Immigrants, Tories and the Gays

by maxmosher

Apparently, I’m causing people to vote Conservative.

I’m sorry. It’s not like I’m trying to. But that’s the inevitable conclusion of John Ibbitson and Joe Friesen’s article in The Globe and Mail about the political beliefs of immigrants: new Canadians are increasingly eyeing the Tories and, though they may give lip-service to smaller government, it’s all about same-sex marriage and gay rights.

Ibbitson and Friesen write that “a new immigrant-friendly Conservative message and a new, more conservative immigrant are finding each other, shaking the once-ironclad bond between new Canadians and the Liberal party.” They introduce Helen Poon, originally from Hong Kong, now of Markham, Ontario. Five years ago, the pastor at her Cantonese Protestant church shocked her by encouraging the congregation to vote for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives because they were against same-sex marriage and abortion. “They said same-sex marriage is not God’s law.” (Also today, the Star reports on criticism of the Pope for not speaking out more fiercely against the mafia in a speech in Sicily. He was more concerned with ‘family values’. Oh, priorities.)

The pastor must have been persuasive, because now Ms. Poon is “considering” voting Conservative. She’s not the only one, as the last election saw the Tories win six new seats in immigrant-heavy suburban ridings. The writers point out that many new Canadians come from countries which had both stricter traditions and ineffective or corrupt governments, leading them to be more socially and fiscally conservative than the average Canadian voter.

When Randeep Sandhu, a Punjabi businessman, first arrived in Brampton he got involved in the city’s Sikh Liberal politics before drifting to conservatism. Same-sex marriage was “the final straw”, but Sandhu doesn’t elaborate on that epiphany, instead emphasising his fiscal conservative beliefs: “The way we were raised, we were taught conservatism, from eating habits to spending habits. That’s the thing I like about conservatism. There’s less misuse of funds. It’s not elaborate government where everybody gets their share of the public money.” Evidently, he has no problem with “elaborate” government restricting gay rights.

Because the connection between smaller government and tradition “values” is sketchy at best, what is sadly going on here is good ol’ fashioned prejudice. Even though they have no intention of reopening the issue, the Tories think they can stir up some votes by tapping into new Canadians’ unease about homosexuality. Like the spectre of racism which haunts the Tea Party “movement” south of the border, the manipulating of prejudice is politics at its most cynical and ugly.

And it’s hardly a long-term winning strategy. Even Stephen Harper knows that his party’s future is not in social conservative ‘wedge’ issues which do nothing to expand his support in the important urban ridings they need to start winning if they are ever to get a Majority. And playing on traditional intolerance often ends up being a one-generation trick. Not only are the children of immigrants born in Canada more likely to hold the progressive views of their  friends (Ms. Poon notes that her son picks up his social beliefs from school and “hates Harper”) but younger newcomers have less adherence to the traditions of the ‘Old Country’. “For me I think it’s important that gay people are considered equal,” said Subir Mann, a 22-year old Punjabi student, who came to Canada as a child. “Part of the reason I’m anti-Conservative is that they often mix religious issues with politics. That can be very dangerous.”

Very true, Subir. The Tories would be wise to remember that many new Canadians come from countries in which religion is constantly embroiled in politics, whether it be reflected in the official state church or, at worse, long-standing sectarian violence. Not all traditional beliefs are worth holding onto.

I felt affronted by the article repeatedly using gay rights (both anti and pro-) as a motivating factor while hiding it from the headline and pull-quotes. It bothers me that my identity as a gay man, and our government’s sanctioning of my marriage (‘some day…’ he thought wistfully), motivates people to support a party I oppose. But new Canadians should be able to relate to this: their identities, their presence in this country, worries some voters who think we should allow in fewer immigrants and have less multicultural accommodation. Always remember, we have more in common than you think.