Latif: Tokenistic photo ops are no longer enough in this election campaign

Of note:

This campaign feels a bit strange for me.

I’m not as engaged as I have been in the past, when I was involved with all the federal Liberal campaigns since the 2004 election. I started off as a field organizer, and soon found my niche in community engagement, mobilizing diverse communities. Although I enjoyed my time in politics, I’ve since paused my involvement to pursue other passions, including my academic work. Taking this step back has allowed me to reflect on my efforts, and the progress made in engaging diverse communities in federal elections. 

Nearly two decades after that 2004 campaign, it’s disheartening to see political parties in this election still using the same old tactic of photo ops, unaccompanied by real policy change. But one thing is different this time around: communities are noticing. 

A recent OMNI Filipino report showed Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole coming out of Jollibee (a Filipino multinational fast food chain) in Edmonton. Community advocate Monica De Vera voiced a sentiment that could apply to any of Canada’s diverse communities: “It’s very easy for a politician to go to a Filipino establishment, instead of passing policies that help Filipino people.” 

When I was working in politics, community engagement was about celebrating cultural diversity. I spent my time doing work that would be seen as performative today, such as having politicians attend community celebrations, placing celebratory messages in newspapers on religious holidays, and bringing members of Parliament to mosques, gurdwaras and synagogues. At the time, “showing up” was important; today, it’s no longer enough.

I got so good at my political outreach work that I was actually referred to as the “Jason Kenney” of John Tory’s 2014 mayoral campaign. I didn’t enjoy the comparison, as I prided myself on the authenticity of my community work based on my lived experience, and believed Kenney was insincere. I couldn’t understand why members of so many communities applauded Kenney’s efforts, nor why the media would call him a “kingmaker.”

During his time as minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, Kenney was dubbed the “Minister for Curry in a Hurry,” as he would often show up to Eid celebrations and dragon boat races. But the Conservative party he campaigned under pitted communities against each other, putting regressive policies like the “barbaric cultural practices” hotline in place.

The hypocrisy continues. After the 2017 Québec City mosque attack, Kenney — then a candidate for leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party — was quick to speak about his support of religious freedoms on social media. But in his previous role as the immigration minister, he did the opposite and “dictated” a niqab ban at Canadian citizenship ceremonies. This is yet another example of political leaders using rhetoric to win votes in the name of diversity. 

In a recent interview with the Straight, Vancouver-Kingsway NDP incumbent Don Davies decried the candidacy of Liberal Virginia Bremner, a Filipina-Canadian, as containing an “element of opportunism” because of the riding’s diverse demographics. Is it “opportunism” to have candidates that reflect our communities? Davies has since apologized, but the damage is done. Bremner responded via Twitter: “To claim that I lack agency to make my own decisions is sexist, racist, and rife with white privilege. It is an insult to me and all women and women of colour in politics.”

Back in 2004, people from marginalized communities didn’t even think we had an entitlement beyond a simple visit from our leaders. Now, communities expect real tangible change; we speak out and we run as candidates.

Over the past year, we’ve seen the Black Lives Matter protests, a terrorist attack against a Muslim family in London, Ont., anti-Asian violence, and the unearthed bodies of thousands of murdered Indigenous children. And yet, dismantling systemic racism and discrimination is still not the focus of the campaign trail.

Ruby Latif is a Toronto-based community mobilizer, Liberal strategist and a contributing columnist for the Star.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2021/08/29/tokenistic-photo-ops-are-no-longer-enough-in-this-election-campaign.html

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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