How to do an ethnic outreach?

By Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver, BC

(This document will be updated regularly)

The 2016 Census illustrates that 21.9% of Canada’s population was foreign-born, and 22.3% was made up of visible minorities. As the federal government continues to increase immigration levels, statistics of the top 10 source countries in 2016 and 2017 illustrate that the population of visible minorities is going up.

Visible minorities currently form the majority of the population in at least 41 federal ridings. Therefore, a political party that wants to form a government must ensure to win their votes. What follows is a blueprint on how to successfully win the votes of new citizens of Canada who disproportionately happen to be visible minorities. For the purpose of this piece, I use two terms “visible minority” and “ethnic minority” interchangeably.

Firstly, it must be noted that ethnic minorities do not necessarily vote on the basis of their ethnicity. People have multiple identities that include but are not limited to professional, religious, local, provincial, national, and ethnic identities. Any number of these indicators may influence the voting behavior of any individual.

An ethnic group is not a voting block. Do you think that an outreach to Canadian expatriates in the United Kingdom by the Social Democratic Party (SDP) can get them to vote for it en masse? It will never happen. That however should not discourage the SDP from reaching out to Canadian expats with the hope of getting their votes.

For a political party to get the votes of a visible minority group, it must first establish multiple relationships with various credible sources within a community over time. This is a long-term game.

I define credibility in this context as the ability to mobilize a large segment of a community, to raise a large sum of money, to deliver on the promises made, and more importantly, to provide valuable advice that illustrates understanding of cultural nuances and the needs of a community that can have electoral significance.

Each ethnic community has its generational, political, religious, social and economic divisions.  Political parties are usually familiar with the so-called “gatekeepers” in every ethnic community who purport to be the representative of their community. They are usually older individuals who have been in Canada for a long time and are more well versed in playing the political game than recent immigrant, but they tend to represent one way of thinking.

In order to be electorally successful, a political party needs to reach out to a larger network of new Canadians within every ethnic community by extending its outreach beyond the traditional “gatekeepers.”

Moreover, a political party puts itself in danger of losing support within an ethnic community if it intervenes in the internal conflicts within a community and supports one group over the others. It exacerbates the divisions within the community and certainly makes an enemy out of other competing groups. It is never advisable to do this.

Once a relationship is formed, a political party needs to cultivate it. There is nothing more opportunistic and insulting than reaching out to people simply when a party needs their votes. A party cannot treat ethnic minorities with the assumption that they are not as sophisticated as native-born population and can be induced to support it by a few random outreaches.

There are many ways to strengthen a relationship between a party and an ethnic group. Attending ethnic festivals and events, having authentic conversations, asking their opinions on policy and actively listening to their feedback are of paramount importance. Through dialogue with members of an ethnic group, a political party can understand their concerns and inspirations. It shows respect and care. People will usually reciprocate that in an election.

Inviting ethnic minorities to the events at legislative assemblies and/or parliament, offices of elected officials, riding associations, and fundraising events can also solidify the relationship with them.

If a political party wants to communicate to ethnic minorities in a language other than French and English, it is in its interest to get assistance from professional translators. Translation is an underappreciated enterprise. It is not a good idea to get a native speaker of a language to do translation work because that individual may not be proficient in relaying the message appropriately. Google translator and other online translation services are even worse because they are not familiar with the cultural nuances that can professionalize a translated text.

If a political party does not have the resources to do a fine job with regard to translation, it should not communicate in other languages. Political operatives may think that people would appreciate the effort. While some might, others may see it as a cheap, careless attempt to pander to a group without having done the necessary homework for it.

A political party should always try to identify talented individuals in different communities to recruit and mentor them. These individuals may one day become the ideal candidates that would increase not only the ethnic diversity within a party but also hopefully diversify thoughts and opinions.

A political party should establish relationships with ethnic media, grant them interviews, share its press releases with them, and also invite them to press conferences. Also, it is in the interest of a political party to monitor ethnic media and pay close attention to the coverage editorials are granting to current affairs. This is beneficial to a political party by being prepared to provide an educated response if a campaign of misinformation is waged against it.

A political party should organize policy discussions for ethnic minorities. It is electorally beneficial to explain policies for them, how they affect individuals and why the position of one party is superior to its competitors.

Finally, a political party must always remember that ethnic minorities have the same needs and concerns as native-born population. Housing, taxes, health care, education and environment are important for all Canadians. There are only a limited number of policy areas such as recognition of foreign credentials and immigration and citizenship regulations that affects the lives of new Canadians more than others. Overall, when a government falls, both new and more-established Canadians turn away from it and vote for an alternative as 2011 and 2015 have illustrated.