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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Awaiting The Delayed Vote: Why one Liberal candidate believes he'll take Markham

By ROY MacGREGOR
Globe and Mail
Thursday, Sep. 18, 2003

MARKHAM, ONT. — Tony Wong has a theory.A political theory that is supported by no polls, no deep and penetrating demographic analysis, but a theory all the same -- and he thinks it might just be the ticket that takes him and his fellow Liberal candidates to power on Oct. 2.

Call it, for lack of any other name, The Delayed Vote.

Wong, a 54-year-old lawyer and regional councillor, thinks it most pertinent to his riding, but with resonance in others -- particularly the infamous 905 area code around Toronto, which has undergone such phenomenal growth and is said to hold the key to election victory.

Markham, after all, is unique. It is the only city in Ontario in which a majority -- 56 per cent -- of its 235,000 residents come from what anywhere else would be called "visible minorities." Only Richmond, B.C., with 59 per cent, has more.

Wong's riding is carved out of the downtown and urban sprawl of Markham. It is a riding of approximately 120,000 that encompasses the original families of this once-rural community and includes such shopping areas as New Kennedy Square, where the name of the mall is virtually the only sign within sight not in Chinese.

Wong, who was born in Hong Kong and speaks Chinese fluently, figures his riding has about 25,000 Chinese, with the next largest voting block coming from South and Southeast Asia, then the rapidly growing black community.

He believes, and is quite frank about it, that his ethnic connections will serve him well on Oct. 2. His opponents are the NDP's Janice Hagan and Tory cabinet minister David Tsubouchi, who lays claim to Japanese heritage but, as Wong says, "the Japanese community is very, very small here."

There were, of course, a great many new Canadians in Markham during the 1999 election, when Markham and the rest of the strategic 905 zone went Tory blue, but Wong argues that it is different this time.

It is his theory of The Delayed Vote.

"A lot of Chinese were not Canadian yet in the last election," Wong says. "There's been a huge change here over the last 10 years or so. You need five years to become a Canadian citizen, but even after that happens the voting rate remains low. The reasons for that are that first, many people are just not familiar with elections, and second, it's the nature of the people to wait and learn.

"So you wait five years to become a Canadian citizen, then you take more time to settle down to being Canadian."

And then you vote -- "Liberal," he says with a smile.

He is quick to argue, however, that he cannot do it on the Chinese vote alone. "I need support from other groups," he admits. And that support, he says, will come from the issues: the Walkerton water tragedy, hydro rates, health, education and, in this riding, the high cost of using Ontario's controversial privatized highway, the 407.

Still, his theory that new Canadians are keen but slow to get involved is intriguing and appears, on casual investigation, to hold up.

Mahmood Mughal is a 29-year-old computer programmer who runs a small telecommunications shop in a local mall. He came to Canada three years ago, is studying toward his citizenship and is looking forward to the day when he feels he is ready to cast his first vote.

"I will wait until I become a citizen," he says, "and then I will turn my mind to it."

Mughal and colleague Mubashar Hanif, 18, have already, on the advice of their local mosque, travelled to the Dixie Bloor Islamic Centre for a detailed political discussion on Canadian and Ontario politics.

"We were told we should participate," says Mughal. "We went and we listened to people from all the parties speak. I liked what I heard from the Liberal."

In fact, he liked what he heard so much he joined the party -- although he is still years away from casting a ballot.

He knows, as every Canadian knows, that a crucial strength of the Liberal Party, particularly at the federal level, has always been the so-called new-Canadian vote, the theory being that people are so grateful for their citizenship they automatically turn to the party in power.

Mughal and Hanif laugh this off, saying they are perfectly capable of deciding on issues which party to support.

"Parties?" laughs Hanif. "I love all parties! Doesn't everyone?"

The older Mughal dismisses his friend as too young to take politics seriously, but says one day he will.

"We are living here now," he says. "And our kids will grow up in this country, so we should participate.

"We will get involved when we are ready."

Tony Wong is convinced that thousands of new Canadians feel they are ready right now, and that he will benefit most.

And in this, his theory could be right.



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