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Second National Metropolis Conference
Immigrants and Civic Participation:
Contemporary Policy and Research Issues

Montréal, November 1997

Participation by Immigrants, Ethnocultural/visible Minorities
in the Canadian Political Process
by Daiva K. Stasiulis
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Carleton University


This paper1 provides a critical review of academic literature on the participation of immigrants, ethnocultural groups and visible minorities in the Canadian political process. The focus of the discussion is on research that has examined the participation of these groups in electoral and party politics at federal, provincial, and municipal levels. The definition of "political participation" applied in this review is thus purposefully narrow. It does not include the many other significant forms of political activism in which immigrants and non-immigrants engage - specifically ethnocultural community or individual political involvement in various social and protest movements, trade unions, "homeland politics," and the like (Stasiulis, 1994:204-207).The following review will identify the main questions and findings of research on Canadian political participation of immigrants, ethnocultural minorities and visible minorities. It will then identify some gaps and biases in this research and suggest some areas that could fruitfully be explored in further research.

The following review will identify the main questions and findings of research on Canadian political participation of immigrants, ethnocultural minorities and visible minorities. It will then identify some gaps and biases in this research and suggest some areas that could fruitfully be explored in further research.

1. ‘Mass’ Political Participation of Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities

Various studies have examined different types of political participation to address the question of whether immigrant participation rates match those of non-immigrants. Research conducted in the 1970s suggested that immigrant political involvement was lower than that of non-immigrants. These findings were contradicted by research in the 1980s suggesting that on the contrary, immigrants participated in politics as much as people born in Canada. For example, when focusing on membership in political organizations among Torontonians, Richmond and Goldlust (1977:52) concluded that, while political organizational membership was low overall, it "tend[ed] to be lower among immigrants than amongst Canadian-born."

These authors also found significant ethnic differences in organizational membership: Jewish respondents were more likely to belong to political organizations in comparison with Italians, Greek/Portuguese, and especially Asian/Black immigrants among whom such membership was found to be "almost non-existent."

Using 1973 data on ethnic groups in five Canadian cities, Reitz (1980) measured political participation in terms of an index that combined voting, attendance at political meetings, and familiarity with public affairs. Reitz’s chief findings were that political participation was negatively associated with the intensity of ethnic identity (227) and that this negative association was to be found particularly among those low in socio-economic status. He argued that people of higher status have both higher political participation rates and weaker ethnic identities.

Thus, according to Reitz, strong ethnic identity and "loyalty to the culture of one's country or origin means the sacrifice of participation in the larger society" (226). For Reitz, ethnic cohesion rather than immigrant status hindered political participation.

In a 1983 Toronto-based survey, Black (1987; 1991) compared voting, campaign activity, communal activity, contacting politicians, and involvement in protest movements of the British majority group and four categories of minority groups — South, North, and East Europeans, and British West Indians. In contrast to Reitz, Black garnered evidence to support the view that immigrant status rather than minority ethnic origin affects the level of political activity, even after controls for socio-economic background, partisanship, efficacy, and interest. Significantly, the disparity in political activity between the Canadian-born and foreign-born diminished as immigrants became more established in Canada. Black (1987) challenges the conventional view that non-British immigrants (particularly those migrating from non-democratic regimes) have difficulty bringing their past political experiences to bear in the new Canadian context. Indeed, there was little difference between British immigrants and those from South European, East European and West Indian sources in their capacity to transfer their past political experiences to the Canadian political setting.

In a complementary study, Black and Leithner (1988) examined one measure of ethnic identification - consumption of ethnic media - to argue that such intra-community activity does not hinder immigrants’ political incorporation in Canada; rather, such activity furthers it by providing information on Canadian political issues.

In research conducted for the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, Simard (1991) examined the interest in Canadian politics and political participation of 57 community leaders in six visible minority communities - Arabic-speaking, Chinese, Haitian, South Asian, Jamaican and Vietnamese - with the majority (32) living in Montreal. Political participation in this study referred to voting, membership in political parties, financial contributions to political parties, and electoral campaigns.

