Former Toronto councillor Ying Hope, the first Chinese-Canadian to be elected to the Toronto School Board and to city council, has been remembered as a trailblazing politician who left behind, in the words of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, "a wonderful legacy of service."
The Prime Minister's words were read at Friday's funeral for Mr. Hope, who died last week at age 84. They also lauded Mr. Hope for his "determined effort" to seek redress for the head tax once imposed on Chinese immigrants and for the exclusionary laws that prevented them from voting. These efforts by Mr. Hope and other Chinese leaders were rewarded last year when the government apologized for a half-century of mistreatment of Chinese-Canadians.
But it was his two-decade career in city politics where Mr. Hope, who grew up as one of eight children in the family of a tailor in Victoria, made his mark.
An engineer who had worked on the Avro Arrow and on the Dew Line, Mr. Hope was first elected to the school board in 1964, made chair of the board in 1967, and won a seat on city council in 1969 as part of the Civic Action Group that included future mayors David Crombie and Art Eggleton.
A Progressive Conservative, who remained active in the party until he died, Mr. Hope ran provincially in 1967 and federally in 1984.
He lost his council seat in 1985, won it back in a 1987 by-election, but his career as an elected official ended in 1988 when he lost his seat in that year's vote.
Until Mr. Hope's election, the Chinese immigrant community had not played a direct role in electoral politics in the city, as Chinese families, traditionally leery of politics, preferred to handle political problems through intermediaries such as Bill Wen Sr., the owner of Sai Woo Restaurant.
Mr. Hope's election led the way for Chinese-Canadians into the mainstream of civic politics, where he was followed by councillors like Gordon Chong and Denzil Minnan-Wong.
"I agree with the view that Ying Hope was a pioneer. He was one of the early politicians of Chinese descent who played politics the way it always has been played with less reliance on a totally Chinese base," said Susan Eng, former chair of the Police Service Board.
Former Toronto mayor John Sewell, who was a rookie councillor with Mr. Hope in Toronto in 1969, said that he was "somebody I would call a moderate. He was not a vote reformers could count on, but he was not part of the developer group headed by Fred Beavis."
Mr. Sewell described Mr. Hope's election in a ward that included traditionally Anglo areas of the city such as the Annex as a breakthrough in city politics. Mr. Hope did not win simply with a big block of Chinese votes at his back.
"What was interesting was that he was not elected from the Chinese part of the city, and was not referred to as an ethnic candidate. ... No one had a feeling that he was beholden anyone, and so he was allowed to act as a normal politician," Mr. Sewell said.
"He was remarkable in his time. Ying Hope was one of those people who established a beachhead," said Mr. Minnan-Wong, who, like Mr. Hope and Mr. Chong, has been elected to council from wards that do not have large Chinese-Canadian populations.
"Both Gordon and I weren't running as 'Chinese' candidates. We were running as mainstream Canadians who had Chinese names," Mr. Minnan-Wong said.
Mr. Minnan-Wong, who represents Don Mills in council, said that circumstances have changed since Mr. Hope was the pioneer.
"My father ran for council in 1976, and he wasn't successful. Back then, it wasn't easy to run with a double-barrelled Chinese name like Minnan-Wong in an exceedingly suburban area that didn't have the same concentration of immigrant population you have now," said Mr. Minnan-Wong.
Don Mills now has enough immigrants that its population is similar to rest of Toronto, and acceptance of multiculturalism makes its easier for him to run.
Even so, Mr. Minnan-Wong noted, in general, the Chinese community is primarily interested in business, reluctant to participate in politics, and despite Mr. Hope's example, still under-represented at elected levels relative to its share of the population.