Scarborough-Agincourt: a race of the same race

Richard Soong is a middle-aged traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, speaks with an accent and is your stereotypical Asian immigrant.

Sitting down during a lunch break during his job as a volunteer at Scarborough-Agincourt PC candidate Liang Chen’s campaign office, Soong rambled about how Chen could “provide better services for Chinese voters.”

He is just one of the large number of Chinese immigrants who form the base of support in the riding of Scarborough-Agincourt, where all three candidates of the major parties are of Asian descent.

With the rapid increase of the immigrant population in the riding, Chinese businesses and restaurants have been blooming in the area.  Sixty-nine per cent of the riding’s population are visible minorities.  Recently, many more of them have become more passionate about provincial politics.

By far the largest minority group in Scarborough-Agincourt is Chinese, making up almost 40 per cent of the population.

VIDEO: Ontario Votes 2011 Scarborough-Agincourt

“I used to be an immigrant myself (from Taiwan) so I can understand what immigrants are going through,” said Liang Chen, the PC candidate of the riding.

Most of this riding’s candidates rallied their volunteer teams through canvassing and shaking hands with residents.  Chen feels a sense of community in her campaign office, where there is a majority of Chinese volunteers.

Chen speaks fluent Mandarin and she finds speaking in the native tongue of other immigrants to be “more convenient in communicating certain issues and problems.”

Soo Wong, the Liberal candidate who took a leave of absence as a public school trustee, said she finds her background as an immigrant from Hong Kong helps her in addressing issues from other immigrants.

During canvassing, most of her time was spent  answering parents’ questions about their children’s schools. While education is a provincial matter, local school board issues are not. Her role as a public school trustee has been creating controversy with the other candidates in the riding.

“Education is one of the key parts in our platform that allows us to make inroads into the immigrant communities,” she said.

Paul Choi, who ran for the NDP, has other methods of reaching out to immigrants. He is of Korean descent.

Choi got native Chinese who are able to speak the language to participate in his canvassing trips.  He has also learned a couple phrases in Mandarin.

“I feel that door-to-door canvassing is the most personal way of getting in touch,” he said.

While Soong has been active in his volunteer work for Chen during this campaign, he says many other Chinese immigrants are less likely to take part in the process – although that may be changing.

“According to experience, less than 20 per cent of Chinese people will come out to vote,” he said. “This time there are more Chinese people coming out to volunteer.”

Soong attributes this to a more educated group of second generation Chinese-Canadians.

“Based on Chinese culture, most of the Chinese don’t speak out even if they are suffering from discrimination. But the second generation is more educated and they will be more likely to speak out,” he said.

“Immigrants care about the same things that Ontarians care about: education, government spending, economic growth and job creation,” said Chris Cochrane, University of Toronto political science professor.

He said that there is evidence that contacting immigrants through canvassing with a member of the political party is a way to encourage them to vote, because “it mobilizes people, gives them a sense of belonging and gears them towards politics”.