Mar? Principles before history

By Ricky Hon

Gary Mar is one step closer towards making history by becoming the first person of Chinese descent and therefore, a non-caucasian, to occupy the office of premier in Alberta. Mar captured 40.8 per cent of the vote this past Saturday at the Alberta pc leadership election with Alison Redford (18.7 per cent) and Doug Horner (14.5 per cent) trailing in second and third respectively. One of these three candidates will become the next leader of the pc party and the next premier of Alberta (however short that tenure may be, given the reality of a provincial election in the wings) after the second and final ballot on October 1. Advocates of diversity, social justice folks and progressives should all be at least somewhat happy about seeing a prominent minority person doing so well in provincial politics.

Progressives (that is, all left-leaning, social justice minded individuals) need to curb their excitement though. Don’t pull that wallet or purse out to buy that pc membership just yet, and help take part in helping Mar make history. All of us, not just progressives, need to think long and hard about voting for Mar on October 1 or in the general provincial election. Is it worth it to compromise our voting integrity and our principles just to make history? I firmly answer no. The questions that any progressive should think about when voting for Mar should include the following: will Mar and his team be a force for racial justice — an advocate for greater diversity — in the long term? Will they stand up for the downtrodden in our society, particularly the poor and working class? Will they abandon the exclusivity of a public health system or will they opt to introduce a private option for those who can afford it? (The likely answer, as evidenced by his campaign, is the latter.) We should not ignore the unsavoury aspects of Mar’s campaign, like the criticism he has received about his campaign giving away free memberships, busing seniors to the polls and employing Kelley Charlebois — a former aide of Mar’s — even though it had been discovered that Charlebois had received $400,000 in untendered contracts while Mar was in political office. Charlebois continues to work on Mar’s campaign.

It will do no good for progressives to have a non-caucasian occupying the premier’s office if he or she plans to continue the same policies that have proved time and time again to be ineffective in alleviating the suffering of the downtrodden in our society. Putting a minority face on the highest office in Alberta will mean nothing, and will even prove detrimental for many Albertans, if the course of political action that follows is not conducive to the flourishing of all Albertans. Let us be reminded that sometimes the loudest voice for racism and discrimination can come from someone at whom racism is directed.

Although Mar may look more progressive and centrist compared to someone like Ted Morton — the more conservative wing of the party — we still need to subject Mar to the same careful scrutiny that we would for any other candidate. We shouldn’t wait until the votes have been counted on October 1 to bring our critical faculties to bear on Gary Mar and his record. Let’s do the evaluative and critical heavy-lifting now, while it is still early. Principles should always come before history. That is, we should not compromise our principles and moral integrity just to make Mar’s historic win a reality. Vote for Mar for the right reasons.

I don’t mean to put a damper on everything surrounding this (potentially) momentous event. As a person of Chinese descent myself, I am brimming with excitement about seeing someone who looks a lot like me become premier. I can’t lie about that. My parents came to this amazing province to carve out a better life for themselves and for who would eventually become their only son. They never would have thought that a Chinese individual would one day be premier. My metaphorical cup overflows with joy when I think about how happy a time this is for the Chinese community in Alberta which has had a long (and often dark) history in the province.

Up until 1947, Chinese Canadians couldn’t vote in elections and were, among other things, denied the right to practice law. It is a full circle moment, then, to see someone like Mar, once a practicing lawyer, make it this far in a province that once denied his grandparents the right to vote.

Even if Mar doesn’t win on October 1, the folks who wanted him to win should not hang their heads in disappointment. When Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic primary race against Barack Obama in 2008, during the last speech of her campaign she articulated a grand message about the 18 million cracks that she had left on the glass ceiling thanks to the people who voted for her. Well, everyone, especially non-caucasians, should rejoice and celebrate the cracks that Mar has left on the glass ceiling for minorities in this province. He may not break through the glass ceiling, but those cracks are something to be very proud of.

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