Editors Note: Ethnic Minorities Shut Out of Municipal Government

Hassan Zerehi news@shahrvand.com

 Toronto is the city of minorities, the city of ethnicities, rituals, traditions, and various beliefs. In a city of almost three million, more than 40% of the population is from various ethnic communities, yet the voices of these large constituencies remain unheard in the municipal, provincial or federal governments of this country. There are many reasons for this reality. The main reason being, the invisible red line placed before immigrants, which marginalizes our communities. Those of us who are able to transgress these barriers are faced with much difficulty. Voters from ethnic communities make up a very small segment of the total voting population. As such, those who regularly participate in elections do not look sympathetically upon ethnic candidates. In addition to this fact, after September 11 and the unforgettable tragedy of that day, the situation has taken a turn for the worst.

The solution for this societal problem, which robs us of a voice and presence in our host country, is primarily in our own hands. If we want to be seen, if we want to be heard, if we want to have presence and influence, it is best to refrain from our long standing practice of inaction and fence sitting. It is in our benefit to have ongoing involvement in social, political, and economic matters. If we confront daily issues with a lack of responsibility and care, the outcome, if not worse, will remain the same lack of presence in today’s political and social arena.

However, in addition to our community, the Municipal, Provincial and Federal governments as well as the broader Canadian population also have a responsibility; they must also pay attention to the issues that effect the entire population of this country rather than merely select constituencies. When examining the Federal Government’s over $100 million budget for advertising and how not even $1 million of that money reaches the ethnic press, one can see the large discrepancy between resources allocated to our communities and those allocated to other Canadians. While neither, the various languages, traditions, religions, or nationalities of this city or country are economically, politically, or socially attended to or acknowledged; one cannot expect these large but silent minorities to play a role in the broader theatre of Canadian society.

Looking at the list of successful candidates in the recent municipal election across the GTA and its surrounding cities, I realized that as a general rule those who were successful at obtaining City Council and School Board Trustee positions are not from ethnic communities. The question is this, how is it possible for almost half of the population of the city to remain without a voice? Whose fault is this lack of representation? Is it only our sense of political anxiety for being ignored and the resulting paralysis? Or are the necessary tools for participation, action and involvement lacking for our populations? The wealth generated by ethnic minorities through our work, investments, business ventures and tax dollars are rarely used in the political or social interest of our communities. Once again, I return to the example of the $100 million budget where only $1 million was allocated to ethnic minorities as the general practice when it comes to resource allocation in Canada.

When our communities do not have a meeting place or community centre, when our people do not have the time, opportunity or luxury to gather, how can we be able to participate effectively in political, social and economic decisions that affect our life and well being? When and how will we be able to, aside from the daily grind, attend to other matters?

Many of the candidates from the various ethnic communities, after months of running around, are now forced to gather their campaign material along with their hopes and dreams from the sides of streets, roads and intersections; hopeless and tired they once again return to their homes. These defeats are in many ways detrimental to our communities, many of us look at these painful lessons and equate civic participation with defeat and in turn become increasingly hesitant to face the same music in future elections. Unfortunately, as our communities are turned away from civic duty, there is no one who asks where is the share of these large populations in the Federal, Provincial and Municipal decision making bodies?