Chow’s Hong Kong Identity Politics Could Backfire

PQ’s Pauline Marois exploitation of identity politics in the Quebec election appears to have backfired disastrously for Marois and her party.

Marois played the Quebec “pure laine” identity card with her proposed Charter of Anti-Canadian Values.

As a result Marois is on the brink of ignominious defeat.

You would think that Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow would have learned from Marois’ fatal mistake.

But Chow is an old-fashioned politician, who has been successful in the past in using her ethnic Asian identity in her federal campaigns in Trinity-Spadina.

I guess old habits die hard.

Hence, in a move to counter Ford eating away at her base, Chow has tried to exploit her Hong Kong background by reaching strangely all the way out to Hong Kong for the votes of Hong Kong residents with Canadian passports and property in Toronto.

As reported in Reuters:

“Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow has urged tens of thousands of Torontonians living in Hong Kong to help end the ’embarrassment’ of having Rob Ford as leader of Canada’s biggest city.'”

Chow, whose family migrated from Hong Kong to Canada when she was 13, told the South China Morning Post on Tuesday that Toronto residents living in Hong Kong shared the “sense of shame” that came from having a crack-smoking mayor.

The former MP for the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) said Canadian citizens in Hong Kong who were eligible to vote in October’s municipal elections had the chance to restore pride to Toronto.”

I believe that Chow’s basic message of being a struggling immigrant has not resonated with her base or potential base.

In a recent Forum Research poll:

“Mayor Rob Ford’s approval is especially common to
the youngest (under 35 ‐ 56%), males (51%), the least wealthy (less than $20K ‐
60%), in North York (56%) and Scarborough (57%), but not downtown (26%), among
the least educated (secondary school or less ‐ 58%, some college ‐ 61%) and those who drive to work or school (55%).” Mayor Ford also does well with the income group from $20- $40K.

Those groups in Toronto society who are the least educated and whose incomes are from less than $20K-$40K are the heart of Olivia Chow’s base. These groups are sticking with Ford and not gravitating to Chow.

As a result, Chow has made a desperate appeal to Hong Kong residents with Canadian passports.

This identity politics maneuver has been met with serious criticism from many fronts.

As a business consultant, I have advised many Hong Kong residents over the years and assisted them in investing in Canada, acquiring Canadian companies and real estate and securing Canadian citizenships for themselves and their families. I have been in contact with some of these clients and former clients over the past few days and I have inquired if any one of these Hong Kong residents were “embarrassed or shared a sense of shame” in having a crack-smoking Toronto mayor.

Not one of these Hong Kong businessmen shared Chow’s alleged “embarrassment and shame.” They all thought Chow’s approach to them was ignorant, ridiculous and contemptible.

These men are sophisticated investors, businessmen and entrepreneurs — very similar to the Toronto businessmen and bankers I described in a previous article, who support Ford because he is pro business, pro investment, pro development and anti-high taxes.

As long as Toronto remains democratic, a safe haven for investment based upon the rule of law, these Hong Kong residents are supportive of the Ford administration.

As hard-nosed businessmen, they do not give two figs about Ford’s personal behaviour and whether Ford is or is not an embarrassment to the image of Toronto.

They resent Chow’s blatant approach to their ethnic origins and her attempt to exploit their non-existent feelings of shame for her own political purposes.

These Hong Kong residents are also insulted that Chow would try to appeal to their base emotions, as if these sophisticated Hong Kong residents, (some multilingual) are uneducated, unworldly and unsophisticated immigrant types — and because Chow is from Hong Kong and speaks their language, they must follow her without question.

Chow’s base appeal to ethnic origins may have worked in the past with certain new immigrant groups in her Trinity-Spadina riding.

But I predict Chow’s approach has and will fail miserably with the majority of Hong Kong residents as with the majority of Toronto voters.

Chow’s political approach is very old school. Ward/machine politics. But we are no longer in the 1980s.

This mayoral race is about the amalgamated Toronto of 2014, with its diverse communities from Scarborough/East York to Etobicoke and North Toronto to the waterfront and island community.

To date I believe that Chow has come across as “yesterday’s woman.” Out of touch. Unprepared. Inarticulate. Confused about the issues. And not apparently fit for the job of mayor.

In addition, Chow’s surreptitious interview with the South China Morning Post has been exposed, criticized and ridiculed in the Canadian blogosphere. Such scathing criticism has in turn been reported on by the very same South China Post. And debated on CBC radio.

To believe that the future of Toronto should be determined not by the city’s hard-working actual residents, but by wealthy foreigners with little actual connection to Toronto, just looks bad and smells worse.

As above-noted, it is a base appeal to a shared ethnicity and language. There is no platform of ideas, proposals or vision.

To date, Chow’s platform to Hong Kong and Toronto voters simply consists of : “Vote for Olivia Chow because she is not Rob Ford. She is for kids and families. Ford has embarrassed Toronto. Help her remove the shame that Ford man has visited on Toronto.”

Frankly, I believe such an approach exposes the vacuity and shallowness of Chow’s campaign and undermines her integrity and the integrity of her campaign.

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