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A faithful Liberal changes his vote

4 October 2011 7 Comments

Samuel Getachew

By Samuel Getachew

Once upon a time, while I was an aspiring journalist at a student run newspaper at Carleton University, I called Liberal Spin Doctor, Warren Kinsella, for a potential interview. The topic I was working on was on former Carleton University Student Association presidents, in which he was one of many and what they have been up to since they left the position they once held. For obvious reasons, Kinsella was a very public persona and of a great deal of interest to our readers. As soon as I identified who I was, he hung up the phone saying, “Kinsella got no time for you.” (Kinsella recently denied this event ever took place.)

Believe him or me, but soon after that event which I assure you did happen, the whole plan of doing an interview fell through. Had he been kind enough to take the time to speak with me, I would have asked him why, as an Alberta native, he was a Liberal; after all he did grow up through the infamous years of western alienation that most historians have given Trudeau’s Liberals much credit for creating in the first place.

I initially became a Liberal because of the universal misconception of what the Liberal Party of Canada / Ontario is all about. I remember my history teacher in high school, explaining to us how the Liberal party liked “immigrants and black people” in very rosy and simple terms where as the conservatives were “racist”. His explanation and biased understanding gave me the foundation of who I would later become as I traveled on a long Canadian political journey. Since my high school days, I have very much been involved in every Liberal election big and small that I came across. I gave countless hours, knocked on thousands of doors, gave money and told my friends and family members of how important it was to vote and help the Liberals.

For instance, when Sheila Copps decided to run for the Liberal leadership in 2003, I became her lone elected delegate from Ottawa South. When Nelson Mandela came to Ottawa, I volunteered to be used by the party so that the international cameras would witness as much “diversity” as possible, as a Liberal staffer explained to me. At home, I would listen and read speeches by great Liberals of the past such as Trudeau, Laurier, C.D. Howe and even St. Laurent. Then, as I got older, I started becoming very disillusioned by the party. I hated the idea of being “used”. As I moved from being a mere immigrant to a full fledged citizen, I started questioning my deep blind loyalty to the party.

No matter how good I have become over the years, I was always seen as a representative of an ethnicity. I was to be used during elections and especially for nomination races. For example, in the nomination races in St Paul’s for the Liberal nomination that pitted the now Immigration Minister Eric Hoskins with a local young Bay Street lawyer, I was recruited by Eric Hoskins personally to help him sign up instant members from the Ethiopian Canadian community, in which I am one of thousands in Toronto. I helped sign up as many as 70 instant members for his campaign and worked long hours and brought about 50 of them on nomination day in a rented car. I used what I learned from the previous years to convince them to support the candidate and spoke highly of him. He ultimately won the Liberal nomination with only 34 votes. In a posh riding of St Paul, the newest and neglected African immigrants mattered.

Once the nomination became his own, I was no longer needed by the party nor the candidate. There was no opportunity to apply for any positions nor be considered for other opportunities. For him and in fact the Liberal party, I was just an ethnicity  – never an individual with rare gift and talent. It seemed they have given one too many of us an exclusive opportunity. After voting Liberal and helping Liberals for almost all my adult life, save a brief flirtation with the NDP, I will support the Conservatives onward. What appeals to me most about the Conservatives is the principle that I would be judged for my merit rather than my “ethnic” community. In fact, that is what is starting to be reflected in electoral successes all over Canada when it comes to the electoral destinations of immigrants’ and visible minorities.

Senator Hugh Segal was once asked why he had become a Progressive Conservative in his youth. He talked in detail about the time he had written a letter to both then Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and Conservative Leader John Diefenbaker and receiving a personal letter from the Conservative Leader.

For me, it is as a result of a life time of disappointment with the Liberals. It is about the idea of wanting to be treated as a Canadian rather than an Ethiopian only – a country I left when I was barely 10. It is the idea of wanting to belong and to be more than a cheer leader but a contributor. I remain friendly with the Ontario Greens and their young inspiring leader, Mike Schreiner. I am inspired by many great Ontario Premiers such as Leslie Frost, who gave way to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and pay equity as much as I am with the great leadership of former Premier William Davis in Ontario. These are great people and they were both Progressive Conservatives.

On Thursday, I will proudly cast my vote for Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives. The same political party of my political hero, Lincoln Alexander.

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  • Anthony Fernando said:

    Nice article Samuel! Congrats on your achievements and journey so far. – Anthony Fernando

  • Whatever said:

    I’m not a Liberal, but it sounds like you’re leaving the party because you didn’t get offered any “positions” or “opportunities”. That leaves me feeling more cynical about you and your motivations than about any political party.

  • Keisha said:

    “Whatever” – Samuel is indeed correct. If one pays their dues and have talents – should they only be used based on the strength of their ethnic communities as Liberals have always done. Would you allow yourself to do the same thing over and over again?

  • Ralph said:

    Im confused. If he only won with 34 votes total, but you personally brought in 50 votes, what happened to the other 16?

  • Ewnet said:

    Albert Einstein defined Insanity as, ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Hope Liberal Party will learn from your article as they try to rebuild, but for now – Welcome to the Club bro!

  • Whatever said:

    Keisha – To me, politics should be about having a say in how our communities are governed. That’s why I’m involved in politics, although not in either of the parties Samuel mentions. I’m not a member of the Liberal Party, so I’m not here to defend their tokenizing treatment of ethnic communities (which, frankly, all the political parties do, including my own). I’m concerned here about politics being treated as a game of favours and appointments.

    Samuel isn’t the first and won’t be the last person I’ve seen get involved in politics with the objective of getting a job. Even in the article above he doesn’t articulate any major differences in principles or policies that led him from one party to another (from as far left as the NDP to as far right as the Conservatives).

    This is the kind of politics that leaves people feeling cynical about politicians and political parties. It turns people off from voting, and in turn has a negative impact on who is represented in politics. It’s just the same old boys club, exchanging favours for positions.

    To reward every single person who volunteered for a political campaign, we’d need to create thousands of jobs for all of them. But that’s not why people should be involved in politics. I hope that people are volunteering not to get a job, but because they believe in the person they are supporting and that their policies alone will benefit them and their community.

  • Keisha said:

    Whatever – what Samuel is saying is that, he is tired of doing the same entry level positions like the type of campaign tasks done by high school students despite his talent. I can understand that.

    I mean, if you have the talent and gift, would you not want to do bigger things in politics as well. His opinion, quite frankly reflects the opinions of many people.

    What is your party by the way? The Greens?

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