Not so much, now.
It took 13 seats to tip the Tories into a comfortable majority in Monday’s election, and two-thirds of those came from the 905 region of Greater Toronto — a direct result, experts say, of the party’s drive to target ethnic voters.
When the dust had settled, Conservatives picked up 23 of the region’s 24 ridings, including nine previously held by Liberals. Incumbent John McCallum in Markham-Unionville, who has swept the past few elections, remained the lone Grit clinging to a seat after besting his Conservative opponent by fewer than 2,000 votes, the tightest race of his career.
While vote-splitting between the Liberals and the NDP gave Conservative candidates an edge in some of the more closely contested 905 ridings, experts say the main factor behind the blue wave was the Tories’ deliberate appeal to the immigrant vote.
“It’s been a concerted, vigorous, really thought-out, slightly right-of-centre strategy, and it’s been delivered apparently with very sophisticated targeting of areas and groups,” said Stephen Clarkson, a professor of Canadian politics at the University of Toronto.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a flurry of campaign stops in cities such as Brampton and Mississauga with a goal to reverse the historic trend of new immigrants voting Liberal, Mr. Clarkson noted — and with the Ignatieff campaign in freefall, it appeared to work.
“Many of the immigrant voters may not have the same connection to the Liberal Party as they might have had even in the previous election,” Ryerson University political scientist Duncan MacLellan said Tuesday. “There were some shifts happening that [Conservatives] were able to take advantage of.”
The diversification in the 1960s on immigration to Canada beyond Europe (and family reunification from Asia) to (in 1967) a new non-discriminatory system that allowed people to immigrate to Canada based on their qualifications was achieved by the Liberal Party. Canadian multiculturalism, too, is a policy that was enacted by Pierre Trudeau's Liberals in the 1970s. Not unnaturally, the rapidly growing demographic has inclined strongly towards the political party that let them exist. And it is a big demographic.
Members of Canada’s three major forces entered this country in trickles and droves over the years, beginning with the arrival of the ancestors of the Aboriginal peoples from Asia, followed thousands of years later by the French and the British colonizers, who appointed themselves the official founders of Canada. At the turn of this century, the gates opened to allow immigrants from other Europeans countries into Canada, although not without hostility from a substantial portion of the public. In percentage terms, the influx peaked in 1912 and 1913, when annual arrivals exceeded 5% of the total population.
In recent years, the number of immigrants coming into Canada has risen to all-time highs. Between 1991 and 2000, 2.2 million immigrants were admitted to Canada. In percentage terms, the annual intake ranged between 0.6% and 0.9% of the total population during this period. Patterns of immigration have also shifted toward non-traditional sources such as Asia, the Caribbean, and South and Central America. Equally significant has been the unprecedented influx of landed refugees – many of them from Third World countries – who have requested entry into Canada.
Canada’s cultural diversity is manifest at the level of ethnic and immigrant composition. At the time of Confederation, Canada’s population was chiefly British (60%) and French (30%). By 1981, the combination of declining birthrate and infusion of non-European immigrants saw the British and French total decline to 40% and 27%, respectively. By the beginning of the 21st century, the proportion of people with British, French, and/or Canadian ethnic origins had dropped to below one-half of the total population (46%). (The term “Canadian” ethnic origin was first introduced in the 1996 census.) An ethnic diversity survey published by Statistics Canada in 2003 showed that 21% of the population aged 15 years and older was of British-only ancestry, while 10% reported only French origins, 8% were Canadian only, and 7% were a mix of these three origins.
This increased diversity was evident in the 2001 census, in which more than 200 different ethnic origins were reported. After Canadian, British, and French ethnic origins, the most common ancestries were German, Italian, Chinese, Ukrainian, and North American Indian. The 2001 census also found that 18.4% of the population was born outside Canada – the highest proportion in 70 years – and that immigrants were increasingly from Asia. The visible minority population accounted for 13.4% of the population, up from 4.7% in 1981.
Language diversity is also at the core of Canadian pluralism. In 2001, according to census data, English dominated as the first language (mother tongue) in 59.1% of the population. French came next at 22.9%, while the allophone category (having a mother tongue other than English or French) was 18.0%. The number of allophones has risen quickly – between 1996 and 2001 it increased by 12.5%.
This demographic, however, is two, even three generations old. As these communities have become more deeply rooted, more assimilated into the framework of Canadian political life, the members of these communities have started to move beyond primordial allegiances</a>. Between social conservatism and sympathy for Conservatives' economic policies, voting patterns have been shifting.
The Canadian Election Study reveals that, in 2008, immigrants were almost as likely to vote Conservative (33 per cent of them did) as Liberal (38 per cent). That’s a drop of 17 percentage points in Liberal support between the 2000 and 2008 elections.
Although overall support for the Conservatives among immigrants remained steady over the last decade at around one voter in three, among more recent immigrants – those who are likely to be visible minorities – a switch is clearly under way.
Between 2000 and 2008 support for the Liberals among “viz mins” plummeted from 83 per cent to 49 per cent, while Conservative support climbed from 16 to 26 per cent.
The immigrant vote will only grow more important with each election, as Canada imports the equivalent of the city of Toronto every 10 years. New legislation proposed by the Conservatives would add 30 seats to the House of Commons and all the new ridings will be in urban areas and most will have large immigrant populations.
For Liberals, the erosion of their support is desperate news. The immigrant vote has been a pillar of the party’s success since the Second World War. Everyone, especially immigrants, knew that Liberals wanted to let people in; Tories wanted to keep them out.
This shift is ultimately a good thing. No, I don't think it's good that the Conservative Party won so; yes, I think these voting patterns are a good sign that New Canadians (awkward term, this, but you know what I mean) have continued their assimilation into Canadian life, thanks to the normalization of the ideals of non-racist immigration policies and multiculturalism across the Canadian political spectrum. It's a very good thing whenever people no longer feel bound by their personal characteristics (or a characteristic) to support a particular political faction. It's always good when someone gets at last to become just another person free to choose.