Although the small, non-representative sample and diversity of views expressed in this study defied easy generalization, Simard found a high level of interest and extensive knowledge of Canadian political issues among visible minority community "elites." There appeared to be a positive association between length of time in Canada for both particular communities and individuals within them, on one hand, and community leaders’ interest and knowledge of Canadian politics, on the other.

Chui, Curtis and Lambert (1991) use data from the 1984 Canadian National Election Study to examine relative political participation of immigrants vs. Canadian-born with respect to seven different measures: involvement in a campaign, contacting politicians, voting, political organizational membership, exposure to political stimuli , interest in the 1984 election, and paying attention to politics in general.

Statistically significant differences were found in relation to only one measure: immigrants were slightly less likely to get in touch with politicians than were Canadian-born respondents. Length of residence only reduced the likelihood of voting and engaging in political discussions among immigrants who had been in Canada fewer than 10 years.

One question addressed by this research was whether there were differences in political participation among different generations of Canadians. Did longer-established Canadians participate more extensively than new Canadians? As the authors report, "[t]he results did not support the idea that there is a linear progression of increased political participation with number of generations in the country" (387). On the contrary, "Fourth and fifth generation Canadians were, if anything below average in the two kinds of electoral activities [i.e. voting and contacting politicians]" (Ibid.)

Further, on generational patterns, Chui et al. point out that political involvement tends to peak in the second-generation category with respect to almost all measures of political participation. The authors offer some speculative reasons for this heightened participation for the second generation that might be tested in further research. While immigrants may be motivated to participate in politics, their preoccupation with more immediate concerns such as economic survival, affordable housing, language training, and settlement may dampen their participation in Canadian politics. "The motivation for involvement may be passed on" to the second generation, who will not have the same structural impediments to political involvement as their immigrant parents (391).

The generational patterns in political involvement in the Chui et al. study suggest the need to question the assimilationist framework that underpins much of the literature in Canada and elsewhere on the political behaviour of immigrants. This framework implicitly assumes that non-immigrants, particularly "more deeply rooted" Canadians of British and French origins, are the ideal citizens against whose political behaviour immigrants should be measured and assessed. Yet the results of this study "did not support the idea that there is a linear progression of increased political participation with number of generations in the country" (375).

2. Voting Studies and Electoral Strategies

A subset of mass political participation research on immigrants and ethnocultural/visible minorities focuses on their voting behaviour. As Mishler and Clarke (1995) state, "[v]oting in periodic elections, whether at the national, provincial, or local levels, is among the most common and widely recognized avenues for citizen participation in Canada, as in other western democracies." Participation in the "low-intensity" activity of voting in electoral politics can be viewed as an important indicator of the integration of immigrants into the "mainstream" of Canadian political life (Wood, 1981:177).

With the notable exceptions of the studies mentioned above, research on the impact of ethnicity on contemporary voting behaviour in Canada has focused primarily on French-English differences and has relegated voters from other ethnic communities to a miscellaneous "Other" category. Generally speaking, even recent voting studies tend to view "social status" and socio-economic factors (including occupation, income and education) as the principal forces structuring participation (Mishler and Clarke, 1995: 139).

Ethnicity and language tend to be conflated such that ethnic differences are treated only in terms of Anglophone-Francophone differences (Ibid.). The tendency to ignore or aggregate groups whose national origins are neither British nor French was noted in the review by Jean Laponce (1994) of articles examining ethnic voting and party preference in three academic journals over the period 1970-91: the Canadian Journal of Political Science, Canadian Ethnic Studies, and the Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology.

The only groups studied at least twice in these journals over this period were Ukrainians, First Nations, West Indians, Japanese, Dutch, Icelandic and Jews (192). In comparing coverage provided to voting behaviour of ethnic groups, Laponce notes that the CES and CRSA were both "more sensitive to the community aspects of ethnicity" than the CJPS and more likely to use "more anthropologically meaningful categories such as Cree, Japanese, or German" (Ibid.)

