Conservatives are not yet a hit with racialized communities

The Conservative MP who is leading outreach efforts for leader Erin O’Toole says a six-year promise to create a ‘barbaric cultural practices’ hotline still hangs over the party’s attempts to rebuild relationships with racialized communities. currently.

“It’s there,” says Tim Uppal. “Is there.”

Uppal served as minister of state for multiculturalism in Stephen Harper’s conservative government when he entered the 2015 federal election campaign.

The party positioned itself as the defender of ‘Canadian values’ throughout the race by promising measures such as establishing a hotline for so-called ‘barbaric cultural practices’.

Before the election, Harper spent his final months in office pushing culturally divisive policies. These include a bill that bans the use of face covers during citizenship ceremonies, a measure promoted by Uppal.

The MP apologized for that stance last June, in the days after a driver killed a Muslim family in London, Ontario. The city police have described that attack as motivated by hatred because they believe the victims were singled out for their faith.

“I want to be in a place where I can say, ‘Okay, you’re right, that happened, it shouldn’t have happened, it should have been more vocal. And that wouldn’t happen with the Conservative Party today,” Uppal said. he told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.

Dispelling the concerns that persist in the conservatives’ past is one of the challenges facing both the party and Uppal itself. O’Toole recently appointed the Edmonton-area deputy to become its outreach chair, a new role created within its leadership team.

The emphasis on outreach follows the disappointment and frustration many conservatives felt after failing to make inroads into the greater Toronto area, home to many immigrants and racialized Canadians, such as during the Sept. 20 election. The party’s top brass were also shocked when longtime Conservative incumbents were defeated in districts like Richmond, BC, and Ontario’s Markham-Unionville, home to many voters of Chinese descent.

The losses in and around some of Canada’s largest cities, including Calgary, have been seen as a blow to O’Toole and his plan to grow the Conservative party in key areas necessary to topple the Liberals.

Conservative brand with racialized communities still affected by divisive 2015 campaign: MP #CPC #CDNPoli

At the same time, conservatives recall a time when Alberta’s current Prime Minister Jason Kenney, Harper’s former immigration minister, helped win victories by courting the so-called ‘ethnic’ vote in major cities, where one of his strategies It consisted of running between cultural events on the weekends. .

Balpreet Singh, a lawyer and spokesperson for the Sikh World Organization in Canada, says that what followed the Kenney era were years marked by relative silence, save for the efforts of some people like Alberta MP Garnett Genuis.

The organization recently met with O’Toole and Uppal, where they had what Singh says was a productive conversation in which they committed to keeping the lines of communication open.

Singh believes there is room for conservatives to increase their support in Sikh-populated areas like Brampton, Ontario, as many members of the community like the party’s tax policies. But he says the promises of the 2015 campaign create unrest.

“It was considered that, although they were directed at the Muslim community, the conservatives did not hesitate to play the racial card, the xenophobic card when it was considered to be an advantage for them, and that is unacceptable,” he said.

He says one of the issues he raised with O’Toole was his stance on Quebec Bill 21, a law that prohibits people like teachers and public servants from wearing religious symbols. Singh says the measure creates “second-class citizenship” for many in his community.

Singh said it was disheartening to see the Conservative leader say that he would never challenge a law passed in Quebec. During their recent meeting, however, he says O’Toole indicated that the issue was being discussed within the party.

Conservatives also ran on an electoral platform that did not contain the words “racism” or “Islamophobia.”

Uppal, who worked alongside Kenney on his 2015 outreach efforts, says that hasn’t come up in conversations he’s had with people and believes O’Toole has voiced his opinion that he condemns both.

But Shalini Konanur, executive director of Ontario’s South Asian Legal Clinic, says many of her clients face growing racism and are therefore interested in what federal parties have to say about how to keep them going. except.

“The prevailing opinion still at this time is that they are not as confident in the position of the Conservative Party,” he said.

“It is shocking that the words ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘racism’ did not appear on the conservative platform given the conversations we are having now in Canada.”

Konanur says the clinic serves about 4,000 people a year and, through advocacy and education work, reaches between 7,000 and 12,000.

During the election, he says he heard from clients who thought O’Toole seemed genuine and liked him, but weren’t convinced that the party’s fiscal policies would help address unemployment levels in South Asian communities or fix problems with the immigration system.

Konanur says that many are under the impression that liberals and the NDP are friendlier than conservatives on immigration matters, but added that many clients see their social values ​​better reflected by conservatives.

Uppal says that over the years they have heard comments from people in different racialized communities that they like the conservatives ‘position on taxes and support for entrepreneurs, “and yet they say,’ But we just don’t feel like we can. connect with you. ‘”

“Maybe it’s a matter of tone,” he says. “I think it’s a question of rebuilding some of those relationships.”

Azad Kaushik, president of the National Alliance of Indo-Canadians, says he wants O’Toole to take the party back on Harper’s path when it comes to representing the country’s Indian diaspora.

Kaushik, who is a conservative, says Harper’s hosting of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the run-up to the 2015 elections was a “watershed moment” for many of the country’s nearly 1.4 million Indo-Canadians.

“It is not the same after Prime Minister Harper,” he said.

This Canadian Press report was first published on November 14, 2021.

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