The Liberal candidate running against NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a Metro Vancouver byelection has bowed out of the race after singling out Singh’s ethnicity in an online post.
Karen Wang apologized Wednesday for her comments, saying that the diverse character of Burnaby South is a real source of strength.
“In trying to speak about my own story and the importance of people of all different backgrounds getting involved in this important byelection, I made comments online that also referenced Jagmeet Singh’s cultural background,” she said in a statement.
“My choice of words wasn’t well-considered and didn’t reflect my intent, and for that, I sincerely apologize to Mr. Singh. I have deep respect for him as the leader of his party and for his public service — and I would never want to diminish that in any way.”
StarMetro Vancouver reported that Wang wrote on Chinese social media platform WeChat that she was the “only” Chinese candidate in the riding, rather than Singh, who she identified as “of Indian descent.”
“If we can increase the voting rate, as the only Chinese candidate in this riding, if I can garner 16,000 votes I will easily win the byelection, control the election race and make history! My opponent in this byelection is the NDP candidate Singh of Indian descent!” she said, according to the newspaper’s translation.
She said in her statement Wednesday that she has decided to step aside after speaking with her supporters.
“I believe in the progress that (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau and the Liberal team are making for British Columbians and all Canadians, and I do not wish for any of my comments to be a distraction in that work,” she said.
In a statement before Wang dropped out, Singh said he intends to represent everyone in the riding regardless of their background.
“We believe everyone brings something to the table and as a community we are better for it,” he said.
“While there are real differences in people’s experiences, I have dedicated much of my work over the years to find the common threads that unite us all. My mother taught me we are all connected and every day I try to live by her words.”
The Liberal Party of Canada said Wang’s online comments are not aligned with the party’s values and it has accepted her resignation. Trudeau and the party have always stood for the full and equal participation of all Canadians in democracy, it said.
“The Liberal Party has a clear commitment to positive politics and support for Canadian diversity, and the same is always expected of our candidates,” it said in a statement.
Elections Canada said the deadline for candidates to enter the byelection race is Feb. 4.
Conservative candidate Jay Shin and People’s Party of Canada candidate Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson are also challenging Singh as he runs for his first seat in the House of Commons.
The 2016 census of the riding shows about 42,000 people identified as ethnically Chinese, while 9,270 people said they were South Asian and 455 of those identified as Punjabi, out of a total population of 111,000 people.
Singh is Sikh and speaks Punjabi, English and French. While campaigning in the riding recently, he greeted people in Croatian and Spanish. He said he had learned to say, “Hello, how are you?” in about 40 different languages.
Wang is the owner of a daycare business and ran unsuccessfully in the 2017 provincial election for the B.C. Liberals. In the Liberal nomination for the federal byelection, Wang defeated biotechnology scientist Cyrus Eduljee after 123 members cast ballots.
Before her resignation, political observers had noted she had deep ties to the riding, unlike Singh who was previously a member of Ontario’s provincial legislature.
On Tuesday night, Wang ran from door to door speaking to several Chinese-Canadian community members in Mandarin. She also chatted with two people of South Asian heritage who promised her their support.
She said she wanted to run in order to give back to her community.
“When I came 20 years ago with my husband … from China, we came with nothing, zero,” she said. “I’m very proud of being a Canadian and I want to do more.”
Sanjay Jeram, a senior political science lecturer at Simon Fraser University, said race is a reality of politics, especially in diverse areas, but Wang’s comments went too far.
“Ultimately, I think the candidates have a responsibility to try to rise above and demonstrate that politics is about representing all the citizens that live in the riding, rather than a particular group, and not trying to play groups against each other.”
He said there have been many examples of parties strategizing to capture voters of a particular ethnicity, including the Conservatives under former prime minister Stephen Harper.
“The fact that she said it out loud — and brought to light something that perhaps most people are wilfully ignorant of — is the issue,” said Jeram.
“Maybe, in some ways, it might be a good thing. It might blow the lid off the fact that this has been happening for some time now.”
— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press