Turnout and Chinese representation – Low and Low

By Gabe Garfinkel

In the final days of the federal election, respected community leader Tung Chan and Mike McDonald – publisher of this blog, contended that Chinese-Canadians’ voting intentions are not being adequately reflected by public opinion polls. Tung and Mike were right (as usual), but the problem of Chinese-Canadian participation in Canada’s electoral system goes beyond the polls.

The 2015 federal election demonstrated that Chinese-Canadians are not coming out to vote and Chinese-Canadian Members of Parliament are not being elected, proportionate to their numbers.

Let’s look at BC.

Hon. Alice Wong, re-elected in Richmond-Centre. One of two Chinese MPs from BC.

The five ridings with the highest Chinese population ranked in the top six lowest turnouts in the province. Richmond Centre, which holds highest percentage of Chinese-Canadian citizens (44.3%) in the province, had the lowest voter turnout (59.0%).
The top ten ridings with the highest Chinese-Canadian populations all fell within the sixteen ridings with the lowest voter turnout. The ridings with the highest Chinese populations correspond to the ridings with the lowest voter turnout. Period.

Riding Percentage Chinese Population Ranking (out of 42) Percentage Voter Turnout Voter Turnout BC Ranking (out of 42)
Richmond Centre 44.31% 1 59.0% 42
Vancouver Kingsway 32.50% 2 63.6% 38
Vancouver South 32.23% 3 63.7% 37
Steveston-Richmond East 29.67% 4 60.4% 41
Burnaby South 28.29% 5 61.0% 40
Vancouver Granville 24.66% 6 68% 32
Vancouver East 19.91% 7 66.9% 34
Burnaby-North Van Seymour 18.36% 8 70.0% 27
Vancouver Quadra 18.03% 9 68.5% 30
Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam 12.73% 10 67.3% 33
New West – Burnaby 11.69% 11 66.6% 35

Voting and polls only tell part of the story of Chinese-Canadians’ low participation in the electoral process. Of the 338 new MPs arriving in Ottawa, only five are of full Chinese descent and only three are in the new Liberal government: Arnold Chan (Scarborough-Agincourt), Shaun Chen (Scarborough North) and Geng Tan (Don Valley North). There is not a single Liberal Government MP of Chinese descent in BC, a province with over 430,000 Chinese-Canadians in Metro Vancouver alone. As Tung Chan stated, “Across BC, over 1 in 9 are Chinese”. Yet, only 2 of 42 BC MPs are Chinese. Alice Wong (CPC – Richmond Centre) and Jenny Kwan (NDP – Vancouver East) are the sole Chinese-Canadian MPs in BC.

Alone, the statistics are indeed surprising. When looked at comparatively with another large ethno-cultural population in Canada, they are shocking.

There are approximately 1.6 million South Asians in Canada, slightly more than the 1.4 million Chinese-Canadians. Sikh Indo-Canadians have famously participated in Canada’s democratic process since the 1970’s. The 2015 federal election elected the most South Asians in Canada’s history – twenty. That is four times (!) the amount of elected Chinese-Canadian MPs, eighteen of whom are in the Liberal Government.  Four of BC’s 17 Liberal MPs are Indo-Canadian.

As heartening it is to see one minority group in Canada participate in democracy, it is equally disheartening to see another not being fully represented. We can speculate that other forms democratic engagement – volunteering, party membership and political donations – are also disproportionately low amongst Chinese-Canadians.

Not all communities participated at an equal level during the election that saw a high voter turnout.

Gabe Garfinkel is a communications and public affairs consultant with FleishmanHillard Vancouver. He has held senior positions in government and on political campaigns advising on multicultural communications, media, and policy. (Gabe and I worked together once-upon-a-time, I appreciate his contribution to the debate – Mike)

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7 Comments

  1. Good point Gabe. Also take into consideration that a factor in low Chinese voting may be that some residents may actually not have the right to vote as Permanent Residents and are not actually citizens. Would be interesting to see statistics on a breakdown of the Chinese demographic as to status

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    1. That’s a good question, Don.

      Many cite the Chinese community’s lack of a history and culture of democracy. This could be true. Anecdotally, I remember listening to Chinese voters who were nervous about voting for fear that they might make the wrong choice. It could also be that many citizens registered to vote happen to live outside the country.

      Also, does community leadership, Elections Canada, political parties, and politicians place Chinese participation as a enough of a priority? This post would suggest otherwise.

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  2. Gabe, there is some flaw in the analytical conclusion. The percentage turnout is the total turnout of the whole riding. It does not reflect the actual turnout of ethnic Chinese voters. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the turnout into ethnic Chinese and non-Chinese voters and then make the conclusion. In addition, many residents of Richmond Center may not be eligible to vote as they are not Canadian citizens, just landed immigrants.

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    1. Unfortunately, Benjamin, the information on who specifically voted is unavailable. We’re left with inconclusive voting data – voter turnout by riding. Of course, we can’t predict the voting rates of different communities with 100% confidence without the right data, but the connection between Chinese population and ridings with low turnout seems too obvious to not have a correlation.

      If they aren’t eligible to vote, then they wouldn’t be included as a citizen and in any calculation on voter turnout. Many Chinese-Canadian citizens who are eligible to vote, however, may not live in Canada currently.

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  3. Hi Gabe,
    As you know, I involved many elections in 3 levels especially in Chinese outreach.
    There are 3 reasons that cause the so called “low voting” in Chinese community.
    1. Many Chinese moved back to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and China but their names still on the election list. It is my experience on phone calling on election. Also there is a joke that Hong Kong is the fifth largest city of Canada that Hong have 300, 000 Canadian citizens.
    2. Moving house people names still on the election list especially the high rise riding. As Vancouver Center, rate is low but Chinese citizen are low there too.
    3. Some winnable riding assigned by the party without Chinese e.g. Liberal Wendy Yuan at Richmond East and Vancouver Granville.

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  4. “The 2015 federal election demonstrated that Chinese-Canadians are not coming out to vote” – regardless of how obvious the correlation, this conclusion is hastily drawn based on incomplete data and large assumptions. For example, in the table, most of the ridings are geographically close together, which suggest there may exist many other (unexplored) commonalities.

    “We can speculate that other forms democratic engagement – volunteering, party membership and political donations – are also disproportionately low amongst Chinese-Canadians.”
    I find this speculation unproductive. It goes unsupported and can cast unfounded aspersions upon a diverse group.

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