Earlier this week I went to see UK Trip-Hop artist Tricky at a downtown Toronto nightclub. The opening act was a local trio fronted by a young South Asian woman. Despite remarking to my best friend that I would have probably enjoyed the music 15 years ago when I could (barely) tolerate the 'Lillith Fair Vagina Vagina' type of stuff, this singer was interesting and her topics were very timely.
After finishing a song she suddenly addressed the audience. "Who here was born in Canada?" the crowd of predominately young white Hipsters proudly raised their hands.
"Okay," she paused, sounding a bit disappointed. "Who here was born somewhere else?" A small handful of beige and brown hands tenatively appeared.
She then railed on about how people always asked her where she was born and when she named the suburb just north of the city, they never beleived her. She was annoyed, she said that people always assumed that she was an immigrant. While I didn't particulary enjoy her lyrics- or her music, for that matter - I shared her sentiments.
People always assume I am an immigrant from Jamaica - even though I have no accent and no (biological) black members in my family. Sure, my blood is certainly from the beautiful, hot island, but I was born in the T-dot and have lived in Canada my entire, miserable life. Oh, and I must have at least five kids and no husband / partner in the picture. And uneducated. Maybe it is because of my age, who knows, but that has always puzzled me.
As you might be aware, Canada is going to have a Federal election on October 14th. Historically, many new immigrants and Canadians of colour predominately vote for the Liberal party or the New Democratic Party (NDP). There are historical reasons for this, one of them being is that when Canada's immigration policy expanded rapidly in the late 60's-70's, our beloved Prime Minister (Liberal) Pierre Trudeau was in power and had a huge infuence in the insurgence of new immigrants entering Canada from the Carribbean. When he died in 2000, there were many older POC's I worked with who cried and actually travelled to Ottawa for the funeral. My friend's father who was from Antiqua said at the time that if it wasn't for Trudeau, he would have never been able to find a better life for his family.
As part of Stephen Harper's bid to keep his job as Prime Minister (and he is seriously pandering, as his approval rate is low and the Conservative Party is actually a minority government) he is now trying to woo the demographic that his party has been ignoring (or trying to lock up and deport) for decades. In the past few weeks, commercials showing his 'softer, gentler' side have been appearing on Canadian television stations, a side that his shockingly false and transparent. Why, you ask? From Jerry's Thoughts:
Harper is not known for his socially conscious policies. His dealings with AIDS is a good example. In 2006 Toronto hosted the World AIDS Conference. Harper was absent from the conference - spending his time 'protecting Canada's northern sovereignty' (I'm sure the polar bears, those that hadn't lost their environment fromt he GHG emissions listed above, appreciated his support.)
This disdain was only a part of it. There are other reasons why Harper's stance on AIDS bugged me. In particular, the Harper government has proven "extraordinarily embarrassing in its inability to manufacture the generic drugs for export to Africa," Stephen Lewis has claimed. Three years after making a commitment to export more drugs "not a single tablet has left this country."
Now, to be fair, political parties have always courted ethnocultural groups that they think would benefit from their traditional platform that focuses on taxes, governemnt exclusion and supporting private businesses. Most often it has been the East and South Asian communities, people who are willing to invest money into the country. Canadian conservatives, just like American Republicans have never really been into social justice issues - ya know, like trying to figure out why there are homeless and poor people on the street, the precarious situations that lowe-income women and disenfranchised youth and other visible minorities find themselves in, and oh yeah, the LGBT community and health and adddiction issues. To be fair too, both the NDP and the Liberal parties who are known for their social justice platforms, have dropped the ball in the past decade in investigating these problems.
