‘Enough is enough’: new group aims to open path for Filipino-Canadian candidates in next federal election

Of note. Nine ridings have 10 percent or more Filipino-Canadians (Filipino population greater than 10 percent):

Ignore Filipino-Canadian candidates at your own peril: that’s the message a new political action group is sending to federal parties, as jockeying for nomination races for the next election gets underway in earnest.

The Filipino community could be a decisive political force for whichever party manages to rally it, say two of the founders of the Filipino Canadian Political Association, a new group devoted to breaking down barriers that have left the community without representation in Parliament since 2004.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Grant Gonzales, a second-generation Filipino-Canadian in Toronto who is serving as the chief spokesperson for the group.

More than 837,000 Canadians identified as having a Filipino ethnic origin in the 2016 census, about 2.5 per cent of the population. More than 100,000 people from the Philippines have been given permanent resident status in Canada since then.

The 2016 Filipino population was bigger than the margin of victory in the last election in 37 federal ridings, including nine of the 25 most competitive races, according to an FCPA analysis of data from Statistics Canada and Elections Canada.

The group issued a press release on April 6 calling on political parties to nominate Filipino-Canadian candidates in winnable ridings ahead of the next election, which could come later this year. The data analysis was included in the release.

“Parties have attempted to activate us [in the past], but it’s always to support another candidate from a different community, not necessarily one of our own,” said Paul Saguil, another co-founder of the FCPA who is also running for the Liberal Party nomination in Brampton Centre, in an interview with The Hill Times.

“The information is there for party organizers to now think about very carefully. Knowing these demographics, why wouldn’t you run a Filipino-Canadian to activate these populations in favour of your party?” he said.

The two men founded the group along with Joseph Guiyab last fall, after the Liberal Party appointed former TV broadcaster Marci Ien as its candidate for a byelection in Toronto Centre. That appointment shut the door on an open nomination contest for would-be candidates including Mr. Saguil, who later stepped back from another nomination contest in Don Valley East when Liberal MPP Michael Coteau announced that he would be running there.

Mr. Saguil said Ms. Ien’s appointment, as well as other unsuccessful attempts by Filipino-Canadians to secure party nominations, played a role in the formation of the group. Mr. Gonzales was more explicit.

“That [appointment] drove a lot of sentiment around how difficult it is for racialized communities, especially Filipino-Canadians, to get into office,” he said. “We thought, ‘enough is enough,’ let’s start more intentionally bringing attention to these issues, this gap in representation.”

Both men said they held no ill will toward Ms. Ien, who went on to win the Toronto Centre byelection. Ms. Ien is Black, and Black Canadians are also underrepresented in Parliament: Black Canadians account for 3.5 per cent of Canada’s population, but hold only five—or 1.5 per cent—of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.

Mr. Gonzales said he wants to see the parties make it easier for Filipino-Canadians to run, whether that means making an appointment, as was the case for Ms. Ien, or just doing more to recruit Filipino candidates.

Filipino-Canadians have won seats in provincial legislatures and municipal councils in Canada, including Mable Elmore, B.C.’s first Filipino MLA. Some have secured nominations to run for federal parties, including Julius Tiangson, who ran for the Conservatives in York Centre in a byelection last year, and is running to secure the party’s nomination in that riding for the next election. Mr. Tiangson did not respond to an interview request last week.

Federal ridings contain an average of about 112,000 people. A perfectly representative House of Commons would have eight MPs from the Filipino community. There are currently none, and there has been only one in Canadian history: Rey Pagtakhan, who represented Winnipeg’s north end for the Liberals from 1988 to 2004.

“It’s the same conversation we have when we’re talking about women in politics. The number of times they need to be asked to run for office, because of the barriers, the attitudes that they face when they run for office,” said Mr. Gonzales.

“If you have a political party reaching out to you and saying, ‘we’d be interested in having you run for a nomination contest,’ well that adds a lot of confidence already to a candidate.”

In the meantime, Mr. Saguil said he wants the FCPA to be able to fill some of that void left by the parties, providing information and connections to Filipino-Canadians who are thinking about a run in politics.

The FCPA is still in its infancy as an organization, and does not yet have a network of volunteers and supporters broad enough to move votes in swing ridings on its own. It has not yet begun to raise money, and does not have paid staff.

The three founders have reached out to leaders within the community and had conversations with some people in federal politics, including Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, said Mr. Gonzales.

