The Hong Kong Chinese Community
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…it’s 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, there’s
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 it’s 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 community’s 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.
“Don’t 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 Wong’s assertion that the
community lacks the confidence to flex its political muscles. “I don’t 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 it’s 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.
“I’m trying to get some assess into the government. If you want to deny me
access then I’ll 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, it’s 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.