South Asians refuse to run in Vancouver's upcoming municipal election

After being drubbed in the 2008 Vancouver election, nobody wants to be a candidate

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      When Lakhbir Singh ran unsuccessfully for a Vancouver school-board seat in the 2008 municipal election, he came last on his party’s slate.

      That year, five other candidates with South Asian names like Singh’s ended up at the bottom of the major-party heap for council, school board, and park board.

      But it wasn’t the first time that such a thing happened. It’s the same electoral outcome that has plagued South Asian candidates in every election in Vancouver since 1990.

      With another civic election coming up in November this year, Singh, a medical doctor, won’t bother to put his name on the ballot again.

      “There’s no hope for a minority candidate to win,” Singh told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      Singh isn’t the only South Asian who is disheartened. No one from that ethnic community is running for either the ruling Vision Vancouver or the opposition Non-Partisan Association.

      That’s quite a significant departure from the last election, when Vision had two South Asian candidates and the NPA had Singh and two others.

      Singh maintained that the city’s at-large system of voting is discriminatory against South Asians and other minority groups, a situation that he believes can be addressed by shifting to a ward system.

      “Every large urban centre has switched to the ward system, and the only holdout left in all of Canada and the United States is us, British Columbia,” he said. “Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, they’re all under the ward system. The simple reason is that it allows for greater representation of the people that live in the city.”

      Like Singh, Alvin Singh of the Coalition of Progressive Electors failed to win a seat on the school board in 2008. He also is not running again, but for a different reason than that of the NPA’s Singh: he cited the work involved in being his party’s executive director.

      However, COPE’s Singh declined to say in a phone interview with the Straight whether any South Asians are going to seek nominations with his party in the fall.

      According to Rattan Mall, an outspoken journalist who edits the Asian Journal, a predominantly South Asian–oriented paper, potential candidates from the community feel they don’t stand a chance in Vancouver.

      “I think that South Asians have come to be totally demoralized,” Mall told the Straight in a phone interview.

      But Mall doesn’t believe that this is due to an electoral bias against members of this particular ethnic group.

      “The Chinese have more in numbers [in Vancouver], like the Indo-Canadians have more in numbers in Surrey,” he said. “So in a way I don’t think it’s got anything to do with racism. It’s just the reality of the ethnic situation right now.”

      According to community statistics put out by the City of Vancouver, at least 49 percent of residents reported during the 2006 census that English is their mother tongue, while just over 25 percent indicated that theirs is Chinese. Only 2.8 percent reported their original language as Punjabi, which is even slightly lower than the 2.9 percent who said that they speak Tagalog, the common language of people of Filipino ancestry.

      Vision councillor Kerry Jang explained that his party actually asked for candidates from the South Asian community. But according to him, no one stepped forward.

      “Many of the South Asians that we talked to were supportive of Tony Tang for council,” Jang told the Straight in a phone interview. Like Jang, Tang is a Chinese Canadian.

      Kashmir Dhaliwal, president of the Khalsa Diwan Society, was the only unsuccessful council candidate for Vision in the 2008 election. Another South Asian run by Vision—Raj Hundal—won a seat on the park board. But Hundal isn’t seeking reelection this year and will likely move to provincial politics.

      In November 2010, a South Asian—Jesse Johl—was acclaimed by the NPA as candidate for council. However, according to NPA president John Moonen, Johl was later dropped because he wasn’t responding to further correspondence from the party.

      The NPA hasn’t fully filled up its slates for park board and school board. Moonen told the Straight that the party may still nominate more candidates. But he’s not sure whether a South Asian may come forward.

      Naresh Shukla, a prominent businessman in Vancouver’s Main Street Punjabi Market, ran but failed to win a park-board seat with the NPA in 2008. Like those of the others, his name will not appear on in this year’s ballot.

      “Maybe it takes time to change,” Shukla told the Straight by phone about the city’s current voting system. “We need a ward system. That’s the only way the minority peoples can come further.”




      Jun 23, 2011 at 9:42am

      Yes, Neresh Shukla and Carlito Pablo, we need a change in the current voting system, and that is not focused in the convenient electoral boundaries, known as "Jerry Mandarin", but based in the voter's right and ability to recast their vote anytime, not just on election day.

      We have been conditioned, for generations, to believe that we the citizens can make decisions only on election day, once every three years. In fact we the citizens are as capable to make wise decision as the "leaders" we elect.

      We have the BC "Initiative and Recall" Legislation, what we need is to enact an improved version of that at a municipal level.

      0 0Rating: 0

      Tim Bus

      Jun 23, 2011 at 12:30pm

      Pedro is sooooo full of leftard crap!

      Is he still peddling his pathetic eternal democracy garbage?
      After five years, and a million dollars worth of free TV time, he has about 40 votes cast on any issue.

      And his equally puerile racist 'jerry mandarin' joke would have him in front of our "Human Kangaroo Court" if he weren't a leftard.

      0 0Rating: 0

      Dr. Lakhbir Singh

      Jun 23, 2011 at 4:05pm

      I would like to congratulate Mr. Carlito Pablo for having the courage to publish his article on the dire need to have a ward system in Vancouver so that all of the population of the city is represented at City Hall. The Federal Government and Provincial Government have East Indian members because both have the Ward system. This is not just an issue for the East Indian community. We need to have representatives of Vancouver's Gay & Lesbian Community, Chinese community, Philipino community, Korean community, Greek community, Native community, Russian community, Jewish community, Iranian community and others in Vancouver City Council so that all have a say and not a priviledged few. That is the true principal of democracy.

