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Opinion: MP Don Davies’ comments about 'inclusion and exploitation' are toxic and cynical

Toxic comments by Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies reflect a political culture that has long-held cynical beliefs about people of colour participating in politics.  
don-davies-vancouver-kingsway
Don Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver Kingsway, seen in 2019.

Recent comments by Don Davies — NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver Kingsway since 2008 — not only reflect terribly on him, but they also reveal a toxic, race-based cynicism within Canadian political culture.

Davies was asked for his thoughts on receiving a certificate of appreciation from the Filipino Seniors Club of B.C. while at the same time, Virginia Bremner, a Filipina Canadian, is running for the Liberal Party against him in September’s federal election.

The question itself is problematic. It shouldn’t matter if a Filipino community group recognizes Davies while a Filipina-Canadian runs against him in an election. The two things are unrelated.

All Canadians should be encouraged to participate in politics and all kinds of community groups should be engaged with their local representatives.

Moreover, individuals within any particular ethnic group are not politically homogeneous.

Instead of pointing this out, Davies responded with hypocrisy and cynicism.

First, Davies argued that Bremner has no right to represent Vancouver Kingsway, since she does not live in the riding. He had also made a similar case in the last federal election against the previous Liberal candidate, Tamara Taggart.

Davies argued this without irony as his own party’s leader, Jagmeet Singh, was parachuted into the Burnaby South riding in 2019. Singh hadn’t even lived in British Columbia prior to moving to the riding for the sole purpose of running for the seat vacated by Kennedy Stewart. Virginia Bremner, at least, grew up in her contested riding and continues to live nearby in the same city.

Davies expressed more concerns about Bremner’s candidacy with racist remarks.

When commenting on the idea that political parties field candidates from ethnic communities in unwinnable ridings, Davies argued that Bremner’s campaign involved an “element of opportunism”. Dismissively, he suggested that her candidacy was more about “exploitation than a genuine sense of trying to reflect the diversity in the community.”

In effect, Don Davies reduced Virginia Bremner’s candidacy in Vancouver Kingsway to tokenism, a perfunctory effort by the Liberals to demonstrate diversity without actually being diverse with Bremner being little more than a compliant pawn. Needless to say, it’s a pretty dehumanizing accusation.

Davies apologized afterwards for the hurt that his comments caused.

Unfortunately, this narrative to describe people of colour in politics is not limited to his remarks.

His comments reflect systemic challenges faced by people of colour in politics: The nod-and-wink treatment of racialized people presumed to have reached their positions by quotas, not merit; the enthusiastic support for buzzword concepts like “inclusion” and “diversity” up until those ideas become politically inconvenient; the expectation for people of colour to consummately represent and be responsible for their own ethnic communities; and ultimately, the double standards to which people of colour are subjected.

These systemic challenges undermine the legitimacy of diverse peoples who deserve voice, representation, and space in governance which should be expressed in a multitude of political interests and ideological beliefs. The political representative of a riding like Vancouver Kingsway, where immigrants make up about half of the population, should understand this. Don Davies clearly does not.

Maybe it’s time for Vancouver Kingsway to elect a representative who does.

Mo Amir is the host of This is VANCOLOUR, a politics and culture podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and www.thisisvancolour.com