How Wynne Just Lost My Support

Ontario Liberal Party Leadership 2013

Eric Hoskins | Gerard Kennedy Sandra Pupatello | Charles Sousa | Harinder Takhar | Kathleen Wynne

I’ve always been a big fan of Kathleen Wynne. She’s a progressive and talented MPP who I’ve known for years. She’s a highly competent Minister, and a natural leader.

But she’s not ready to be Premier. At least not with her current campaign staff.

Kathleen-Wynne

Kathleen Wynne and I at the Ontario Legislature in 2010.

What I’m referring to is a minor gaffe during the week before the convention. Lisa Kirby of the Daisy Consulting Group provides the background:

This week, some Liberal party members received one letter in particular that has some people very upset. This letter was translated into different languages based on a kind of assumed ethnicity based on the member’s name. Yes, name.

Remember back when the Harper Cons sent Rosh Hashanah messages to Jewish Canadians? People were outraged.  What the Wynne campaign has done this week is similar, and it has offended a number of Liberal party members.

Young Liberal, Tahiya Bakht received a letter in Punjabi.  She is Bangledeshi but an assumption was made that she was Indian or Pakistani based on her name… Hani El Masry received a letter from the Wynne campaign identifying him as Muslim and was then added to an email list serv for “Muslim delegates for Wynne”.  Hani is Arab, but not Muslim.

Never mind that up to 20% of Egypt’s population is Orthodox Christian, one of the oldest churches in the entire world.  Hani is an extremely common Egyptian name, and “El Masry” literally means “the Egyptian” in Arabic. Or that there are more languages in India than I can count, and Punjabi is hardly the default for the majority (Bakht assumed the script was actually Hindi, that’s how little she related to the message sent to her).

What this minor gaffe demonstrates is a major flaw in strategy and competency by the Wynne team. “Politics is about people — it’s about relationships,” said Wynne. And she’s right, except you have to know people before you can have relationships with them.

Wynne’s home riding is Don Valley West, which has the highest percentage of Muslim population in Canada. So perhaps her mistake with El Masry was somewhat justified. Conversely, it could be argued that she has failed to make it a priority.

I know her riding well, having spent most of my childhood here. Except I grew up in the northern part of her riding, not the ethnically diverse immigrant communities in the south. The demographics in my part of her riding were primarily white and Ashkenazi Jewish. If I still lived there today I would be very curious to see how the Wynne campaign would profile me based on my Arabic-sounding (but actually Hebrew) name, in a predominantly white neighbourhood where our primary language was – shocker – English.

What is most upsetting is that Wynne was supposed to be one of the leadership candidates with the most support from diverse communities, based on her long history of working closely with them in her riding. Somehow that got blurred during leadership.

Why is this important? Because the Liberal Party of Canada in lost the 2011 Federal election in no small part because they have alienated visible minorities, largely due to tokenism and the broad use of cultural generalizations. It sounds like a grand claim, but simply look at the maps of the 2008 and 2011 elections in the GTA and consider the large percentage of minorities present:

Effect-of-Visible-Minorities-in-GTA-on-Federal-Election

For the record I will note that I believe the Conservative Party of Canada is even worse at treating visible minorities with tokenism. Yet the Conservatives have affirmed what Liberals still have difficulty believing – visible minorities make a difference in Canadian elections. They will have an even more important role in the years to come. Visible minorities can reduce majority governments to minorities, and even turn the tides entirely, just as the Idle No More movement currently demonstrates the potential of First Nations populations to have a dramatic impact on Canadian elections.

The even bigger problem than wooing for which party visible minorities should vote for is getting many to vote at all. Low voter turnout is endemic to all Canadians, including these populations. Treating them like an stereotypical ethnic playing card is certainly not going to help with voter turnout at all.

Diverse communities are themselves internally diverse. And visible minorities who are 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation (yes, they exist) very rarely speak a language other than English/French. The Ontario Liberal Party will have to wake up to this reality. This is a warning sign of the worst kind.

It’s a problem that is bigger than the specific tactic. It’s a problem of engagement, and a failure to incorporate our diverse populations into our leadership structures (The OLP president notwithstanding – but he’s a great start).

Big City Lib adds the following points:

I should say that I originally had my doubts about the provenance of these letters–whether they actually came from the Wynne campaign.  So I emailed this morning and have as yet  received no reply.  Certainly the address on the first letter is one of the ones given out on her website.

Unless the Wynne campaign clarifies this immediately, or issues an apology to delegates demonstrating the need for greater cultural competency moving forward, I’ll have to express my formal reluctance in having her lead the Ontario Liberal Party. This is just not a winning strategy.

Tahiya Bakht email

Hani El Masry email