Canadian Tamils in the province of Ontario have been quite involved in the political process both at home and abroad. Tamils in Ontario have taken their voice to Queen's Park on many occasions. Now they weigh in on the provincial election.
Tamils have had their voices heard on the federal level and on the international stage. With one week to go until voters select the next government of Ontario, Tamils want to be listened to in the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park.
The Ontario party leaders have spoken with Tamils and have put forward policies that would strengthen Tamil communities across the province.
Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty, who is sitting in a virtual tie in the polls with Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, sat down with TamilCanadian.com for an exclusive interview. The Ontario PCs have unveiled a multi-language platform and the Ontario New Democrats have stood in solidarity with thousands of Tamils during remembrance ceremonies.
But what do Tamils think of the party leaders? DigitalJournal.com spoke with Tamil activists, non-governmental organization leaders and the average Tamil to get a better understanding of what they think about the election, the issues and the leaders.
New Democratic Member of Provincial Parliament Michael Prue (L) and Tamil New Democrat Member of Parliament Rathika Sitsabaiesan.
The Issues & Leaders
Dev Fakruddin, a Tamil activist who usually attends the large rallies that are held outside of the United States and Sri Lankan Consulates and at Queen’s Park, said that he feels dissatisfied with his selections this year, both with the party leaders and the electoral district candidates.
Fakruddin explained that Tamils were more important and inclusive during May’s federal election campaign than at the provincial level because of the total population of both South Asians and Tamils nationally.
This may lead him to not cast a vote.
“As an Ontarian, I feel that the crucial issues of employment, jobs and the economy are being addressed by the parties,” said Fakruddin, who did not want to say in which riding he lives in. “But as a Tamil, it seems that we are being disenfranchised from the political process and the issues we want addressed are not being talked about by either the local candidates or their leaders.”
Ahilan, a Tamil youth activist, disagrees. He explained in an email that the problems facing Tamils are not dealt with at the provincial level, but at the federal level. However, he did commend the Ontario Premier for his respect, appreciation and admiration of the Tamils during the height of the crisis in Sri Lanka.
The young protestor, though, did slightly agree with Fakruddin in the sense that the most important issues facing the province are being debated on during the campaign trail by both the local candidates and their respective leaders.
“I love Toronto, I love Ontario and I love Canada,” stated Ahilan. “But I will always love Sri Lanka and my people. The provincial election separates those two and we Tamils have to deal with them separately. We have to say to ourselves, look municipal and provincial governments have no bearing on what the United Nations does or what [Mahinda] Rajapaksa does or what [President Barack] Obama does.”
Toronto Centre Member of Provincial Parliament Glenn Murray.
Although the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT) is not an organization that endorses any political party or candidate – they are a non-partisan group – they do show espousal towards provincial candidates who are committed to Tamils and their plight, according to the Chairperson and National Director of the NCCT, Mohan Ramakrishnan.
“We are also conscious that the Tamil issue technically falls outside of the realm of provincial elections because it is a foreign policy issue for Canada,” said the NCCT National Director.
However, one candidate the organization does support is Liberal Toronto Centre Member of Provincial Parliament Glenn Murray for his dedication to the Tamils’ cause and self-determination.
“An exceptional example of a provincial politician who has the Council's support is Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray who demonstrated unprecedented commitment by establishing a commemoration site at the Evergreen Brick Works Park for the victims of the 2009 Sri Lankan genocide--the first of its kind in Canadian history.”
In the eastern part of the Greater Toronto Area, one Tamil is actually running for office, which is making Tamils in the city quite proud, at least according to Nanthivarman Jeganathan, a university student in Toronto.
Neethan Shan, the National Director and Vice Chairperson of the NCCT, is running as a New Democrat in the electoral district of Scarborough Rouge River. He faces off against incumbent Liberal MPP Bas Balkissoon, PC candidate Ken Kim and Green nominee George Singh.
Ontario New Democratic Party candidate for Scarborough Rouge River, Neethan Shan.
“Tamils from Ontario, especially from Toronto, mostly hailed from Northern part of Sri-Lanka,” said Jeganathan. “Most of them still carry their hard feelings, which the 30 years of war given for them without a choice. Even though these hard feelings are among them, Canada gave them a precious choice of freedom, which they can’t never dream in their home land. But even though Tamils are really doing good in both education and jobs they still want justice for them and their relatives, friends and siblings living in back in home, for whatever happened in the past in Sri-Lanka.”
He added that Tamils in the province need a voice in both Parliament Hill and at Queen’s Park because Tamils who are engineers, doctors, nurses and accountants are having a difficult time finding work due to “restriction policy as [well as] other regulations.”
Jeganathan also alluded to the issue of higher tuition fees, which has been a campaign issue for all of the major political parties this year – it was even the main theme for debates across the province. The university student is urging Ontario candidates and incumbents to address the issue and to make it more affordable for the middle-class families.
“Overall, the provincial election is a most anticipated election for Tamils in Ontario, as all of us look forward to a change.”