What bothers me about Harper is that in the past few weeks his party has released two PSA which are, quite frankly, absurd, if you know anything about the history of the Conservatives. You can see both of them on my blog. Suddenly, or maybe just a sign of desperation, he is suddenly trying to show people that he is actually human. My father who closely follows Canadian politics ( and when when you talk to him about Harper his face turns beet red and his voice rises two octaves) always said that he was 'cold and distant.' The other PSA ( which on my blog is actually a satire from a Canadian blogger) shows Harper waxing poetic about Canada's Immigration and how wonderful it is. In Tuesday's Toronto Star there was a picture of Harper cuddling a cute Asian baby. I almost threw up when I first saw it. From The National Post:
It shows that Stephen Harper -- whose 2004 or 2006 incarnations would have crawled over broken glass before agreeing to baby-cuddling photo-ops, owning up to party staff errors or describing himself as more like a “sweet and colourful” fruit than a vegetable to a trick question -- will do anything to sell his newfound folksy friendliness. One wag calls it the Bobby Ewing strategy because it’s like waking up to discover Mr. Harper in a shower and learning that an entire term of testiness was all a bad dream.
Harper has been making the rounds to, going to community events and pandering to brown folks to try and convince them that he will support them, saying that Canada is essentially a country conceived of immigrants ( the right kind, that is). He recently spoke at a rally in Mississauga, a city known for it's large population of ethnic minorites:
Harper lauded his government’s immigration policies, including its halving the right-of-settlement fee and funding the immigrant settlement program, but he also spoke of areas the government could improve.
“We know we need to do more to recognize the work and educational experience of immigrants in the Canadian job market. It is essential for the future growth of this country.”
Harper pledged that if elected he would put the issue of standardizing the recognition of foreign credentials, a provincial matter, on the agenda for his next first ministers meeting with all of Canada’s premiers.
He also announced restoring veteran allowances for veterans who have lived in Canada more than 10 years and fought for Commonwealth or Allied forces during World War II.
While a diverse group Conservative supporters stood behind him three-deep, Harper went on to describe Canada as a land of immigrants. He referred to Europeans arriving to greet Canada’s Aboriginal people and the legends of those Aboriginal people that tell of coming to Canada from a distant land.
“We are all immigrants,” he said.
Author Liam Young from Excited Delirium warns that this is a smokescreen:
This group of Canadians have traditionally supported the Liberals and I don’t think they should forget that they wouldn’t be in Canada if Liberals weren’t leading the country and, more importantly, deciding on the fate of ALL immigrants to Canada and not just a select few.
New Canadians need to remind themselves that the Harper Administration is the first government in Canada to determine unilaterally that the decision making process related to immigrant status and screening will be left to just a small collection of people. Only senior staff within the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the Minister and in some cases, Stephen Harper will have the power to control who comes to Canada.
Think about it: senior officials in the Departments of Canadian Heritage and Foreign Affairs are combing through lists of subsidies to Canadian artists that are promoting themselves outside of Canada. Most of the cuts to these subsidies (which have amounted to the approximate cost of driving from 24 Sussex to Rideau Hall) have affected ‘anti-globalization activists’ and ‘proponents of left-wing ideology’. Funding is no longer based on our desire to support the arts without judgement. It’s based on ideology.
It’s this same ideology that will determine if you get to enter (or possibly even stay in) Canada. Stay away from the Republicans Conservatives. Odds are, they will take your vote and then continue to judge you by your skin colour or name.
I have to admit, though, if I was Harper I would be doing the same thing to - votes are votes, I guess and as we can see from this Sarah Palin/ RNC mess, morals and ethics are subjective. But I wonder, are people really going to be so dumb that they would suddenly believe that this man has their best interests at heart? Well, there are people who feel that Harper really does, but I think that those who do are those who also are not that concerned with the disenfranchised within their communities, and those who are more concerned with their own material well-being than what is happening in their backyard.
So back to my little story at the beginning of this post: What the singer said stayed with me. I wondered if any of these Canadian politicians are ever going to present policies that are going to benefit me - a black Canadian single, childless low-income heavy metal journalist / cultural activist who follows politics, votes religiously but always feels ignored and disenfranchised within the country of her birth. What do you think?
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