In contrast, the CJPS articles were more likely to use "catch-all geographical classifications with little, if any, ethnic meaning...such as Northern European, Southern European, Eastern European" (Ibid.)

In extending his examination to a wider range of publications, thereby forming a link between the two descriptors "vote" and "ethnic," Laponce notes that his observations regarding the study of the ethnic vote in Canada remain unchanged. In particular, smaller minorities and those who define themselves simply as "Canadian" tend to be ignored (195).

A key problem in election studies is the reliance on surveys in which ethnicity and race were not a primary focus, and where ethnicity is assumed to be equated with country of origin of respondents or their ancestors (as opposed to more subjective measures of ethnic identity) (Laponce, 1994).

A more meaningful picture of the electoral behaviour of different ethnic groups can be obtained in constituency-based studies focusing on particular communities. Such case studies examine whether ethnic communities adopt electoral strategies in order to influence the outcome of an election, particular candidate, and political policy.

Electoral strategies can include forming one’s own party, nominating independent candidates, voting as a bloc, and electing candidates of ethnic origin within the established political parties (Pelletier, 1991:121; Crewe, 1983).

These community- and constituency-based studies reveal that ethnocultural minorities have not formed independent parties either on a single community or coalition of communities basis. Indeed, Kymlicka has suggested that "the two parties in Canada which are closest to being ethnic parties were created by and for those of English and French ancestry — namely, the Parti/Bloc Québécois, whose support is overwhelmingly found amongst Québecers with French ancestry; and the Reform party, whose support is concentrated amongst WASPs" (sic) (Kymlicka 2, 1997:4). The tendency for ethnic groups in Canada to choose among existing, established parties has been noted in other societies such as the U.S., Australia and Britain (Forrest, 1988; Anwar, 1988).

In his study of the Jewish electorate in Québec provincial politics, 1927-39, Jedwab (1986) shows how bloc voting by the Jewish voters in Montreal resulted in the election of the first Jewish Conservative candidate in the 1938 election. The author concludes that in this provincial election, the "minority desire for a Jewish spokesman...transcended all other political considerations" (7).

In other provincial elections, however, different voting patterns emerged such that the Jewish vote was split in part by class lines and between newer and more established members of the community.

In a similar vein, Wood’s (1981) study of South Asian electoral strategies in Vancouver South shows how an ethnic community may support the federal party, such as the Liberals, whose immigration policies brought them to Canada, but that such support is unstable. Thus, whereas in the 1974 federal election, almost 62% of South Asian (primarily Sikh) respondents in a (non-representative sample) survey stated that they had voted for the Liberals, the 1979 federal election resulted in a three-way split between the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, and the New Democratic Party. In both elections there was a gap between South Asian and non-South Asian voting preferences. The author suggests the fracturing of the vote within this community may be partially accounted for in terms of class divisions - such as the support given to the NDP by unskilled and skilled labourers, and the growth in support of the Tories by "the burgeoning of the East Indian professional and business class" (198).

Wood’s study also examined the electoral strategies of South Asians in provincial elections. In the 1979 B.C. elections, South Asians threw their support behind the NDP, managing to nominate a South Asian candidate. The election of Socred candidates in Vancouver South meant there was a risk in this community’s strategy of attempting to maximize their influence through consolidation of support behind one party (198). A significant aspect of this research, consistent with Black’s (1982, 1987) and Chui et al.’s (1991) research on immigrant electoral participation, is Wood’s finding that South Asians are "not notably more apathetic about or alienated from the electoral politics of the dominant society than [non-South Asians]" (198). This finding is particularly notable given the history of racism in B.C. against South Asians, the absence of traditional links to an almost all-white political system, and the limited historical political influence in B.C. of Asian communities.

