What Canadians can Teach American Conservatives about Getting Asian Votes

561px-Stephen_Harper_by_Remy_SteineggerTo reinforce ties with Asian Canadians, Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently sent out Lunar New Year Greetings and celebrated the New Year with Chinese Canadians in Vancouver.  Some Canadians suggest that American conservatives look at Harper as an example.  In particular, they point out that Canadian conservatives effectively engage with ethnic communities like Asian Canadians in stark contrast to American Republicans.  I was curious about how true that was, so I asked 8Asians resident Canadian Xxxtine.

Xxxtine wanted to first emphasize that this is her opinion and not necessarily representative of all Asian Canadians.  Her response:

The joke my boyfriend uses to describe the Tory Government (Conservatives) is that they are more like the American Democrats. Both of our fathers vote Conservative, I lean towards NDP (New Democrat Party). I think the closest government official we have (or that I know of) to an American Republican is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who invokes such images such as Cartman or Tommy Boy. But even he keeps his distance from lifestyle debates, albeit he is not welcomed during Gay Pride. Alberta is perhaps the most Conservative province because they see themselves as the Northern Texas because of all the oil wells and rodeos there.

I’ve always felt the nature of Canada as a country is quite different from the US. I think it stems back during Pierre Trudeau’s term (80’s) where he firmly stated that the government has no business in the bedroom – gay marriage and abortion are both legal and topics not up for discussion during debates anymore. Topics that arise during election time are healthcare, education and the economy (jobs). How our taxes are being spent is the larger issue and this kind of spending is how the parties differ in their values. Conservatives would put it in the economy for business tax breaks and military, where Liberals and NDPs would put it into education and healthcare. I’m brushing a really broad stroke, but you get the idea.

To answer Jeff’s question directly, the parties do actively attempt to include ethnic communities in their campaign tours. The Liberal and NDP parties do this fairly well. The Conservatives do make efforts, some good and some resulting in quite the PR disaster:


It was also during Harper’s term (very early in his term actually) that the government officially acknowledged and apologizes for the Chinese Head Tax. I think payouts were made to an organization and of course, that is in dispute – I unfortunately don’t know its current status.

As Xxxtine points out, Conservatives’ efforts don’t always work.  The article about the Chinese New Year in Vancouver also points out a mixed reaction from a Chinese Canadian woman:

“I guess it’s of some significance that the Chinese Canadian community is being acknowledged.  But my question is, why are they doing it here, in a casino? Does he think we’re all gamblers?”

Despite some of these setbacks, it’s clear that Canadian Conservative efforts do engage Asian voters, and advertisements like this do not.

While a majority of Asian Americans voters selected Barack Obama in the 2012 US Presidential elections, one poll suggest that many remain uncommitted to either party, and the most nonpartisan cities in California are heavily Asian American.  As George Takei has pointed out, some Asian Americans will not vote for Democrats as one signed executive order 9066.  Liberal PACs also can send out racist tweets.  Republicans in the past have shown they can work with minority voters – George W. Bush increased his support from Hispanics when first elected in 2000 to 40% in 2004.   Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties act of 1988, which gave reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned.   Asian American voters can be an opportunity for the Republican party – whether they learn from Canadian conservatives remains to be seen.

(photo credit:  Remy Steinegger, under the Creative Commons License)

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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