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Tory strategy to target ethnic voters points to spring election

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. The image resonates strongly with Sikhs and is expected to be part of a Tory advertising campaign targeting ethnic voters. - File
Prime Minister Stephen Harper visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. The image resonates strongly with Sikhs and is expected to be part of a Tory advertising campaign targeting ethnic voters.
— image credit: File

A leaked pre-election campaign strategy document shows the federal Conservatives are planning to target three Metro Vancouver ridings with messages aimed at their large populations of South Asian and Chinese voters.

It also hints a federal election could come very soon.

Surrey's Newton-North Delta riding, Burnaby-Douglas and Vancouver-South are on the list of 10 federal ridings Tory strategists see as "very ethnic" ridings that can may be influenced with advertising.

The "takeaway," according to the presentation that was accidentally sent to an NDP MP, was that "there are lots of ethnic voters" in those ridings with more coming all the time, and "they live where we need to win."

It calls for a two-week "heavy deployment" of pre-writ ads starting March 15, suggesting an official election campaign could be underway by April.

Simon Fraser University political scientist Patrick Smith said an election could well be underway by the end of the month if New Democrats join other Opposition parties to defeat the minority Conservative government in the days after the federal budget is tabled March 22.

The first chance at an Opposition vote on the budget will be Thursday, March 24, he said.

"So we could go right to election at the end of the day on the 24th," he said, adding that would likely place election day in early May.

"The Tories are doing reasonably well in the polls, so they won't want to hold back," Smith predicted.

He said the document is another indication of the heavy campaign preparations underway and fits the Tories' strategy of increasingly targeting immigrant communities, particularly in suburban areas.

But Smith said the Conservatives could run into trouble in those same areas, particularly with South Asian voters, over their plans to sharply cut the number of family reunification visas issued to bring elderly family members to Canada.

Immigrant support groups have warned the change will mean much longer waits for older parents and grandparents to join immigrant families in Canada, with some of the elders dying before they can be processed.

"It seems to me they've got a policy that runs counter to where their political strategy is taking them," Smith said.

Opposition MPs the Tories consider vulnerable include Vancouver-South Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, who beat a Conservative challenger by less than 100 votes in the 2008 election, while Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal took Newton-North Delta – once a Conservative riding – with 36.4 per cent of the vote in a relatively tight three-way race.

The NDP's Bill Siksay won Burnaby-Douglas by less than two percentage points last time and the veteran MP isn't running again this time.

The document notes there are 137,000 Punjabi speakers in Metro Vancouver and 226,000 Cantonese speakers.

It says the party has historically done poorly with ethnic voters but is "losing less badly now" and stresses the need to "positively brand" the Conservative party in target communities.

A "sample script" shows TV ads would stress that "Indo-Canadians have worked hard to build Canada" and the Conservatives have "always recognized our history and our community's sacrifice" – all juxtaposed with imagery of the Komagata Maru incident, Sikhs serving in the Second World War, South Asian Conservative MPs in Parliament and the prime minister visiting the Golden Temple in India.

Federal immigration minister Jason Kenney, meanwhile, has come under fire for using his official MP letterhead to solicit funds for the ethnic ad campaign.


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