By: Lindsay Shepherd
It took less than 24 hours for Liberal Party candidate Karen Wang to resign from the Burnaby South by-election race after Wang was reported to be posting ethnicity-based comments on the Chinese social media app WeChat to mobilize voter support.
The English translation of what Wang wrote on WeChat reads, “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…My opponent in this by-election is the NDP candidate Singh of Indian descent!”
In her quickly-released statement of resignation, Wang said “I made comments online that also referenced Jagmeet Singh’s cultural background. My choice of words wasn’t well-considered and didn’t reflect my intent.”
Many denounced Wang as a one-off race-baiter who most certainly should have resigned. Conservative MP Michelle Rempel referred to Wang as a “racist”, and pundit Warren Kinsella said about the case “Suggesting that your race is superior to your opponent’s race should disqualify you from running for Parliament.”
Wang, however, was simply doing the expected political move of appealing to people with whom she shares a common language and background, and pointed out that her main competitor doesn’t share their language and background.
That is not suggestive of racial superiority or malignant racism.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, the most important person Wang would’ve needed to beat in the by-election, is indeed of Indian descent – why is it ill-considered to state that?
Jagmeet Singh said at a press conference Wednesday that he did not expect race to be an issue in the February 25 by-election. But is it not rather disingenuous for Singh to suggest that the by-election was going to be colour-blind in a riding where 68% of residents identify as a visible minority?
Particularly when articles such as this one in The Georgia Straight are published, which hardly mention any of Singh’s policies, but rave about how “Canada is ready for a brown prime minister” and how “it’s exhilarating for many of Indian origin to consider the possibility that [Singh] could be prime minister.”
Or this article in Flare titled “As a Person of Colour, Here’s Why I’m Celebrating Jagmeet Singh’s Win” which again largely bypasses Singh’s policies, but gushes about how he represents “the promise of multiculturalism.”
Some are not shy about the allure of ethnicity-based voting: Burnaby South resident Jesse Dhillon said to the National Post in October he doesn’t know much about Singh, but will likely vote for him “because he’s Indian.”
While Wang probably assumed her WeChat post would be no big deal, many Canadians suddenly decided they want to pretend ethnic-based voting is an aberration, and Jagmeet Singh has decided to act as if he had no idea ethnicity would be brought up in a majority-minority riding.
I, for one, feel sympathetic that Wang had to depart on these terms.
Wang was caught in a too-obvious act of appealing to her community – yet it is not uncommon to see politicians in the Metro Vancouver region translate campaign literature into Chinese. There is, after all, a large Chinese demographic in the Vancouver area.
And because we have not focused adequately on integration efforts, many of these voters communicate primarily in a language other than English. We should be honest with ourselves about the implications this has on voting, rather than performing a sort of collective outrage.