Douglas Todd: How to woo immigrant voters in Canada. And how not to

Opinion: Here are ways Canadian politicians can appeal to, or turn off, voters in the growing number of high-immigrant ridings

Get the latest from Douglas Todd straight to your inbox

Article content

The number of federal ridings in which immigrants make up more than half of all voters has grown to 33 in Canada, almost all in pivotal Metro Vancouver and Toronto.

Politicians are desperate to find ways to appeal to the “immigrant vote” in those 33 exceptional ridings — as well as in 122 more electoral districts where the share of immigrants ranges from a consequential 20 to 50 per cent.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

Efforts to woo immigrant groups were on display last month when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inflamed India with the accusation that its agents appeared to be involved in the slaying of a pro-Khalistan activist in Surrey.

One of Trudeau’s unstated aims seemed to be to show support for the country’s 770,000 Sikhs, most of whom are in immigrant families. Unfortunately, Trudeau also alienated many of Canada’s 828,000 Hindus.

Chasing after immigrant voters is a tricky, fraught business.

How best can politicians appeal to immigrants, who have become a force to be reckoned with in almost half of the country’s federal ridings? It’s not easy when immigrants come from disparate countries, ethnicities and religions. Political parties are constantly trying to figure out what appeals to immigrant populations through their private polling, which they resolutely decline to share with journalists.

Here are a few thoughts from experts on working with voters who are immigrants:

Focus on across-the-spectrum issues

Regardless of whether immigrants come from India, China or the Philippines, many issues affect both immigrants and non-immigrants in roughly the same way: All people relate to policies on taxation, employment, education and cost of living.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Defend immigrants against intimidation, foreign and domestic

Since many immigrants not only come to Canada to take advantage of economic opportunities, but also to escape discrimination in their homelands, Andre Machalski, whose company Mirens monitors Canada’s more than 800 ethnic media outlets, says politicians can benefit by defending immigrants’ rights.

That’s a tack Trudeau took when he declared there were “credible allegations” that Indian agents were involved in the June murder of a pro-Khalistan activist outside a Surrey gurdwara.

“Trudeau’s unassailable message to all immigrants is, ‘We will stand up for you,’” said Machalski.

That message can hit home for people who have left behind all sorts of conflict-ridden nations, whether China, Ukraine or Nigeria.

Andrew Griffith, a former high-level director in Canada’s immigration department, says politicians believe they benefit electorally by defending immigrants, 70 per cent of whom are people of colour, from hate or discrimination.

Griffith immigration chart 2021
The left side of the chart shows immigrants make up anywhere from 20 to 70 per cent of all voters in 155 Canadian federal ridings, mostly in big cities. (Source: Statistics Canada, Andrew Griffith)

Be in power

It’s conventional political theory that a party draws votes by being in office when a newcomer obtains citizenship status, which includes the right to vote.

Advertisement 4

Article content

B.C. radio talk-show host Harjit Singh Gill is among those convinced one reason Trudeau has hiked migration to record levels is he realizes immigrants and refugees, whether from Iran, Syria or India, “will vote for him because of it. They will worship him, think he’s a hero.”

Since the Liberal party has been in power more than the Conservatives in the past three decades, many say that’s one reason polls generally show immigrants lean toward the Liberals. People from India are also more inclined to vote Liberal, and since Trudeau was elected in 2015, immigrants from India have skyrocketed into by far the largest cohort.

The Liberals have raised the immigration target to 500,000 a year, double the number when they came into office. Canada’s population grew by a record 1.1 million last year, 98 per cent due to migrants. CIBC Capital Market economist Benjamin Tal adds Ottawa has also allowed in two million foreign students and guest workers, most of whom yearn to be citizens.

Recognize both pros and cons of migration policy can draw votes

It’s time for politicians to get over the idea immigration is a “third rail,” too controversial to touch, Griffith writes in Policy Options.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Many immigrant families, like many other Canadians, are concerned about immigration levels, Griffith says. While generally pro-immigration, they fear the negative effects of Ottawa inviting too many newcomers too rapidly, particularly because they contribute to demand on housing and medical services, both of which are in crisis.

Sponsoring older immigrants is a winner. And loser

Trudeau’s cabinet ministers often boast they have quadrupled the number of parents and grandparents that can be sponsored to move to Canada. The expanding program aims to bring in 28,500 older family members this year, 34,000 next year and 36,000 in 2025.

“It’s both a real vote getter, and a real vote loser,” says Griffith.

While many immigrants want to bring their parents or grandparents here, others worry about the drain on publicly funded health services, since they arrive as seniors and haven’t had the chance to pay significant taxes in Canada.

Informing parents on pronouns

Since polls show immigrants tend to come from socially conservative cultures, it’s not surprising many Canadian Muslims, most of whom are immigrants, have been at the forefront of opposition to school districts refusing to tell parents if their children want to change their gender pronouns at school.

Advertisement 6

Article content

An Angus Reid poll found 78 per cent of all Canadians believe parents should be informed if their child wants to change their gender identity or pronoun at school.

Andres Machalski, president of Mirens, who monitors 800 ethnic media outlets in Canada. Photo by Handout by Machalski /PNG

Support ethnocultural groups, and be honest

The ethnic media in Canada, Machalski says, is full of examples of politicians saying one thing to one ethnic group and another to the wider public. That plays out whether the contentious subject is Khalistan or attending a banquet hosted by an organization that is a mouthpiece for China. When courting immigrant groups, politicians should avoid speaking out of both sides of their mouths.

Show up

The old-fashioned way of wooing a group, whether immigrant or otherwise, might still be best. Show up at town halls, shake some hands, get to know people. For what it’s worth, Machalski, who was born in Argentina, believes these days that Conservative party Leader Pierre Poilievre is showing up the most — “making serious inroads” into immigrant communities.

The timing for Poilievre is also auspicious, Machalski says. “He is going up in the polls, and like most people, immigrants like to back a winner.”

Advertisement 7

Article content

[email protected]

Related Stories

Bookmark our website and support our journalism: Don’t miss the news you need to know — add and to your bookmarks and sign up for our newsletters here.

You can also support our journalism by becoming a digital subscriber: For just $14 a month, you can get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | The Province.

Article content


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Advertisement 1


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button