3. Political ‘Elite’ Participation and Representation

Several recent studies have examined the representation of ethnic minorities - and particularly visible minorities - as candidates and in positions of political office at municipal, provincial, and federal levels. In this research, there is generally an acknowledgement of the complex relationships that exist between statistical or numerical representation and substantive representation (Abu-Laban, 1997:87; Black and Lakhani, 1997:14; Stasiulis and Abu-Laban, 1991:5, 10-11).

Generally speaking, access to elected office for individuals from historically marginalized groups has traditionally been greatest at the municipal level, where the financial costs incurred by candidates tend to be lower and the impediment of political party structures is less prevalent. Thus, several western cities elected mayors of Ukrainian origin, while Toronto had two Jewish mayors during the late 1950s and early 1960s (Burnet and Palmer, 1988:175). In some cities, however, such as Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal, ethnic and racial minorities have encountered hostile lobby groups and political parties at the local level, histories of minority exclusion, and the tenacity of negative stereotypes denigrating visible minority and recent immigrant groups. Thus, Abu-Laban (1997a:85) notes that "the first Chinese-Canadian councillor in Vancouver was not elected until 1981, a remarkable fact given the very deep roots of the Chinese community in Vancouver" (86). In the 1993 municipal election, only two of ten seats on the Vancouver City Council were won by visible minorities (Ibid).

One of the first efforts to study the ethnic origins of elected members in the federal House of Commons was undertaken by Roman March for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (Royal Commission, 1970). March, whose methods of ethnic origin classification are unclear (Black and Lakhani, 1997:fn.16), found that between 1867 and 1964, a total of only 97 individuals of non-British, non-French origin were MPs. Among the minority communities, Germans, and to a lesser extent, Ukrainians and Jews, had the largest number of MPs.

Other groups, particularly visible minorities, had weaker or negligible membership in the federal legislature. In fact, it is striking that from Confederation until the mid-1960s, the non-British, non-French groups became increasingly under-represented in the House of Commons in comparison with their growing proportions in the Canadian population (Manzer, 1974:251).

In recent federal elections, the statistical representation of ethnic and visible minorities has improved. Pelletier (1991:129) states that representation of ethnic minorities increased "significantly and continuously from 9.4 percent in 1965 to 16.3 percent in 1988." The increase was primarily attributable to a growth in participation of Europeans, and was much smaller for visible minorities. The latter varied in their representation from 0.8% in 1968 to 2.0% in 1988 (Ibid.) Members of ethnic minorities were overwhelmingly male during this period (114 of 120). Regionally, the majority of ethnic minorities were elected in Ontario (40 %), followed by Alberta (13.3 %), Quebec and British Columbia (11.7% each), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (10.8% each). Only one ethnic minority MP was elected in the Maritimes and one in the Territories during this period (Ibid.: 130-131).

In their meticulous study of numerical representation in the 35th Parliament, Black and Lakhani (1997) illustrate the inroads made by ethnic minorities into the House of Commons. A major finding in their research, which relies on biographical and surname analysis, as well as a survey of parliamentarians, is that the level of minority presence in the House of Commons had by 1993 nearly corresponded to the incidence of non-British, non-French minorities in the population at large. Thus, while MPs of the British-only and French-only origins exceeded their proportions of the general population, the percentage (24.7%) of parliamentarians whose origins fell completely outside the two majority groups and Aboriginal origins compared fairly well to their level in the population at large (27%).

In contrast, visible minorities continued to be starkly under-represented in comparison with their population base. In 1993, only 13 (4.4%) of all MPs were classified as visible minorities, in comparison with 9.4% of the total population (the figure provided by Statistics Canada for 1991).

In partisan terms, 12 of the 13 visible minorities, and 51 of 71 MPs with minority origins, and all 21 of South Europeans (primarily of Italian origin) were elected as Liberals. Six of nine NDP MPs were of minority or mixed (majority-minority) origins. The Reform Party had elected 15 of 52 members, drawn primarily from north and east European origin communities. The Bloc Québécois stands out as a party of MPs almost exclusively of French ancestry (53 of 54 MPs).

