Montreal Gazette
15 November 2000

Wooing ethnics
Canadian Alliance seeks votes among communities disappointed by Liberals
The Gazette

For a long time, the federal Liberal Party took the support of ethnic voters for granted, especially in Montreal.

But in this election that might change, and the party hoping to capitalize on it is the Canadian Alliance.

Already facing a backlash from Jewish voters over Canada's signature of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for using excessive force against Palestinians, the Liberal Party is getting into more trouble with other ethnic communities over broken promises.

Representatives of about one million Canadians of Ukrainian origin say they are unhappy that Prime Minister Jean Chretien has failed to keep a 1993 pre-election promise of redress for the internment of Ukrainians during World War I.

"Our community took Mr. Chretien at his word in June 1993 when he personally pledged his support, and that of the Liberal Party, for redress," said John Gregorovich, chairman of Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association. "We think Canadians would do well to vote for politicians who keep their promises."

The Greek community is also unhappy with the Liberal handling of the Cyprus situation and the proposed sale of Candu reactors to Turkey.

Leo Housakos is hoping to capitalize on that unhappiness as an Alliance candidate in Laval West.

"Greeks have traditionally voted en masse for Liberals," said Housakos, executive vice-president of the Hellenic Congress of Quebec, "but the Liberal government did not respect the support of the Greek community with its ambiguous position on a very clear issue (the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus)."

And the list of dissatisfied communities doesn't end there. Arabs are unhappy about the Liberal government's sudden about-face on the UN resolution condemning Israel.

Russians are unhappy about the mostly negative publicity they get because of stories about the Russian Mafia, and the tightening of screws by successive Liberal immigration ministers that has kept many families apart.

Armenians have courted the Liberals for years in hopes of having the Armenian genocide of 1915 recognized by the Canadian government.

And so the Alliance went knocking on doors of ethnic communities looking for candidates, promising to do everything the Liberals didn't do.

Although it remains to be seen whether ethnic communities will actually invite the Alliance into the house, it seems that in the Montreal area they have at least answered the door.

Leo Housakos is running against Liberal incumbent Raymonde Folco in the riding of Laval West, where 20 per cent of the voters are Greek.

Other ethnic candidates that the Alliance has recruited in Quebec include Eugenia Romain, president of the Chambre Haitienne de Commerce et de l'Industrie, in Ahuntsic; Arab Kaddis Sidaros, a financial consultant running in Saint-Laurent-Cartierville; Gianni Chiazzese, an Italian, in Anjou-Riviere des Prairies; and Yannis Felemegos, another Greek candidate, in Papineau-Saint-Denis riding.

Demetrius Manolakos, former president of the Hellenic Community of Montreal and an ardent Liberal supporter in the past, says the Alliance might be able to reach ethnic communities through the younger generation.

"The minds of the younger generation are not as fixed as those of their parents, who credit Liberals for opening doors for immigrants," said Manolakos, who was appointed in 1971 to the Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism and eventually became chairman of its standing committee on immigration.

"Even if it were true, I don't think that we can feel eternally indebted to the Liberals."

The second generation of immigrants does not necessarily relate to the experiences of their parents, Manolakos said. They want more.

"Liberals can't take the younger generation for granted, and this generation doesn't like to be ignored."

But that is exactly what has been happening with cultural communities, Manolakos said.

"Give a grant here, give a grant there - it doesn't really change anything. We certainly haven't got our share of political appointments. You don't see many foreign names in those cushy positions."

It is this feeling of disenchantment on which the Alliance is counting.

The targeting of cultural communities also falls neatly into the Alliance election strategy.

Alliance strategists are basically hoping to attract three groups in the Quebec electorate: former Conservatives, soft nationalists from the Bloc Quebecois and voters from cultural communities. They think the seats in ethnically diverse Montreal neighbourhoods will make or break their march to power if the outcome is close.

Giulio Maturi, a former chief organizer of Hugh Segal's Conservative leadership campaign in Montreal and now an Alliance organizer, said that as the election campaign picks up steam, so will the efforts of his party to target the cultural communities.

"Right now, we are approaching people from the cultural communities on an individual basis," Maturi said. "But as we get better organized, there will be a concerted effort to take our message to cultural communities of Montreal as a whole."

This, of course, might also split the federalist vote, as with the Tories in 1997.

So far, the Alliance strategy has been to choose candidates from among former Conservative voters in the cultural communities, but to make any impact they will have to appeal to traditional Liberal voters.

Picking up "lost" ethnic causes might just do the trick. It might be the Cyprus question in case of the Greek community or the issue of the recognition of the Armenian genocide or the continuing moral and diplomatic support of Israel for the Jews. "We were given carte blanche by the party on these matters," Housakos said.

Alliance strategists are hoping that having ethnic candidates who speak for their own communities - coupled with a promise that the party will allow a free vote on such issues as Cyprus - would give them more credibility in the eyes of immigrant voters. They also feel that the Liberal penchant for parachuting candidates, especially into ethnic ridings, will backfire.

"The Liberals ignored repeated requests from the leaders of the Greek community to have a Greek candidate in Laval West with 22 per cent Greek voters," Manolakos said. "Instead, they parachuted a well-connected Liberal candidate, Raymonde Folco."

Many Greeks also did not appreciate it when Ahuntsic Liberal MP Eleni Bakopanos was bumped from her former Saint-Denis-Papineau riding to make room for International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew in the 1997 election. "Eleni was left in the cold, and she won in Ahuntsic on her own," Manolakos said.

"I think it's time to have someone from the riding to represent it, not someone who shows up once in four years," Kaddis Sidaros said, referring to his own rival, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stephane Dion. "One out of every three residents in our riding is an immigrant like me; Dion doesn't represent it."

When Sidaros was asked whether he's concerned that Day's position on the UN resolution on Israel, that Canada should not have signed it, would alienate the many Arab Canadians in his riding, he replied with a grin: "Look, Chretien sent a letter of apology to the Jewish community."

Besides the ethnic approach, Maturi said, the Alliance's fiscal policy, especially the tax cuts, may appeal to hard-working immigrant business owners.

"The immigrants are usually very hard-working people, and they naturally don't like part of their paycheque to disappear," Maturi said.

Day might have something else to lure ethnic communities. His moral conservatism may be a drawback in the more liberal quarters of Canadian society, but he's right at home with many ethnic communities.

"The church, faith and family are very important for us," Manolakos said.

Housakos agreed: "I have no apologies to make on the Alliance's moral issues such as the death penalty, abortion or same-sex couples."