Exclusive Interview with Scarborough-Agincourt candidate, Harry Tsai (Conservative)
The campaign curtains have reopened to a new and competitive federal election. The Conservative Party has named candidates, including five Chinese politicians, for Member of Parliament, representing each riding within the Greater Toronto Area. Amongst the nominees, Harry Tsai is the youngest Chinese candidate, who is exceptionally the subject of attention. Lately, he’s run the election steps in full swing:
March 28th, 2011 – Named as a candidate for Member of Parliament in Scarborough-Agincourt region
April 2nd, 2011 – Canada officially enters the Prime Minister election
April 9th, 2011 – Grand opening of Harry Tsai campaign office
Recently, the reporters met Harry at his office; he indicated that he’s been canvassing around the Scarborough-Agincourt region. Through visiting the residents door-to-door, he found that over half of the households said they would support the Conservative Party. Harry is pleasantly surprised and excited by this ratio from the constituency, as there are a lot more Conservative supporters than imagined.
Harry said to reporters that when visiting the voters, his conversations in Chinese reached many households as they felt a sense of familiarity that instantly pulls them closer, as they opened up to express their aspirations and the actual problems in their daily life. They also promised to vote and support him. Harry indicated that in this riding, there are at least 118,000 residents and amongst them more than 40% are Chinese residents.
With the local Chinese economic and social advancement as well as enhanced political participation, the Chinese community has increased more value of their inputs and strengthened their voice by voting and contributing. While having an important and political ethnic impact, in recent years it is increasingly common to see Chinese faces amongst the nominated candidates in Toronto. Harry believes that Chinese immigrants in Canada should set the stage and play a more important political role in the political arena.
Chinese citizens participating in political arena is the representation of Canada’s “localization” culture
Harry Tsai was born in Taiwan. He immigrated to Canada at the age of 14 and progressed to study at the University of Waterloo, achieving Bachelor of Mathematics and Bachelor of Economics degrees, followed by a Master’s degree in Economics.
At Harry’s official grand opening of his campaign office, reporters met with his mother who deliberately came from Taiwan to Canada just to support his election campaign. She disclosed, “Harry left Taiwan at age 14 to come to Toronto with his older sister, for a better education. Now that he has taken root here, established a beautiful family and successful career, and most importantly working for the Chinese people in Canada, I feel reassured and very pleased.”
Harry Tsai’s head campaign fundraiser, Kirk Lin, pointed out that Harry’s election demonstrates that Chinese immigrants already regard Canada as their homeland. Ethnic minorities involved in local politics are representations of Canada’s “localization.” For some time, Chinese immigrants have been ridiculed as politically apathetic, but in recent years they have been quietly changing. There are more and more second-generation immigrants who, having already served the hopes of the last generation of Chinese immigrants, and equipped with better education and great responsibilities, have now naturally merged into Canada’s mainstream society. In the past, Chinese immigrants avoided participating in politics, but now Chinese immigrants have started to embrace their political rights. Consequently, their demands have increased to a greater extent.
Toronto has the biggest Chinese population in all of North America. The second biggest minority group in Toronto is the Chinese population, totaling up to 500,000 people. The older generations of Chinese immigrants had lower levels of education and were limited to working at dry cleaners, restaurants, and various jobs in the service industry. Harry revealed, “What really prompted me to go into politics was that I see many second-generation immigrants with good educational qualifications and professional skills just like myself, but many of them have difficulties adapting to the mainstream society. Some even give up in the end and leave Canada, which is very unfortunate,” Harry stated. “I hope I can help them adapt to the society quickly, and gain rewarding access to higher economic and social status.”
Harry reasoned, “In Toronto, Chinese immigrants’ spending power is far greater than any other minorities, especially with the growing Chinese population in the Scarborough-Agincourt area. For any prominent companies, banks, real estate, and the automobile industry, Chinese people are one of the main targets for their customer base. The Chinese immigrants’ spending power promotes local economic development. New large-scale businesses operated by Chinese for shopping, entertainment, and dining are continuously growing based on the demands of not only the Chinese, but also other ethnic groups. Chinese businesses have improved drastically and proven to show a sense of modernization. The most striking point is that Chinese have been considered political apathetic, but are becoming a significant strength in the political structure, especially in this region.