In regional terms, minority MPs were thinly represented in Quebec and especially Atlantic Canada; minority MPs of north and east European origins were concentrated in the Prairies; and visible minorities were strongly concentrated in Ontario (Toronto) and British Columbia (Vancouver) (Black and Lakhani, 1997:20-21). In separate analyses, Black (1997a, 1997b) has studied the notable number of women with minority origins elected in 1993: of the 53 women MPs elected, 33 had majority ancestry, eight had mixed majority-minority origins, 11 had minority-only (including two visible minority) backgrounds, and one had Aboriginal origins (Black and Lakhani, 1997:21). At 6% of all MPs, the 19 minority women in the 35th parliament, however, remained greatly under-represented (Black, 1997b:20).

No similar study has as yet been undertaken of numerical representation of minorities in the most recent (36th) Parliament. The Montreal-based Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), however, has compiled data on 16 visible minority MPs elected to the House of Commons in 1997. The majority of these MPs (10) are Liberals, five are from the Reform Party, and the remaining one is a New Democrat. Four are women. Other data suggest that CRARR may have under-counted the number of visible minorities, which more likely totals 18.

If we accept the latter figure, visible minorities comprise 6.1% of parliamentarians, compared with 9.4% of the population at large, a notable increase from 1993. The appointment of Herb Dhaliwal, an Indo-Canadian, as Minister of National Revenue also increased "non-white minority representation within the federal cabinet, when taking into account the three Secretaries of State from visible minorities and aboriginal communities: the Hon. Ethel Blondin-Andrew (Children and Youth), the Hon. Raymond Chan (Asia-Pacific Affairs) and the Hon. Hedy Fry (Multiculturalism and Status of Women)" (CRARR, 1997). Other aspects of the 36th Parliament remarked upon by CRARR included the absence of visible minority MPs from the Bloc Québécois and from the much-reduced Progressive Conservative caucus.

The substantial increase in ethnic minority and visible minority representation among MPs observed in the 1993 and 1997 federal elections represents an acceleration in trends begun in the mid-1980s. Stasiulis and Abu-Laban (1990; 1991) analyzed the mobilization of ethnocultural and visible minority communities preceding the 1984 and 1988 federal elections, which became a major focus of mass media attention, especially with regard to Liberal nomination battles in Metropolitan Toronto and other Ontario ridings. The practice of rounding up blocs of ethnic votes for competing candidates (most often of British origin) had a lengthy history in Toronto, with its many ethnic neighbourhoods. The novel feature of the 1984 and (particularly) the 1988 elections lay in the aggressive pursuit of nominations and election, most notably within the Liberal Party, by ethnic minority (chiefly visible minority and South European) candidates. This strategy, designed to make inroads into the national political elite, was observed also to take place in some ridings outside Ontario — such as Vancouver, Calgary, and the Montreal area, where Italians formed a sizeable population in certain ridings. Ethnic community mobilization in the nomination process was also reported to have taken place in Winnipeg, where ethnic loyalties had long been an issue in provincial politics (Stasiulis and Abu-Laban, 1990:589; Wiseman and Taylor, 1974, 1979, 1982; Taylor and Wiseman, 1977).

In the study prepared for the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, Stasiulis and Abu-Laban (1991) drew from interviews with minority MPs, unsuccessful candidates and party officials to identify the barriers to the participation of ethnic and visible minorities at higher levels of electoral politics. A significant structural hurdle identified in this study inhibiting ethnic minority nominations was the "incumbency" factor, which discourages placement of minority candidates in winnable or safe seats (64-65; see also Pelletier, 1991). Other barriers include conventional networks of recruitment of activists heavily reliant on personal, ethnic/racial networks; financial barriers for more newly arrived, those facing discrimination and those concentrated in lower-income jobs; and cultural hurdles such as the bicultural framework within the Canadian party system, which relegates questions of representation of "the others" to much lower rank of importance.

