As a first-generation Canadian involved in politics, I have a unique perspective on our democracy. We’re fortunate not just to live in a country with fair elections and responsible government, but a place where politics is free of the xenophobia and intolerance seen even in the democratic world. At a time when Britain’s UKIP, France’s Front Nationale and Germany’s anti-Islamic movement are all gaining strength, Canada is just about the only Western nation without a far-right, anti-immigration party.
It is for these reasons that I was both shocked and hurt by the comments recently made by Chungsen Leung, Conservative Member of Parliament for Willowdale. At a public meeting in his riding, Mr. Leung replied to a question on Iranian immigration by saying, “Let me ask you, if you like Iran so much, then why do you come to Canada?” He went on to ask, “Why are you here?” and “What are you fleeing from?”
What I feel most is disappointment. I’m disappointed that an MP would question the loyalty and patriotism of his constituent — a Canadian citizen — because of his ethnicity. As an Iranian-Canadian, I’m proud of my heritage and blessed to live in a free society. Mr. Leung’s comments strike the core of my identity. As the leader of Ontario’s largest youth political organization, the Ontario Young Liberals, it’s demoralizing to see that he has entrenched the cynicism and negativity that too many young people see as pervasive in politics.
The underlying question is not just why it took three weeks, and heavy pressure, for Mr. Leung to apologize for his insulting remarks. Willowdale has one of the largest Iranian-Canadian populations in the country. How Mr. Leung claim represent these people, his constituents, when he holds their very existence here in such low regard? How can he, in good conscience, ask for their votes in a general election this autumn?
This issue extends beyond the Iranian-Canadian community. Mr. Leung’s comments are valuable as a stark reminder of the Conservative Party’s core strategy: exacerbating divisions for electoral gain, which it uses to elect Conservative mouthpieces in each riding. It is a philosophy as corrosive as it is tired. It is one that must, and will, be put to an end.
Contrast the Conservative approach to that of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who have assembled the most diverse and accomplished team in Canadian history. In Ontario, we’re fielding candidates from myriad backgrounds, individuals who will uphold Canadian values and be real voices for their ridings. Our party has a diversity of both experience and ethnicity; because it truly appreciates all that immigrants bring to Canada. I’m proud of the Liberal record and know that a Liberal government will improve the sorry state our country’s immigration system.
This autumn, there will be a lot of attention paid to the three party leaders. Yet I implore voters to look closer. Team Trudeau comprises candidates who understand their obligation to their electors. Members of Parliament must embody values and serve their constituents, something Mr. Leung has proved himself woefully incapable of. I suspect that Canadians will take notice.
Najva Amin is the President of the Ontario Young Liberals and a graduate of the University of Toronto.