Serve the community with enthusiasm, experience the people’s needs
Speaking of his entrepreneurship and involvement in politics, Harry clearly remembers, “Actually, when I first came to Toronto, it was not by my choice and was out of frustration. Unsatisfied with Taiwan’s close-minded education system, my dad decided to send me to North America, because he assumed my studying would become ineffective with a rebellious attitude. My dad also believed that North America is a place where the quality of education is valued.” Harry also noted, “My experiences as a young student studying abroad, through my experience to this day, have deeply impacted me and encouraged me to involve myself in the business world and political arena.” Like other students studying abroad, Harry worked at an Immigration Canada office and the major banks. He also tried to return to Taiwan to start his own business, but he found himself back in Canada. Harry says, “In Taiwan, I can’t feel my value, but in Canada, I always feel like I have a mission, even as a minority. My parents sent me here to receive the best education, so I want to make the contribution back to the society where I benefited. I want to make the next generation be more confident and free in this country.”
Compared to Harry’s success today, most Chinese immigrants are only concerned about their own livelihoods and are unaware of political issues. More importantly, they do not even know how to participate in politics. Many Chinese immigrants are uninterested in politics as they think it does not affect their daily life.
In Toronto, Harry is an outstanding representative of Chinese second-generation immigrants. He believes that most of the second-generation immigrants are familiar with Canada’s political structure, culture, and customs, and that there is no language barrier. Harry hopes that he can improve the Chinese immigrants’ social status with his unique background and experiences if he is elected as a Member of Parliament. He promises to help the new immigrants to quickly adapt to the Canadian society, assist the senior immigrants to receive the benefits they deserve, and provide more opportunities for the next generation. Harry discloses that the Conservative Party has spent $2 million to improve Toronto’s elementary and middle school facilities in order to provide kids with a better learning environment.
Most Chinese immigrants work hard and pursue their financial and career development. Harry says, “With my own experiences, at first we were usually not concerned about Canada’s politics and social issues, and barely participated, but it changes through time while living in Canada. We are all fellow immigrants, with yellow skin and black hair, Chinese people. If we do not support each other, then who else can we depend on?”
Harry tells a story about when he was volunteering in the community: At that time, Harry was a volunteer at the Taiwanese Canadian Community Service Association (TCCSA). One day, the Canadian police contacted the TCCSA about an accident in which a car hit a senior woman. The senior woman was terribly hurt and struggled to speak. Harry tried communicating to her in various dialects, and finally he noticed that when he spoke Cantonese, there was a slight movement in her eyes, in response. At last, while Harry held the senior woman’s hand, he counted every number slowly; she squeezed his hand when he said the numbers in her home phone number. Finally, Harry reached the senior woman’s family members who were frantically searching for her. When Harry saw them embrace the senior woman with tears, he vowed that if there would be a chance to help these vulnerable and helpless people, he would come to their aid to resolve any difficult issues in their new homeland. This would be his greatest relief and reassurance.
Ability to carry more responsibilities, bearing of responsibility on hopes
For this election, Harry speaks about the various events involving personal verbal attacks, throwing eggs, smashing windows, by political activists from different parties. “Because of these events, our society is still imperfect and some are still uncivilized. These activities will not diminish my passion to run the election campaign, but rather motivate me to win, to step into the Parliament, and to change these negative situations. This is the bearing of my responsibility and my mission.”
During the interview, we were interrupted continuously as many supporters and constituents came in the campaign office to donate, or take Harry’s signs, and also to give their encouragement to Harry.
Regarding the previous controversial discussion on the independence of Taiwan, Harry denied that he ever spoke of it. Harry says, “I am a Canadian. My mission is to serve Canadians, and to achieve benefits for all immigrants. For Chinese living abroad, we should be even more united as a community. In the past hundred years, the status of Chinese in Canada transformed from discrimination to significance. This drastic shift and the enormous contribution the Chinese-Canadian community has made are inseparable. From working at dry cleaners to opening restaurants, to this day Chinese immigrants are active in all levels. They were spattered with endless sweat and experienced numerous discrimination incidents, but in the end, with diligent perseverance, Chinese immigrants earned themselves the respect and the life they deserve.” For this, Harry is pleased and proud. He proclaims, “I am going to work harder. I am going to lead the Chinese immigrants into Ottawa! I want to let the Parliament hear the voices from the Chinese.” At the same time, Harry also called for more Chinese immigrants to exercise their right to vote, electing the representative who cares for the true interests of the Chinese community, the Member of Parliament who speaks for the Chinese.
It is a rising trend that Chinese immigrants are more involved in Canadian politics, as we see with the growing number of Chinese politicians, the strengthened political awareness, the increasing number of Chinese candidates, and the increased enthusiasm for electoral partaking. In this sense, Chinese immigrants’ involvement in politics has entered a new stage and made an imprint in Canadian history. This shows that the Chinese community in Canada has increasingly grown into an important political power.
We give our best wishes to Harry Tsai for his dream to come true.
Written (Chinese) by Helen G.; translated (English) by Betty C..