The mass media were also widely perceived to have done damage to the complex issue of ethnic minority political representation by focusing almost solely on the sensationalist aspects of nomination and delegate selection processes. As the authors point out, certain aspects of nomination processes — identified as "packing" of nomination meetings with "instant" party members and or riding association "take-overs" (which became the conventional discourse of political journalists in the late 1980s) — were wrongly attributed to ethnic and visible minority communities rather than being portrayed as traditional features of party politics (Stasiulis and Abu-Laban, 1991:24, 70-71).

The Stasiulis and Abu-Laban (1991) study also examined affirmative measures taken by the then three major federal parties (Liberal, Progressive Conservative and NDP) to encourage the participation of minorities within party organization and decision-making. The three parties differed in their stance on affirmative measures, and there were also significant differences at provincial and federal levels of party organization.

The most extensive affirmative action policy for visible and ethnocultural minorities existed in the NDP. The Liberals had developed an "ethnic satellite" structure in Ontario at the provincial level, but Liberal minority MPs opposed formal affirmative action at the federal level. The Tories had established a Multicultural Advisory Committee to assist Ontario ridings in recruiting ethnic candidates in heavily ethnic ridings.

The recent election of more ethnic minorities (and especially visible minorities) into the Reform Party underscores the complexity of the relationship between substantive (e.g., party policy on issues of concern to ethnic and visible minorities) and numerical representation of these groups. The Reform Party is widely known to take stands that are antithetical to multiculturalism policy; it favours a restrictive immigration policy and a "colour-blind" stance on equality issues that downplays the historical exclusion and contemporary reality of racism in Canadian society. The rejection of multiculturalism by visible minority Reform MPs must be placed within the larger context of the assault on multiculturalism policy from both those who favour stronger anti-racist measures, and those espousing anti-immigrant and racist sentiments.

Many ethnic minority Liberal MPs have been outspoken in their opposition to the ghettoizing implications of multiculturalism policy (Abu-Laban and Stasiulis, 1992). As Black and Lakhani (1997:21) suggest, it is difficult to believe that the ethnic and visible minority MPs in the Reform caucus "approach the world of politics based on any promotion of their own ancestral origins." The new visible minority Reform MPs arrived in Ottawa with strong backgrounds in business. They are more likely to have identified in class terms with the neo-liberal economic and financial platforms of the Reform Party, and with an immigration policy that favours "investor immigrants," and were thus undeterred by the party’s "all-white image" (Simpson, 1977:A22).

Black and Lakhani (Ibid:24, fn.41) ironically observe that a "demise in the saliency of the minority agenda" has occurred at the same time that Parliament is witnessing record numbers of minority group MPs. This observation suggests the need for further research on the complex relationship between numerical and substantive representation.

4. Current State of Research — Identifying Gaps and Biases

In Canada, immigration plays a major continuing role, forms a large proportion of the population, and has significantly altered the racial and ethnic diversity of urban centres in particular. All the same, there has been a dearth of research focussed specifically on the experiences of immigrants and ethnocultural minorities in electoral politics and the Canadian political process. This neglect is compounded by the (at best) uneven attention paid to questions of race, ethnicity and immigration by political science, the discipline devoted to the study of political participation (Abu-Laban, 1997b, Taylor, 1996). With few exceptions, Canadian political scientists have tended to consider "ethnic politics" almost entirely in terms of "French-English" relations, with an intensified interest in First Nations politics in recent years. The study of immigrant and ethnocultural/racial minority activity in Canadian politics has thus received scant empirical or theoretical attention, largely reaching tentative, contested, and extremely partial conclusions.

As Peter Li (1996:33) has observed about research more generally on immigration, much of the study of political participation of immigrants and ethnic minorities implicitly adopts a "benchmark." This indicator uses the behavioural standards of Canadian-born or ethnically dominant Canadians to gauge the political performance of immigrants and minorities. The empirical findings suggest that while new immigrants are less likely to immediately participate in Canadian politics, the levels of immigrant participation over time are as high as for non-immigrants.

