03/26/2018 13:37 EDT | Updated 03/26/2018 19:27 EDT

Doug Ford Must Work Harder To Win Over Socially Conservative Chinese Canadians

The newly minted Ontario PC Party leader's shifting policy positions have raised concerns in the community.

On March 10, the brash, controversial, one-term Toronto City councillor Doug Ford became the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party.

Poll after poll has shown that Ontario is ready for change after 15 years of the Liberal government. The most recent Campaign Research poll found that the Conservatives now enjoy a 10-point lead over the Ontario Liberal Party.

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford greets supporters after holding a unity rally in Toronto, Ont. on March 19, 2018.

There is very little doubt that Ford's populist agenda is resonating well with a certain segment of the Ontario electorate. Socially conservative Chinese voters in the GTA appear to show overwhelming support for Ford, attracted by his seemingly unambiguous stance on issues like the Liberals' sexual education curriculum, same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana.

Since Ford became leader, however, some of his shifting policy positions have sent these same conservative Chinese voters into a tailspin.

For example, Ford's pro-privatization comments on weed sales sent out a shockwave, even though polls suggest that 50 per cent of Ontarians are for a private business model for licensing and distribution. The Liberals have really capitalized on this in their Chinese ethnic outreach. Already, I've encountered various criticisms in Chinese distributed through WeChat by active Chinese Liberal organizers. Some of them say "Doug Ford, drug dealer for premier" — another read "Ford and Marijuana: Been There, Done That!" This change in tone is a serious concern for some Chinese parents who are against legalization.

Liberal Cabinet Minister Michael Chan comments on Doug Ford's position on marijuana in an op-ed posted to messaging and social platform WeChat.

Ford also said several times during his leadership campaign that he'd scrap the Liberals' sexual education curriculum completely, and consult with parents and teachers. However, in a more recent interview, he made clear that repealing the curriculum would not be a top priority for him if the Tories win on June 7. Ford's somewhat ambiguous position on this issue is cause for concern among socially conservative Chinese parents who remember feeling alienated by Patrick Brown's flip-flopping on the same issue in 2016.

Social issues aside, Ford's policy on abolishing the 15-per-cent non-resident buyer tax on real estate really angered some in the Chinese community. After the tax was introduced in April 2017, the Ontario government released data showing 4.7 per cent of transactions in the Greater Golden Horseshoe involved non-residents. Between August and November of that same year, the number of foreign-buyer purchases declined to 1.9 per cent.

Removing the tax would likely entice foreign money to move in again. Historically, the GTA's Chinese community has shown a high propensity for purchasing homes. However, with housing prices through the roof, many in the Chinese community also fear being unfairly labelled as the cause of housing unaffordability by mainstream media and fellow Canadians.

Ford must make a decision: continue to mobilize socially conservative Chinese voters on the issues he's waffled on, or focus strictly on economic policies moving forward.

It's obvious Ford has some work to do to win over Chinese conservatives. And if he wants to win a super majority on June 7, he will need the GTA's Chinese community to deliver key ridings for him.

Currently, ridings like Markham-Unionville, Scarborough-Agincourt, Scarborough North, Don Valley North and Richmond Hill are battlegrounds between the Liberals and Conservatives. Two of these ridings are held by long-time Liberal cabinet ministers Michael Chan and Reza Moridi.

So far, the Conservatives have not even called a nomination meeting in Markham-Unionville. The controversial Chan has deep roots with the Chinese community in Markham-Unionville. He cannot and should not be underestimated. In order for the PCs to dethrone Chan, not only do they have to count on the "big blue wave," they must also wage an aggressive, all-out ground war in this riding.

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A similar situation can be found in Don Valley North, where PC rookie candidate Vincent Ke is facing off against Shelley Carroll, a popular city councillor who is running for the Grits. Shelley Carroll's close ties to the Iranian community and her name recognition will be a challenge for Ke to overcome.

But it's not impossible for the Conservatives to make some gains in these key suburban GTA ridings. That's why Ford must make a decision: continue to mobilize socially conservative Chinese voters on the issues he's waffled on, or focus strictly on economic policies moving forward. And he has to make that decision fast.

One thing is for certain — Chinese voters do not like to be played for fools. They are looking for change. But they will need to know that Ford truly has their interests at heart.

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