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Migration issues will test Liberals

October 30, 2015

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

The federal election will be remembered for the way it ignited over an issue that directly affects a handful of migrant women — those who feel it necessary to wear the niqab during Canada’s citizenship ceremony.

The symbolic controversy — which decimated the NDP but left the Liberals unscathed despite their shared defence of religious freedom — was one of many hot migration-related subjects that peppered the campaign won by Justin Trudeau.

In a country in which one of five people are born outside the country — rising to one of two in Toronto and Vancouver — matters of migration are deeply embedded in electoral politics, especially in urban centres.

Before examining how Trudeau will handle related refugee issues, family reunification programs, rising housing costs and immigrant intake, it’s worth analyzing the ways migration realities played out in election 2015.

Migration politics is as multi-faceted as Canada’s population.

While some commentators, for instance, judged the Conservative’s anti-niqab stance as “anti-immigrant,” they were making a common mistake. There is no single “immigrant community” in Canada.

The country’s foreign-born population is diverse and fragmented. Hailing from more than 100 countries, immigrants have no shortage of competing interests. And the Conservatives have learned how to attract a solid chunk of immigrants’ votes.

Even though the Conservatives often appeared to be scapegoating Canada’s one million Muslims, Stephen Harper recognized it is not only the majority of Canadians who are appalled by the patriarchal niqab, but also many Muslims.

Most Muslims in Canada come from regions such as Lebanon, the Balkans, Turkey, Tunisia, Fiji, Tanzania and Indonesia, where fundamentalists are despised and the niqab is considered oppressive.

Aware of such internal divisions, Canada’s major political parties were able to carve out support among different immigrant groups, including Muslims.

University of Toronto political scientist Peter Loewen found the Conservatives tend to receive about four percentage points more support from immigrants than from non-immigrants, all of whom vote differently based on ethnicity.

“The Tories do very well among Chinese immigrants and not well at all among South Asians,” Loewen said. “We found that 57 per cent of Chinese immigrants indicated a Tory vote choice in the last week of the campaign. But only 18 per cent of South Asians indicated a Tory vote intention. The Tories also do comparatively well (40 per cent) among immigrants who self-identify as white.”

In B.C., Insights West pollster Mario Canseco found Harper had solid support from people with links to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea, while the NDP’s Tom Mulcair scored high among those rooted in India and the Philippines. Canseco suggested the Liberals’ last-minute B.C. surge occurred because Trudeau gained approval from people seeking change, including ethnic Chinese and South Asians.

The voting intentions of ethnic Chinese people are key to Metro Vancouver, since they make up 21 per cent of the population. Many ethnic Chinese, but by no means all, are socially conservative, including the 100,000 who are evangelical Christians. The Conservatives, therefore, ran ads in Chinese-language media claiming, falsely, that Trudeau would make marijuana available to children and approve brothels.

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