A Conservative Party memo delivered in error to a New Democratic MP has confirmed the obvious. The Tories will need an aggressive ethnic-outreach strategy to win a majority in the next election.
A staffer in the Minister of Immigration's office has been forced to resign for printing the letter detailing the "Conservative Ethnic Paid Media Strategy" on ministerial letterhead. This is a clear violation of the rules forbidding the use of government resources to promote party interests. However, it is hardly nefarious that the governing party aims to cultivate the support of new Canadians. For years, the Liberal Party so effectively courted this vote, the party was considered the natural home of all newcomers.
Under Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the Conservatives have succeeded in persuading immigrants that its pro-business, tough-on-crime, socially conservative policies make the party a natural home for their votes. In 2008, immigrants were almost as likely to vote Conservative (33 per cent) as Liberal (38 per cent). That's a drop of 17 percentage points in their Liberal support since 2000.
But the Conservatives are taking nothing for granted. The leaked letter notes that support for their party declines as the number of South Asian and Chinese voters in a riding climbs - especially in Toronto's suburban ridings. Their strategy is to direct $318,000 toward an advertising campaign on ethnic media television outlets, and to take advantage of an upcoming World Cup Indian Cricket match. They are targeting Chinese, South Asian, Jewish and Ukrainian voters in 10 key ridings in the Greater Toronto Area, B.C.'s Lower Mainland, Manitoba and Quebec.
This is smart politics, nothing more. Yet if they really want to build sustained support, the government should follow up its rhetoric with long-term policies to help newcomers integrate and experience socio-economic and political mobility. Why not recruit promising candidates from non-white backgrounds? And what of the party's $53-million cut to immigrant settlement agencies (85 per cent of those cuts in Ontario)? While more immigrants are now settling in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the lion's share still choose to live in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Immigrants have been harder hit by the recession and have higher unemployment rates than their native-born counterparts - even when they are better educated. This - and not cricket matches and television ads - is ultimately what immigrants are likely to care about.