Burnaby Byelection A Truly Diverse Battle Between Multicultural Candidates


By  Zile Singh


This is with reference to recent developments for the by-election of a Federal  Parliament seat from Burnaby South, vacated on  the command of the NDP Party by Mr. Stewart Kennedy a two- time MP from this constituency. Mr. Kennedy is now the Mayor of the City of Vancouver.   The seat was vacated to get an entry in the Canadian Parliament  for the first time  for Mr. Jagmeet Singh, the Leader of NDP.


Canada has a Parliamentary form of democracy which is fair and transparent and easy to ride on.  There have been cases when the Canadians or the naturalized Canadians have occupied seats in the Provincial Assemblies and Federal Parliament without a fair  understanding of its political culture and the multicultural fabric of the society.  Today, as a result of  multiplicity of ethnicities, distinct sets of attitude, behaviour, culture and foresight are at play on the ground. With a close examination of the ethnic groups, it would be found that they  have defined empirical beliefs, orientations and values. These factors  certainly influence the  political decisions in favour of their communities.


Historically, Canadian democracy is an offshoot of an evolution rather than a revolution.  The democracies of   the United States, France and some other countries  are based on  revolutions. Thanks to the liberal policies of the successive Canadian governments that the process of evolution still continues. The number of Indo-Canadians in the Federal Parliament is an example.

Today, the political culture of Canada has a colourful tapestry. For the by-election of one Parliament seat from South Burnaby, all the fortunate contestants are from different ethnic backgrounds.

One of the most important aspects of this colourful tapestry is the subcultures based on the ethnic and linguistic basis. The examples of this are the English Canadians, the French Canadians and the other ethnic Canadians.  To a varying degree, these ethnic groups have cherished their languages and traditions rather than face absorption into a national ‘melting pot”.    Over the years, it is the ethnicity which has gained a political significance rather than the race.  In Canada, in addition to the ethnic diversity, the regional diversity is also at play. The Provincial and Federal Parties  with the same name have   different  political  approach.  When we talk of an electoral process, the ethnicity plays an important role.  Various surveys have indicated that voting percentage varies according to these ethnic groups.  The other difference are regarding the participation in election campaigns, financial contribution to  a party or a candidate, political protests of different types and active political party membership etc.


The following statement on social media by Ms. Karen Wang, a Liberal Party candidate for the above mentioned seat   created a furor in the Canadian political and social circles. “If we can increase the voting rate, as the only Chinese candidate in this riding, if I can garner 16,000 votes I will easily win the by-election, control the election race and make history!  My opponent in this by-election is the NDP candidate Singh of Indian descent.” All should know that ‘A Singh is a Sikh and All Sikhs are Indians or of Indian descent.’


Her Party objected and asked her to withdraw from the contest because her statement does not align with the values of the Party.


Consequently, Wang in her statement said, “I am surprised to find that such a comment is unacceptable and even more surprised that it resulted in me being required to withdraw as a candidate.”  Later, Wang apologized sincerely to  Mr. Jagmeet Singh.


According to a liberal point of  view, her comments  could have been interpreted that she wished the maximum participation of a particular section of the ethnic voters. In case she  wins, it will be  history. Mr. Singh as Leader of a Canadian  National Party from the ethnic background is also a history. In elections, more often it has been observed that the canvassing has been done by the Indian ethnic community on the basis of   “Turbaned Sikhs and  Aapney  (our community)”. Similar practice must be in vogue by other ethnic groups like the Chinese.   Everyone knows about the contesting candidates as to ‘who is who’. Wang’s appeal to her cultural  group to increase the voting rate to make history was not against any value. In fact, it is one of the most valuable aspects of democracy  that the voting percentage be as high as possible, why not 100 percent!


As a first step,  the Liberal Party’s decision  to withdraw Wang from the contest might give a poetic pleasure to the NDP candidate.  The second step to bring Mr.  Richard Lee, four-time MLA from Burnaby North,  as the   Liberal candidate might give a tougher fight than Wang  to his NDP opponent.  According to a large section of the Sikh society,   it might be a ploy to appease the Sikh constituency after the Liberal government termed the community as Sikh (Khalistani) Terrorists in its 2018 Safety Report.   Today, when Canada faces waxy issues in regard to her  relations with the US, China, Saudi Arabia and India, the ruling party  might be feeling an atmospheric pressure.


If Ms. Wang’s on-line statement is conceived as a racial tantrum, then last month, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, referring to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, has pointed out to the Canadian government the violation of human rights of the Indigenous Peoples on the issues of  (i)  Site C Dam and (ii)  Trans Mountain Pipeline. It needs more attention and action.


Mr. Zile Singh is much respected Link Columnist, writer, a Vipassana Meditator and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Human Rights.  He can be reached at zsnirwal@yahoo.ca

Comments are closed