Moreover, as suggested by Chui et al. (1991), Canadians who grow up in immigrant households are more highly motivated to participate than third- and fourth-generation Canadians. Academic opinion is divided on whether Canadians as a whole are relatively politically active or more akin to political "spectators" in comparison with residents of other democratic countries. This suggests, therefore, a pressing need to reevaluate the assumption that the political behaviour of non-immigrants or ethnically/racially dominant Canadians forms the normative ideal.

Important inroads have been made to document more accurately the numerical representation of ethnic and visible minorities, especially in the House of Commons. There is a similar gap in systematic study of minority representation at other levels of government including municipal councils, and provincial and territorial legislatures (see Balthazar, 1996:89 for Quebec). At the federal level, in aggregate terms, non-British, non-French origin groups are fairly well represented, while visible minorities continue to be under-represented. The declining positive attention Parliament gives to political issues that have conventionally been identified as of concern to visible minorities and immigrant communities (such as immigration, employment equity and multiculturalism) indicates a need to pursue closer study of the processes that hinder substantive representation of minority issues (Black and Lakhani, 1997:24).

While research into political participation makes some mention of the socially constructed nature of ethnicity and race, these aspects of identity, culture, communities and political institutions are rarely problematized and are treated as discrete variables or "’things’ in themselves which we encounter" (Taylor, 1996:884), particularly in "Others" and not in the "mainstream." Although recent research (Black and Lakhani, 1997) attempts to include data on Canadians of mixed origins, most research into political participation is oblivious to the political implications of the hybrid identities among a growing number of Canadians who are products of mixed parentage of majority/minority and First World/Third World origins.

Over the last 25 years, immigrants are more likely to originate from South and Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific (and especially Asia, rather than from European countries. Moreover, there is now immense diversity within and between groups relating to such factors as migration and settlement histories, generational composition, socio-economic status, official language competence, and in comparison with white British and French populations, "racial" and cultural distinctiveness. This diversity renders generalizations about immigrant and ethnocultural minority political participation problematic and suggests the need for undertaking more nuanced strategies for research on immigrant and ethnocultural participation.

Similarly, research on immigrant political participation has not yet examined the political implications of the circularity of population movements that pass through Canada’s global cities, such as transnational economic elites who enter Canada through Canadian business immigration schemes, and various categories of service workers in Canada on temporary employment authorizations. For some circular migrants, participation in public life occurs in both their homeland and their new land, allowing these individuals to become proficient political, economic and cultural mediators for their communities. In light of such political phenomena, conventional categories in immigration research (such as the concept of "host society") need to be redrawn.

Research in the area of political participation has tended to focus on the individual characteristics and behaviour of immigrants and ethnic minorities. This individual orientation, consistent with the scientific, empiricist approach to North American politics, has not dealt well with the collective dimensions of migration, settlement and community processes.

3Anecdotal evidence suggests that some members of ethnocultural and visible minorities have used experience in immigrant and minority community work to build a political base for themselves. The relationships between political activism within minority community (including homeland-oriented) participation and participation in electoral politics are not merely individual phenomena; rather, they also say something about the collective strategies undertaken by different communities (Wihtol de Wenden, 1995).

The study of the political participation of immigrants and ethnocultural and visible minorities must recognize these groups as socially, economically, culturally and even juridically diversified groups. The stark under-representation of ethnic minority (and especially visible minority) women suggests the need for further research on the gender aspects of ethnic/racial minority political participation (and on the racialized aspects of women’s political activity). In addition, several scholars have pointed out how the category of "visible minority" is sociologically meaningless, in the sense that "visible minorities have nothing in common with each other, except their visibility to the majority" (Synnott and Howes, 1996:145). Yet individual-oriented assumptions of the study of politics in Canada have inhibited a more nuanced and diversified understanding of minority politics.