FCPA will have to show community can be mobilized: NDP strategist Romeo Tello

All three founders of the FCPA are Toronto residents with Liberal ties. Mr. Gonzales said they want the organization to be cross-partisan, and operate across the country.

The organization isn’t aiming to sway votes toward one party or another, said Mr. Saguil, but rather draw political parties’ attention to the Filipino community’s power in closely-contested ridings.

“There’s a lot of pride in our community. And when they see someone putting their name forward, and when they see a party actively putting someone forward because they want the support of the Filipino-Canadian community, then it’s a natural expectation that they’ll want to rally behind someone, whichever standard that they’re representing,” he said.

“If I’m thinking strategically for these ridings, and I want to make sure that there is no margin of error for the next election, why wouldn’t I be asking the party leadership, ‘Where is our Filipino-Canadian candidate who would help rally this population?’” said Mr. Saguil.

To be effective, the group will have to show parties the political power held by the Filipino community, said Romeo Tello, a Filipino-Canadian who has worked on provincial and federal campaigns for the NDP.

“It’s all around having conversations, and growing a network of people who can move to action on any given issue,” said Mr. Tello, who is not a member of the FCPA.

Many Filipino-Canadians work in manufacturing or front-line service industry jobs, said Mr. Tello. Filipino women fill many of the country’s front-line health and care-giving jobs, as nurses, personal support workers, and live-in caregivers.  Data released by the province of Manitoba show Filipino-Canadians have been infected by COVID-19 at a higher rate than the general population.

Younger generation ready to run: Saguil

Mr. Gonzales wants the FCPA to follow the path charted by other ethnic political interest groups in Canada. Jewish Canadians have long been represented by effective lobby groups such as the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. Ukrainian Canadians have the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Punjabi Sikhs have become a political force in their own right in Canada.

The Filipino communities across Canada do not have some of the advantages that organizers in those other ethnic groups have wielded so effectively. Filipino-Canadians are numerous, but spread out across the country: Winnipeg North and Winnipeg Centre are the only ridings in which Filipinos account for 20 per cent of the population or more.

The Philippines has been among the top source countries for immigrants to Canada for most of the past 20 years. Still, the community is a relatively young one, and many of those who have immigrated to Canada from the Philippines have been focused on carving out a life for themselves in a new country, said Mr. Saguil.

Running for office requires financial resources, and connections with political parties and other communities. “All of those things take literally one person’s lifetime, if not more, to accumulate,” said Mr. Saguil.

“That’s what we mean by systemic barriers in the FCPA. Other communities in Canada have had generations to accumulate what we’ll call collectively this political capital.”

The younger generation who immigrated with their parents—including Mr. Saguil—or were born in Canada are now more ready and able to step into the political fray, he said.

Mr. Saguil will face tough competition for the Liberal nomination in Brampton Centre. The riding was created as part of the 2013 electoral boundary realignment. It is currently held by Independent MP Ramesh Sangha, who was kicked out of the Liberal caucus earlier this year over remarks he made about some of his fellow Liberal MPs. Mr. Sangha won it as a Liberal candidate by double-digit margins in both the 2015 and 2019 elections. All five of Brampton’s MPs are Indo-Canadian.

Two other Liberals have started a campaign for the nomination in Brampton Centre so far: Amin Dhillon, a multimedia personality and former Miss India Worldwide Canada, and businessman Nasir Hussain.

Indo-Canadians are the most numerous ethnic group in Brampton, outnumbering Filipinos almost 10-to-one in the city. The Brampton Indo-Canadian community includes veteran political organizers and fundraisers.

Mr. Saguil said he has built a “broad coalition” of support already for his nomination bid, including volunteers and organizers from the Punjabi, Black, and Pakistani communities, and Filipino-Canadians from across the country.

If his odds of winning the nomination are long, the payoff of a victory could be great for Mr. Saguil. The last two elections suggest that the next Liberal candidate in Brampton Centre will have a good chance at winning.

Mr. Saguil is the deputy head of TD Bank’s global sanctions compliance and anti-corruption program, as well as a lawyer and a gay rights activist. MPs from under-represented communities who have impressive resumes are often good candidates for a cabinet appointment, even as political rookies. Procurement Minister Anita Anand (Oakville. Ont.), who boasts a resume a mile long, and was made Canada’s first Hindu cabinet minister shortly after winning her first election in 2019, is one recent example.

Source: ‘Enough is enough’: new group aims to open path for Filipino-Canadian candidates in next federal election

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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