      0 0Rating: 0

      Wayne Smith

      Jun 23, 2011 at 8:39pm

      The author correctly identifies the problem—an unfair voting system.

      But replacing it with another unfair voting system will not solve the problem.

      Only a proportional voting system will allow all to be represented, by making every vote count.

      The remedy is the Single Transferable Vote, as outlined in the final report of the British Columbia Citizens' Assembly for Electoral Reform:

      0 0Rating: 0

      Jaded in Vancouver

      Jun 23, 2011 at 9:34pm

      What a pile of BS. Less than 100 years ago, anyone with an Eastern European name couldn't get on a slate. Regardless, instead of whining they got on with their lives and eventually made changes. To-day, most of these wannabe politicians use the race card for their own interests when things don't go according to their plan.

      0 0Rating: 0


      Jun 23, 2011 at 11:58pm

      I find it disheartening that people make the statement that it's not racism that causes people not to vote for them, it's just that there are very few South Asians in Vancouver. So, basically we're only allowed to vote for people of the same ethnicity as ourselves? Sadly I know that's often how it goes, but whereas this is being used as an explanation by some I think it needs to be seen as a problem...

      0 0Rating: 0

      Second Nation

      Jun 24, 2011 at 9:03am

      Mpritch - I'm clicking "Agree" again and again but my vote only registers once!

      Race-based-voting? Seriously? That's what we want for our country? Maybe we could create a lot of mini-Cyprus-type enclaves where jurisdictions are divided by race. Not for me thanks!

      0 0Rating: 0

      Jamie Deith

      Jun 24, 2011 at 2:44pm

      The Single Transferable Vote is definitely the way to go. It ensures that any like-minded group of citizens of significant numbers will have reasonable representation on council. No quotas, no ethnic enclaves, and no 'whining' required.

      0 0Rating: 0

      Dr. Lakhbir Singh

      Jun 25, 2011 at 6:51am

      We definately need electoral reform in the City of Vancouver. The present at large city wide voting system results in alderman who are elected but are not responsible for any particular neighborhood. This results leaving the average Vancouver citizen with no one to turn to for help to deal with their City problems. In a Ward or riding system there is a particular alderman who is assigned to help all those who reside in a particular neighborhood or riding. The Mayor of Vancouver receives 200 emails a day. Do you think the Mayor reads all those emails or simply deletes them? In our present system with alderman not responsible to help citizens of any particular neighborhood it is very difficult to find an alderman willing to help you with City of Vancouver issues. In 1994, Vancouver Electoral Reform Commissioner Thomas Berger presented his report to Vancouver City Council recommending Vancouver switch to a ward system for electing Councillors. Along with a ward system, Mr. Berger suggested the size of City Council be increasede by four, and that the city be divided into 14 wards or ridings. The Mayor would continue to be elected by a a city-wide vote. Vancouver had a ward system from 1886 to 1936. Since then, Vancouver has used an at-large system. The Commissioner based his recommendation mainly on opinions he heard at 17 neighbourhood forums the Commission held between January and April 2004. He also drew from his own review of studies carried out by experts in the field, and on the experiences of other cities. In his report, Mr. Berger states: "I believe a ward system will allow citizens to cast an informed ballot; it will ensure representation of neighbourhoods and ongoing accountability to neighborhoods between elections and it will open up the electoral process to independent candidates." The difficulties I have with the Single Transferable Vote is that it is a very complicated system that is difficult to understand and it again leaves no alderman who are responsible to help Vancouver Citizens in a particular neighborhood or their riding as we have at the Provincial and Federal Level.

      0 0Rating: 0

      Antony Hodgson

      Jun 28, 2011 at 2:22pm

      Dear Lakhbir - thank you for your thoughtful comments. I agree that our current at-large system provides the worst of all possible worlds - no local accountability, highly disproportionate outcomes (most of the time, a single party can win a near-complete sweep of council), and the fact that each and every winning candidate needs to win at least a strong plurality of support, which often suppresses significant minority perspectives (whether of geography (eg, the traditional under-representation of the East Side) or of ethnicity or other sociodemographic characteristics).

      However, I don't believe that wards are an appropriate solution either - cities with wards often end up with disproportionate spending in wards where councillors are associated with the governing party, and many voters (typically about half) end up being represented by someone they didn't vote for. In addition, wards have been defeated in a recent referendum, so I think we should be looking at some more creative and more broadly acceptable solutions.

      I would therefore like to see some form of 'full representation' in which as many voters as possible are able to help elect a councillor who they feel truly represents them. This would imply that there be at least two councillors representing any given geographic area, but it need not mean that all councillors represent the whole city. With 10 councillors, we could imagine a variety of situations such as five 2-seat 'wards', two 3-seat and one 4-seat wards, or two 5-seat wards. We could use some form of STV to elect these councillors - there are simplified versions (eg, multi-seat instant runoffs) in which voters use ranked ballots and in each round the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated with those ballots going to the next-marked choices until there are only as many candidates left as seats. There are also other voting options.

      I strongly encourage you to discuss your concerns with us at Fair Voting BC (see or send me an email at - hopefully we can work with one another to improve our lousy current voting system.
      Antony Hodgson
      President, Fair Voting BC
      Supporting fair. effective, accountable government

      0 0Rating: 0