By John Ibbitson and Joe Friesen
OTTAWA AND TORONTO — The Globe and Mail
Last updated Thursday, Aug. 23 2012, 4:57 PM EDT
A botched delivery has laid bare the Harper government’s plans to win over immigrant voters by appealing to their social conservatism before an election that the party believes will be under way by March 29.
The unprecedented glimpse into the internal strategy of the famously secretive Conservative election machine reveals plans for saturation television advertising in Toronto and Vancouver that asks immigrant Canadians: “Isn’t it time we all voted our values?”
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“We are losing” the battle for the votes of Asian Canadians and other immigrant communities, concedes a letter to Conservative MPs from Kasra Nejatian, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s director of multicultural affairs, though it adds: “we are losing less badly now.”
Mr. Kenney has been assiduously courting these communities, which have traditionally favoured the Liberal Party, because they live in the suburban ridings that will determine the outcome of the next campaign. If new Canadians switch sides in sufficient numbers, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives could win a majority government.
And so the letter asks the MPs to use their riding associations to raise $200,000 over the next week to support the “Conservative Ethnic Paid Media Strategy,” which is then described in detail.
The letter and background documents were inadvertently delivered to Linda Duncan, a New Democratic MP.
The package raised cries of outrage among opposition MPs, who pointed out that the letter was printed on Mr. Kenney’s Parliamentary office letterhead, violating rules prohibiting ministerial staff from using government resources to promote party interests.
Mr. Najatian’s actions “clearly violate the ethical guidelines for ministers,” Ms. Duncan said in an interview.
The government agreed. On Thursday evening, ministerial spokesman Alykhan Valshi offered Mr. Kenney’s apologies.
“This is very serious and unacceptable,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The employee responsible for this matter has offered the minister his resignation and the minister has accepted it.”
He added that Mr. Kenney would raise the issue, including the firing and the apology, with the Speaker of the House, the Ethics Commissioner and the Board of Internal Economy.
But what is even more fascinating than the dustup over the minister’s aide’s misbehaviour is the opportunity for detailed analysis of the Conservative strategy to woo immigrant voters that the misdirected package offers.
The “pre-writ” advertising campaign in local ethnic media will launch on March 15 and last for two weeks, revealing that the Conservatives expect to be defeated on the budget that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will release on March 22.
In 10 targeted ridings across the country, four of them in Greater Toronto, four on B.C.’s Lower Mainland, and one each in Manitoba and Quebec, four ethnic groups are singled out for analysis: Chinese, South Asians, Ukrainians and Jews.
The Conservative analysis concludes that party support declines as the number of South Asian and Chinese voters in a riding climbs. And that pattern is even more pronounced in Toronto’s suburban 905 area.
That’s potentially disastrous for the Conservatives, who are counting on making gains in such ridings in Toronto and Vancouver, where Asian Canadians make up as much as 50 per cent of all voters.
To improve the party’s standing, the Conservatives plan to direct $318,000 towards a massive advertising buy on ethnic media TV outlets, where they could saturate the airwaves with 30- second spots for as little as $200 each.
A sample ad provided with the package is directed at Indo-Canadians and conveys an image of the Conservatives as understanding their struggles and sharing their family values, such as “belief in hard work.”
The Conservatives have gained support in some corners of the Indo-Canadian community because of their opposition to same-sex marriage.
The campaign, which notes that support for the Conservatives among Chinese and South Asian Canadians has increased in each of the past three elections, also intends to take advantage of an Indian Cricket match at the World Cup on March 20.
With a report from Canadian Press
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