Turnout and Chinese representation – Low and Low

By Gabe Garfinkel

In the final days of the federal election, respected community leader Tung Chan and Mike McDonald – publisher of this blog, contended that Chinese-Canadians’ voting intentions are not being adequately reflected by public opinion polls. Tung and Mike were right (as usual), but the problem of Chinese-Canadian participation in Canada’s electoral system goes beyond the polls.

The 2015 federal election demonstrated that Chinese-Canadians are not coming out to vote and Chinese-Canadian Members of Parliament are not being elected, proportionate to their numbers.

Let’s look at BC.

Hon. Alice Wong, re-elected in Richmond-Centre. One of two Chinese MPs from BC.

The five ridings with the highest Chinese population ranked in the top six lowest turnouts in the province. Richmond Centre, which holds highest percentage of Chinese-Canadian citizens (44.3%) in the province, had the lowest voter turnout (59.0%).
The top ten ridings with the highest Chinese-Canadian populations all fell within the sixteen ridings with the lowest voter turnout. The ridings with the highest Chinese populations correspond to the ridings with the lowest voter turnout. Period.

Riding Percentage Chinese Population Ranking (out of 42) Percentage Voter Turnout Voter Turnout BC Ranking (out of 42)
Richmond Centre 44.31% 1 59.0% 42
Vancouver Kingsway 32.50% 2 63.6% 38
Vancouver South 32.23% 3 63.7% 37
Steveston-Richmond East 29.67% 4 60.4% 41
Burnaby South 28.29% 5 61.0% 40
Vancouver Granville 24.66% 6 68% 32
Vancouver East 19.91% 7 66.9% 34
Burnaby-North Van Seymour 18.36% 8 70.0% 27
Vancouver Quadra 18.03% 9 68.5% 30
Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam 12.73% 10 67.3% 33
New West – Burnaby 11.69% 11 66.6% 35

Voting and polls only tell part of the story of Chinese-Canadians’ low participation in the electoral process. Of the 338 new MPs arriving in Ottawa, only five are of full Chinese descent and only three are in the new Liberal government: Arnold Chan (Scarborough-Agincourt), Shaun Chen (Scarborough North) and Geng Tan (Don Valley North). There is not a single Liberal Government MP of Chinese descent in BC, a province with over 430,000 Chinese-Canadians in Metro Vancouver alone. As Tung Chan stated, “Across BC, over 1 in 9 are Chinese”. Yet, only 2 of 42 BC MPs are Chinese. Alice Wong (CPC – Richmond Centre) and Jenny Kwan (NDP – Vancouver East) are the sole Chinese-Canadian MPs in BC.

Alone, the statistics are indeed surprising. When looked at comparatively with another large ethno-cultural population in Canada, they are shocking.

There are approximately 1.6 million South Asians in Canada, slightly more than the 1.4 million Chinese-Canadians. Sikh Indo-Canadians have famously participated in Canada’s democratic process since the 1970’s. The 2015 federal election elected the most South Asians in Canada’s history – twenty. That is four times (!) the amount of elected Chinese-Canadian MPs, eighteen of whom are in the Liberal Government.  Four of BC’s 17 Liberal MPs are Indo-Canadian.

As heartening it is to see one minority group in Canada participate in democracy, it is equally disheartening to see another not being fully represented. We can speculate that other forms democratic engagement – volunteering, party membership and political donations – are also disproportionately low amongst Chinese-Canadians.

Not all communities participated at an equal level during the election that saw a high voter turnout.

Gabe Garfinkel is a communications and public affairs consultant with FleishmanHillard Vancouver. He has held senior positions in government and on political campaigns advising on multicultural communications, media, and policy. (Gabe and I worked together once-upon-a-time, I appreciate his contribution to the debate – Mike)