Conservatives calling for ‘national folklore costumes’ at rallies

Last month, Conservative MP Jason Kenney was caught using ministerial letterhead to raise money by targeting areas for the ‘ethnic vote’, now Etobicoke-Centre Tory’s campaign staffers for Tim Opitz have been e-mailing:

“Do you have any cultural groups that would like to participate by having someone at the event in an ethnic costume? We are seeking one or two people from your community,” the email signed by Zeljko ‘Zed’ Zidaric said.

The email stated that the Etobicoke Centre campaign was seeking to create a “photo-op about all the multicultural groups that support Ted Opitz our local Conservative candidate and the Prime Minister.”

“The opportunity is to have up to 20 people in national folklore costumes which represent their ethnic backgrounds,” the email said.

Ted Opitz’s campaign spokesperson Patrick Rogers confirmed that Zidaric is a campaign staffer.

The email quickly drew criticism as it made the rounds on blogs and via emails on Wednesday.

Mouamar compared the photo-op to asking people to come to “a Halloween party.”

The Conservative government cut off more than $1 million in funding to the Canadian Arab Federation after the president expressed “hateful sentiments” toward Israel and Jews, according to then immigration minister Jason Kenney.

“So suddenly now we exist as props for a photo op?” said Canadian Arab Federation president Khaled Mouamar. “This is hypocrisy.”

Borys Wrzesnewskyj, the Liberal incumbent who has represented the west-end Toronto riding since 2004, said he was stunned to learn of the email.

“It’s really unfortunate,” said Wrzesnewskyj. “My goodness, we’re not in the 1950s here… Canada is a global village and Toronto is especially so.”

The Conservative Party has aggressively courted the ethnic vote in hopes of wresting ridings from the Liberals and gaining a majority. Outreach efforts have been spearheaded by Kenney.

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Etobicoke-Centre has been a Liberal immigrant-concentrated riding for quite some time:

About 44 per cent of the riding’s residents are immigrants. Most come from Europe, specifically from the eastern and southern parts of the continent. However, almost half (47.7 per cent) of Etobicoke Centre’s most recent immigrants hail from Asia and the Middle East.

Since 1993, Etobicoke Centre has been decisively Liberal. Incumbent candidate Borys Wrzesnewskyj has served as MP since 2004, and in 2008 defeated Conservative contender Axel Kuhn by more than 10 percentage points. The Wrzesnewskyj-Kuhn race had been identified by Stephen Harper as one that could see a Conservative breakthrough. This time around, Wrzesnewskyj will face Conservative candidate Ted Opitz, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian military. Also in the race are Ana Maria Rivero for the NDP and Katarina Zoricic for the Greens.

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