licences. This was the outcome of the Vision board’s decision to have Fair Voting B.C. oversee the June 15 nomination meeting.
Some of those poor and elderly were grandmothers of Chinese or South Asian descent. They’ve ridden the bus their entire lives; they’ve worked hard to raise their children and grandchildren; and they’ve endured more than their share of economic racism. Some were pestered for photo ID at the June 15 meeting.
There is a risk that the winning candidate, Gregor Robertson, could blow his chance of becoming mayor if he doesn’t acknowledge that this was unfair. He would also be wise to treat the losing candidate, Coun. Raymond Louie, with sufficient respect.
Robertson’s biggest mistake would be to treat Louie as if he is the party’s ambassador to Vancouver’s nonwhite communities. It would be a demeaning role for Louie, who is as well-versed on the issues as anyone in Vancouver politics.
Since the early 1990s, civic and provincial parties have been recruiting immigrant candidates to bring in votes from minority communities. For the NPA, the advantage of having a Daniel Lee on council was that he could raise a great deal of money and he could speak Cantonese to Chinese-language media. Political parties usually weren’t nearly as interested in second- or third-generation Canadian candidates from minority communities—even though they were often better suited to become politicians—because they often couldn’t speak the minority language. Hence, they couldn’t bring in the votes.
Until very recent times, few nonwhite politicians in B.C. transcended the role of ethnic-community ambassador to become major figures of influence within their own parties. Notable exceptions include Ujjal Dosanjh, Moe Sihota, and Jenny Kwan.
Now that’s changing, thanks to the hard work of politicians like Louie and the increasingly important roles that Canadian-born Chinese are playing in our society.
Although Louie may not speak his ancestors’ language with total fluency, he brings other strengths to the table. He pulled together an impressive array of support from across the spectrum in his first attempt to run for mayor. It was a true rainbow coalition, with Louie also reaching out to the gay and lesbian communities, bringing in 2,200 votes.
This was not an instance of a politician of Chinese descent only pulling support from his own community. In this respect, Louie’s campaign marked a watershed event in Vancouver civic politics and foreshadows what we might see more of in the future.
This approach will have more success in the coming years because of the changing demographic profile of the region.
Gone are the days when left-wing parties in Vancouver could complacently look back at the 2002 election and say, “Hey, we can win without the support of the Indo-Canadian or Chinese communities.”
That kind of thinking denies the reality that there is enormous diversity within so-called communities. It’s insulting to people who trace their roots back to China or South Asia.
More importantly, that mentality ignores that this will soon become a majority-minority region—which means that no ethnic group, including Caucasians, will comprise more than 50 percent of the population by about 2015. In other words, Robertson and most of his supporters will soon be in the minority across Metro Vancouver.
The winners of future elections will be those who reach out to include people who previously had little connection to municipal politics. The moment Robertson’s supporters embrace this, they’ll have a much greater chance of taking control of Vancouver City Hall in November.
The first step along that road will be to publicly acknowledge the contribution that Louie has made to making Vancouver civic politics more inclusive. The second would be to give him a significant role in shaping party policies in the platform. This is what Jean Chrétien did with Paul Martin after their often-bitter leadership contest.
The third step would be to encourage Louie to give speeches to organizations with large Caucasian memberships—and not treat him like his role is merely to bring in votes from dark-skinned people who supported his candidacy. The fourth step would be for Robertson to acknowledge that it was a mistake to impose racist and classist restrictions on many poor grandmothers who joined the party and came out to support Louie’s candidacy.
If Robertson does these things, he will become the odds-on favourite to become the next mayor of Vancouver. If he fails to do them, there is a very real chance that Louie will be reelected to council and square off against an incumbent mayor by the name of Peter Ladner in the 2011 mayoral election.