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Record number of Chinese Canadians on election ballot

The food court in Admiralty Centre, near Cambie and Garden City roads, is decorated with campaign posters from the riding’s three Chinese Canadian candidates.  - Matthew Hoekstra photo
The food court in Admiralty Centre, near Cambie and Garden City roads, is decorated with campaign posters from the riding’s three Chinese Canadian candidates.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

A record number of Chinese Canadian candidates are vying for a seat in a Richmond riding that boasts the largest ethnic Chinese population in B.C.

Richmond Centre has never been won by a candidate of Chinese decent, and few have entered the race in the riding’s history. But on May 14, at least four candidates from the Chinese community will be on the ballot: Teresa Wat for the Liberals, Frank Huang for the NDP, Lawrence Chen for the Conservatives and Gary Law, who is running as an independent.

In the last provincial election, in 2009, Kang Chen was the only Chinese name on the ballot. He won just 2.3 per cent of the vote, while Liberal Rob Howard easily won with 61.5 per cent support.

The only other Chinese candidate to contest the riding was Sheila Page in 1991, a year Liberal Doug Symons won.

“You never know, but it looks like a Chinese Canadian will finally represent this riding,” said Wat, a 63-year-old Burnaby resident recruited by the Liberals.

“The fact that I’m involved, I hope I’ll set a good example to even the younger new Canadians. Hopefully I can really generate more people to come out and vote, and I have confidence the voting rate among Chinese Canadians in my riding will be higher than the last term.”

Voter turnout in Richmond Centre was the lowest in B.C. in 2009, with just 40.1 per cent of eligible voters casting ballots.

Politics isn’t the first priority for new immigrants, who come here focused on finding a job and raising a family. Wat noted immigrants from mainland China don’t have the same democratic system as Canada and weren’t afforded the privilege of voting in China.

The Chinese community comprises 55 per cent of the riding, according to B.C. Stats, and 76 per cent of visible minorities in the riding are Chinese. But fast-changing demographics have ruffled feathers of some longtime residents.

Recently a delegation of longtime residents presented a petition to city hall calling on council to regulate language on publicly-displayed signs. The group noted numerous examples of Chinese-language-only signs, which they argued were exclusionary and not welcoming, and urged council to insist Canada’s official languages take precedence.

Wat doesn’t believe regulation is necessary, but said dialogue is needed.

“There’s a lack of communication, a lack of dialogue, between those who were born and raised here and the new Canadians,” she said. “I think we do need to pay attention to (the) undercurrent otherwise it’s not beneficial to the city or new Canadians.”

Wat said immigrants who employ Chinese-language-only signs do so because they don’t know English. Without language skills, many new immigrants start small businesses catering to Chinese clients.

“They are scared to serve English speaking clients because they do not speak the language at all. It’s not that they are prejudicing against English speaking people, it’s just that they’re not comfortable,” said Wat. “The local Canadians should appreciate these new Canadians who do not know the language and yet they try to make a living for themselves instead of getting welfare from the government.”

Independent candidate Gary Law, 52, also believes the issue needs more discussion.

“We should respect every culture. We should respect people,” he said. “At this point I would say more education rather than legislation.”

Other issues in the riding are not unique to Richmond—health care, education, taxes—but some are unique to Chinese voters, said Law.

“When I talk to Chinese Canadians, I would say most of them said crime is the No. 1 issue,” said Law, an RCMP corporal and Richmond resident. “Other than crime, they said taxes are too high, and the government right now is not very honest.”

Frank Huang, a 49-year-old Burnaby resident running for the NDP, said the economy has emerged as a key issue for Chinese voters.

“Most of the voters are concerned about the economy because there’s a lot of small business in this riding. They want to keep lower taxes for small business, and to have fair and very good environment for doing business here.”

Huang, who resigned his post as editor in chief of Global Chinese Press before the election call, was born in mainland China and immigrated to Canada in 2001. He acknowledged the low voter turnout among recent immigrants, but said they’ll vote if they can identify with campaign issues, which he said also include an overcrowded Richmond Hospital.

“It’s a right for them and also a chance for them to speak out,” he said. “I hope this time more Chinese Canadians come out to vote.”

Other candidates whose names are expected to be on the ballot May 14 are Michael Wolfe of the Green Party of B.C. and Chanel Donovan of the Unparty: The Consensus-Building Party.

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