National News

Ethnic voters and Ethnic media

March 7, 2011.


The controversy Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has found himself on the strategy of the Conservative Party (CP) to target ethnic voters has opened up a lot of discussion on the reality of the growing strength of the cultural media and their audience.

For those not aware of the rivalry between the Main Stream Media (MSM) and the ethnic media, the MSM is not a fan of the ethnic media. Some of the allegations leveled by the MSM may be true for a few bad apples in the ethnic media, however there are ethnic media practitioners doing an immense job with qualitative reporting, filling a niche that the MSM has ignored. We should not use the sins of a few to judge the whole ethnic press. There are decent ethnic media in Canada using original materials and not plagiarizing the MSM.

Businesses, governments and politicians who want to reach the new arrivals to Canada can no longer rely solely on the traditional media outlets. According to the 2006 Census, apart from English and French, the official languages, over 6 million people speak non-official languages. Top on the list of the non-official languages are Chinese, Italian, German, Punjabi, Cantonese, Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog from the Philippines, Portuguese, Polish and Mandarin. Canada has over 140 non-official languages including those of the Aboriginal communities.

The MSM is powerful in sourcing advertising. It controls the market and would want to continue to control the market. But with the advent of easy software and computers it has become very easy to produce a newspaper. Coupled with the movement of advertising dollars from print to the Internet, the traditional media would be suspicious of any competition. The ad campaigns proposed to solicit ethnic voters in the ethnic media may not go well with the MSM.

Some MSM are buying up profitable ethnic media for diversification. This is the competition going on in the Canadian media. Smart newspapers and electronic media who recognize the dynamics of the Canadian market are in addition increasing their budget on cultural reporting and programing. Those who still want to live in the past are losing circulation and readership to the ethnic media.

The ethnic media plays an important role in Canada’s socio political environment. The strategy of the Conservative Party as revealed in the letter sent out wrongly by Jason Kenney’s office to a member of the opposition amplifies the brilliance of the CP in looking for new voters. Where can one find new voters? The best pool is among the newcomers to Canada who are without a political allegiance and ready to vote in their adopted country.

The way the CP has elevated the profile of the ethnic media is also very refreshing. An ethnic media publisher or practitioner will cherish the access, recognition, and respect for its readers by any government.

I see the boisterous bounce in Jason Kenney's steps when he attends cultural events. The events are occasionally followed by ethnic media scrum. Almost all of us in the media scrum speak with “funny accent.” It is like the biblical Tower of Babel. But one thing Jason Kenny does very well is that he listens, no matter how difficult the accent is. He also tries to understand the questions even if the reporter asks the question in very limited English.

For those who have not walked in the shoes of a newcomer, it is very soothing and reassuring to feel wanted and relevant more so when the decks are stacked against you in language. Having participated in the national telephone conferences of cabinet ministers I can say that I have learned a lot from the questions asked by the ethnic reporters. The ethnic journalists expose issues that one could never have imagined are going on in their communities. The ethnic media is no doubt a very powerful tool for any politician in need of feedback from the grassroots.

Since the last 2 federal elections there are many newcomers who are now citizens but have not made up their mind on party affiliation. Every vote counts. A politician needs every vote to cruise to victory. In the Niagara region, which is the head office of Mosaic Edition, the Mayor of Thorold, Ted Luciani won by 3 votes in the last municipal election. In The Town of Fort Erie, Mayor Doug Martin won his election by 4 votes. It is clear that no politician should take any vote for granted especially in a razor thin political contest. I am not saying ethnic voters made a difference in those elections. I am only emphasizing the need to reach every voter in the community to guarantee clear victory.

Translating this to the federal, it is not a surprise that federal politicians are looking for ethnic voters to deliver election victories at targeted ridings. An old voter is already aligned. Parents, family members, communities have had one type of influence or another in shaping the behaviour of a voter. It can be a daunting task however for a newcomer to Canada yearning for a taste of the Canadian democratic process to immediately jump on the bandwagon. In the last municipal election, which was my first time of voting in Canada, it was not easy knowing the political actors and their contribution to the community. I saw how difficult it could be for a new voter to throw his or her support behind unknown candidates. A newcomer is a voter that should be wooed. If this is done correctly, you may be recruiting into your party a new generation of voters.

On the inroads created by the CP in the ethnic communities, the election of Julian Fantino of Vaughan riding is a pointer to how ethnic votes can shift from a traditional base. The Vaughan model, if replicated in other ethnic ridings could lead the CP to a majority in the next federal election. The CP is not mainly targeting the Chinese, South Asian and the Filipino communities as disclosed, by the leaked letters, the party is venturing into European and Black communities that were traditional voting blocks of the Liberal party.

The most important power to seek in a community is political power. It is after your community is politically grounded that you can start talking of the economic empowerment. Contracts, patronages, deals and favoritism in the political corridor will earn a community more prestige and high profile. Ethnic communities know they have to become political players in Canada’s body politics especially when the number of those being landed gives them a sizeable population that can attract a politician.

Do not let anybody deceive you in believing all politicians are puritans. Many are decent and selfless. That does not mean however they are operating in a utopia. Everybody looks after his or her own interests, peers, friends, stooges and surrogates. The ethnic voter trend portends a good positioning for the leading ethnic groups of newcomers to Canada.

One should see the CP’s strategy as an eye opener. The detailed scientific analysis and breakdown show the ingenuity of the architect of this strategy. It is a very important lesson for the MSM, political practitioners and even the business communities who are still in denial of the imminent shift in Canada’s demography.

Jason Kenney is being criticized for using a government letter heading to solicit donations to buy ad campaigns in the ethnic press targeting ethnic voters. One should not castigate the political strategy of the CP for targeting the ethnic votes. The party saw an opening and decided to walk through.

Despite the government's controversial policies, which some ethnic voters have found a bitter pill to swallow, the meek challenge by the opposition has not been encouraging. Various policies including Bill C-49, drastic cut of funding to some settlement organizations, less emphasis on family sponsorship applications and the debacle over the abolition of the long form census are simmering anger in some ethnic communities.

The ethnic communities are reading the tea leaves. They are looking at how the political wind is blowing. The strategy to pump advertising dollars into the ethnic media is very wise. An ad in an ethnic media will connect an ethnic voter to a political campaign better than a similar ad in the MSM. It is even better if the ads are translated into ethnic languages.

I do not want any reader of this commentary to see this as a blanket endorsement of the policies of the Conservative Party. I do not know if there will be a spring election or if the CP will still use the leaked strategy. It is satisfying, however to see that someone is paying a close attention to the growing demography of ethnic voters and the power of their media.

I am one of those “very ethnic voters” and I also own an ethnic media. I will cast my first parliamentary vote in the looming federal election.

(Commentary by Edward Akinwunmi, publisher Mosaic Edition.)

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