06/08/2016 01:15 EDT | Updated 06/09/2017 05:12 EDT

Multicultural Communities Are Transforming Canadian Politics


As I was reviewing the Federal Liberal Government's activities to date, I could not help but recall what a guest lecturer said many years ago, in a political science class at University of Toronto.

This guest lecturer was once a high-ranking Cabinet Minister. He said, "Back in my day, the first question the Prime Minister would ask after discussing an issue of the day at the Cabinet table was almost always, 'how would this affect Quebec?'"

This question captures a long era in federal politics. The era of Quebec Influence in public policy, when both Liberals and Conservatives deemed it was necessary to win a plurality of votes in Quebec in order to form a majority government. Therefore, both parties did all they could in policy and politics to placate and please Quebec voters.

Many observers say in academia and in our newspapers say this era has passed. I agree. I would add that we are transitioning to a new era. A new era in which multicultural communities are the new Quebec in terms of influence. They are increasingly the bloc of voters that all political parties constantly think about to placate and please, with good reason.

According to Statistics Canada, over 20 percent of our total population are foreign-born. That is one in five Canadians. In metropolitan areas, like Toronto, 50 percent are foreign born. Every year, Canada's population grows by 1.2% which is mainly driven by immigration. We welcome over 250,000 immigrants every year, and it is projected that close to 30 percent of our total population will be foreign-born by 2030. Given their historical propensity to settle in metropolitan areas, which have high numbers of seats, these multicultural communities are arguably already holding the balance of power and will continue to do so in the next century.

That is why, Liberals are choosing to allocate scarce political capital and resources writ-large to placate and please these communities.

Take foreign policy. Liberals lifted sanctions on Iran and plans on resuming diplomatic relations, because they mainly want to create a vote-winning legacy with the growing Iranian-Canadian community. Liberals have a strict program of non-criticism of the People's Republic of China even in light of the Chinese Foreign Minister's castigation of a Canadian journalist, because they mainly do not want to alienate the Chinese-Canadian community by criticizing a country the community members are still proud to call home.

Take the Prime Minister's social media strategy. On Facebook, he published nearly 60 videos and 13 percent of these videos have been very community-specific. What is telling is that there is no video celebrating Anglophone or Francophone Canadian heritage, but there are many other well-produced videos celebrating Ramadan for the Muslim-Canadian community, Hannukah for the Jewish-Canadian community and so on.

Take the Liberals' outreach program. On any given break week or on weekends, dozens of Liberal MPs are mandated to attend as many multicultural events as possible, engage community members and media outlets, bring greetings on behalf of the federal government, and provide feedback to the Prime Minister's Office on policy and community partnership opportunities.

The transition to this new era has not fully taken place, but it will happen very quickly. In the months to come, I expect public appointments, grants and contributions and community-specific policies will flow to multicultural communities more than ever before in Canadian politics. As the numbers in these communities grow, so will their influence and ability to shape public policy, regardless of which party is in power. Just as Quebec's influence helped shape the 20th century, multicultural communities will shape the 21st.

A future former Cabinet Minister might say, "Back in my day, the first question the Prime Minister would ask after discussing an issue of the day at the Cabinet table was almost always, 'how would this affect our standing in [insert a hyphenated-Canadian community]?'" Because it is 2016.

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