The race for these seats in Italy’s parliament is likely to run through Toronto

Never been convinced of the merits of overseas constituencies as it raises issues of dual loyalties:

Mario Cortellucci is a real estate magnate in Vaughan, Ont., part the Italian cultural centre north of Toronto. He makes prosciutto and raw milk cheese and owns so many Norval Morrisseau originals he’s considering opening a museum dedicated to the late Indigenous artist. In his office, three of the paintings are on the floor, propped up against a wall among other hallmarks of a seemingly full life: a model of a suburb he’s been working to build for decades, photos of his children. But Mario Cortellucci is now, at 68, embarking on a second act. He, along with several other Italian-Canadians, is campaigning to enter the turbulent world of Italian politics in Rome.

Italy’s election next month will include races around the world, since Italy’s parliament has seats for politicians representing the diaspora in North America-Central America, Europe, South America and Asia-Africa-Oceania. Italian citizens living in the North and Central America region elect two members of the chamber of deputies (the lower house) and one for the senate. And while the number may seem insignificant among nearly 1,000 seats in both houses, tight elections in the past have seen some in Italy question why ex-pats in far-flung parts of the word should have any influence, said Western University political scientist Pietro Pirani.

A good amount of that influence comes from Canada, he said, particularly in Toronto. Canadian residents make up a quarter of the more than 400,000 constituents in the North American riding. Not everyone votes, however. And Toronto’s heavily-organized Italian community means local candidates have a better shot.

“If you want to be elected in North America, you have to come from Toronto,” Pirani said. “The largest and most organized community in North America is from Toronto.”

Not always, however. The outgoing senator is from Chicago. And the preceding one, Basilio Giordano, was from Montreal. Among the Canadians running for spots this year, there’s a sense that past politicians from the region were more concerned with the prestige and pomp than actually assisting Italians abroad.

“Just warm up the seat and they don’t do much,” Toronto-born senate candidate Tony D’Aversa said. “This isn’t about status, this is about doing your job.”

“A lot of them went to beautiful Rome and forgot about the people,” Cortellucci, a senate candidate with Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition, said on Wednesday. Cortellucci says he doesn’t need the salary – he’s donating it if he wins. Instead, he said, he’s running because he was asked at Italian community functions and feels an obligation to the Italian immigrants who he’s worked with through his over 50-year career in Canada.

But his affiliation with Berlusconi’s coalition somewhat muddles the message, since the group has seen much criticism for having staunchly anti-immigrant factions. For his part, Cortellucci says he’s more concerned with the politics of Italians in North and Central America. Plus, his campaign manager Giacomo Parisi said, “He comes from an immigration family.”

“Mr. Cortellucci is a strong believer in immigration.”

Italian-born parliamentarians are skeptical of their ex-pat colleagues.

Italian candidates abroad often are only nominally affiliated with their party, Pirani said, though it’s unavoidable that voters will usually be more familiar with party brand than the name.

“Their role is mostly narrowed to the ways they can improve the lives of Italians abroad,” he said.

Toronto-born Francesca La Marca, with Italy’s Democratic party, has served as one of two North American representatives in the chamber of deputies since 2013. She’s running again in the March election and fully denies the idea that the five-year term was nothing more than a pleasant Roman sojourn. She said she encountered suspicion and scepticism from her Italian-born colleagues and even some of her younger constituents who emigrated more recently from Italy.

It took spending 70 percent of her time in Rome rather than North America, showing up to votes and introducing a bill to earn respect, she said, to the point that colleagues in the lower house began to consider her as the “Canadian ambassador” – turning their heads in her direction whenever debate landed on Canada, or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It would be easy to say you get a nice fat paycheque and you’re always travelling around,” she said. But in reality she has to pay out of pocket for hotels and meals on trips around her riding, spanning from Panama to Canada.

“Again,” she said, “I’m not complaining.”

Source: The race for these seats in Italy’s parliament is likely to run through Toronto

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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