Focusing on the individual characteristics of ethnocultural minorities also omits consideration of the structural and cultural impediments to participation that exist in political parties and legislative (and other societal) institutions. Research is needed to identify the mechanisms and accompanying discourses within these institutions that continue to privilege historically dominant groups and discriminate against visible and ethnic minorities.

While the Canadian policy of granting citizenship to landed immigrants after three years has been called "generous" (Pelletier, 1991:110), the fact that some groups (Somali and Afghani refugees, foreign domestic workers entering under the Live-in Caregiver Program) must wait considerably longer has an important bearing on their political participation in Canada. These and other groups from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Pacific region are frequently portrayed in the mass media as criminals or as people without a legitimate reason for being here.

In this sense, research into political participation must draw upon the growing body of multi-disciplinary research that has sought to understand the many forms and types of racism and discrimination. Such research might also examine the political subjectivities and agendas of immigrant and minority communities in relation to nationalist agendas of other communities (Francophone Québécois, First Nations) that define themselves as oppressed or politically marginalized. This research should also be shaped to root the findings about individual political subjectivities and behaviour of immigrants and ethnocultural/visible minorities in a broader understanding of the shifting ideal-type political subjectivity that is expected of citizens in liberal democracies wrought by restructuring in both the "post-fordist" economy and the state. 4

Finally, an understanding of the political integration of various immigrant, ethnocultural and visible minority groups in Canada would be greatly enhanced by comparative analyses of Canada with other countries. Yasmeen Abu-Laban (1997b) has embarked on a review of similarities and differences in political participation of female and male immigrants in Canada, the United States, and countries of western Europe, based on existing literature. There is a need to pursue more empirical, comparative, inter-disciplinary studies that are better informed by theoretical debates. Such research should be rigorous, yet still allow for qualitative as well as quantitative methodologies flexible enough to capture the range of politics engaged in by minority communities. Future research agendas should also examine the bi-directional influence of immigrant and minority political action, on the one hand, and state and societal institutions on the other (see Ireland, 1994; Miller, 1981).

Current research has seriously limited the understanding of minority politics by adopting a definition of political participation that is confined to electoral politics and the official politics of the state. As immigrants and minorities engage in many other kinds of political activities, research might profitably investigate why they choose these other venues.


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1 The author wishes to thank Laura Gemmell for assisting in the literature search for this paper.

2 Kymlicka underestimates the degree to which the traditional national parties were based on ethnic appeal to the French and British in Canada. In one authoritative interpretation of the federal party system’s preoccupation with a "bicultural definition of politics," Brodie and Jenson (1988:41-47; 1989) argue that the Liberals, unable to differentiate themselves from the other bourgeois party, the Progressive Conservatives, realized the potential of religious and linguistic allegiances as a basis for building a party and sought to appease the nationalist sentiment in French Québec. In contrast, the Progressive Conservatives fought electoral campaigns by solidifying their base among Anglophone and largely Anglo-Celtic Canadians. But in large part because of the Liberals’ more expansive immigration policies, and Tory nativism and repressive policies towards immigrants, the Liberal Party has traditionally been the recipient of ethnic minority support.

3 Thus, Agnew (1996:162) notes that Winnie Ng, an activist in immigrant women’s issues, won nomination as a candidate for the federal New Democratic Party.

4 Elsewhere (Stasiulis, 1997:202), I have argued that, "The current directions in state intervention have...fundamentally altered the ideal-type subjectivity expected of citizens in liberal democratic states. Citizens are urged by their governments to become more self-disciplined, infinitely flexible and multi-skilled, more entrepreneurial and resilient in riding the roller-coaster vagaries of business cycles, technological change, and restructuring the labour market and public institutions such as hospitals and schools. This emphasis on individual freedoms and responsibilities also discourages or clashes with the development of particular types of collective solidarities such as membership within trade unions and oppositional movements..."

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