The Hong Kong Chinese community is an affluent, educated, and swelling population in the Greater Toronto Area. The enigma is why they have only made marginal inroads into the political arena.
Olivia Chow, a Metro councilor representing the Downtown ward says "this community has potential to be very powerful...itís nowhere near its potential." Chow is the highest-profile Hong Kong expatriate to win elected office in the GTA. Others include Tam Goosen, Soo Wong, Carrie Cheng, and Peter Lam.
Many are convinced that the reason is because Hong Kong "is a colonial place where they had no say in government whatsoever." "In Hong Kong, thereís never been any democratic procedure until a few years ago." "Chinese culture through thousands of years has never had an elected-representative type of Western democracy system. So itís not a surprise...(Hong Kong) is not a place where people exercise their democratic rights." There is a very common belief that you should not offend or challenge authority.
People have lost a lot of confidence in politicians because of poor examples provided by ongoing tensions between Communist China and nationalist Taiwan. "We have to educate them and tell them politics in North America and Canada is very different from what they saw of politics in Hong Kong and China."
Dr. Joseph Wong, whose community activism has earned him the Order of Canada, thinks that despite changes in Chinese attitudes, fear is still an obstacle towards political evolution. People are not afraid to demand for equal rights but the so-called mainstream politics and elected office is still baffling to the Chinese. The Chinese communityís history in Canada also plays a major role in its reluctance to venture into politics. Following the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the federal government imposed a heavy head tax on new Chinese immigrants. Only from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Trudeau government liberalization of immigration that Chinese people came to Canada from Hong Kong. In 1979 , he organized a demonstration to urge the federal government to admit more "boat people" - community members were appalled. "Donít rock the boat" was exactly what they said. They said that Canada had given them a shelter and they should not demand any rights.
Later that year, W5 - a CTV public affairs program - aired a segment called Campus Giveaway, which was about Chinese students taking over Canadian universities and leaving Canadian students out in the cold. Within 2 to 3 months, there were 16 anti-W5 committees. The protest eventually forced W5 to offer an unqualified apology. Those 16 groups went on to form the Chinese Canadian National Council. "We learned the Canadian way of handling injustice."
Richard Ling, a lawyer, disagrees with Wongís assertion that the community lacks the confidence to flex its political muscles. "I donít think the problem comes from lack of confidence or lack of sophistication because...a lot of the people who came from Hong Kong came from reasonably successful backgrounds." Ling says that itís the parties themselves that are holding back the community from playing a meaningful role in politics. Ling says that another major barrier is the tendency for those in power to choose a community representative who becomes "their eyes, ears and mouthpiece for the government at any level."
When Ling organized a fundraising event for the Liberal Leader Lyn McLeod, he planed to had over a cheque for $250,000 to McLeod. When they did not promise her attendance, Ling canceled it and id it for Mike Harris instead. "Iím trying to get some assess into the government. If you want to deny me access then Iíll get somebody else to listen to me."
"To read in the newspaper that Lyn McLeod or the liberal party felt part of the reason they lost is because the ethnic communities could not support a female leader, to me, itís pouring salt on insult," Ling says. Now he has switched his loyalties, including financial support, to the Harris government.
Dr. Alan Li, says the Hong Kong community faces several barriers to becoming a political force. And, he says, while Hong Kong immigrants are viewed as wealthy, starting a new life in Canada is a real challenge for many of them.