Which political party will most appeal to B.C.’s large ethnic Chinese population, which tends to be well off, morally conservative and politically undecided?
A revealing Mainstreet poll for Postmedia suggests, on the surface, the centre-right B.C. Liberals are front runners for the almost 500,000 ethnic Chinese people in the province, nine out of 10 of whom live in Metro Vancouver.
But the centre-left NDP are also holding their own among B.C. voters with roots in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China.
The Greens, meanwhile, are virtually a non-starter for Chinese voters.
“Members of the Chinese community mostly came to Canada with either money or skills,” says Fenella Sung, a former host for Fairchild Chinese-language radio, explaining why the poll suggested 55 per cent of decided Chinese voters intend to vote Liberal.
“Not many of them need to draw support from public resources. Social justice and fairness are low priorities to them. And a change of government means unpredictability. So it is something they fear.”
While the Mainstreet poll showed ethnic Chinese are far more inclined than the general B.C. population to vote for the B.C. Liberals, a significant 33 per cent of Chinese declared they are ready to cast a ballot for the NDP.
A paltry eight per cent leaned to the Greens.
The hottest battles to woo Chinese voters are arguably occurring in the four ridings of Richmond, where the population is almost half Chinese.
But the ethnic vote stakes are also high for politicians in Burnaby and the City of Vancouver, where three out of 10 of residents are Chinese.
Justin Fung, with Housing Action for Local Taxpayers (HALT), says many Chinese people in Metro Vancouver lean to the Liberals because “they’re mostly satisfied with the status quo.”
Well-off Chinese residents have seen their real estate “assets appreciate significantly under the current regime,” Fung said. “So they don’t want to rock the boat significantly.”
However, the Mainstreet poll suggests the NDP are capable of attracting a solid segment of the city’s Chinese voters.
Former B.C. premier and federal Liberal cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh said the NDP typically does better among long-term Chinese immigrants, who are more likely to be from Hong Kong and Taiwan than the People’s Republic of China.
“They realized a long time ago the NDP is not like the Communist party of China, whose control they wanted to escape,” said Dosanjh, who regularly won in heavily Chinese provincial and federal ridings in East Vancouver.
“With (former NDP premier) Mike Harcourt many Chinese began realizing the NDP is moderate, and that gave the party more of a chance.”
As for Chinese voters fundamental indifference to B.C.’s Green party, Sung and Fung chalk it up to the drive of many immigrants to achieve personal prosperity, which makes ecological sustainability a low priority.
But how many Chinese in Metro Vancouver will actually vote?
The April Mainstreet poll found 32 per cent of Chinese adults were “undecided,” the highest ambivalence rate of any B.C. ethnic group.
Sung said election-day turnout has often been low in Richmond’s large Chinese neighbourhoods.
Many “pay more attention to politics in their place of origin” than to B.C. campaigns, said Sung, who notes many Chinese-Canadians also mostly follow Mandarin and Cantonese-language newspapers, radio and TV.
Another factor contributing to low turnout hinges on how tens of thousands of Chinese in Metro Vancouver are foreign students, working on temporary visas or permanent residents, which means they’re not eligible to vote.
“Many of them also come from regions and countries which do not even offer the basic right to vote,” Sung said. Unfamiliar with Canadian democracy, she said, many are not motivated to cast a ballot — and many “can be easily manipulated.”
Some of that manipulation comes through appeals to Chinese-Canadians’ generally conservative social values.
Ethically inflammatory attack ads in the Chinese-language media in early April targeted Richmond NDP candidate Chak Au, who tops the polls as Richmond’s most popular city councillor.
With Au running against incumbent Liberal MLA Linda Reid in Richmond South-Centre, the anonymously financed smear campaign claimed a vote for Au would “support gay marriage” and lead to addiction, poverty and “moral destruction.”
UBC-trained assistant professor Justin Tse, who has published academic articles about the province’s more than 100,000 Chinese evangelical Christians, says many ethnic Chinese often have difficulties with LGBQT rights, even while they defend their own ethnic minority rights.
Indeed, Tse discovered last year some Chinese in Metro Vancouver, many of whom were raised in conservative countries, are strong supporters of Republican President Donald Trump. They see Trump as a beacon of authoritarian stability, Tse said, in a world in which they believe prosperity and morality are under threat.
The B.C. Liberals and NDP are each fielding more than half a dozen ethnic Chinese candidates in Metro Vancouver. Tuesday’s election will reveal more about how these complex economic and moral factors play out among an increasingly influential population.