Conservatives had sudden, unusual drop in votes in ridings of concern for Chinese interference: data
In multiple ridings, a pattern emerged: Conservatives saw significantly fewer supporters coming to the polls, but the Liberals did not see large gains
Author of the article:Ryan Tumilty
Published Mar 13, 2023 • Last updated 4 hours ago • 4 minute read
Former MP Alice Wong, seen here at her Richmond Centre campaign headquarters in 2019, is one of the Conservative candidates who experienced an unusual drop in votes in the 2021 election. PHOTO BY FRANCIS GEORGIAN/POSTMEDIA/FILE
OTTAWA — Evidence of China’s alleged influence in the 2021 federal election might be found as much in what didn’t happen as what did — namely, the significant number of previous Conservative voters who did not show up to cast a ballot in ridings in British Columbia and Ontario.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced probes into allegations of foreign interference last week after several media reports suggested Beijing had directed an interference campaign in a few ridings in the Toronto and Vancouver areas.
The National Post reviewed voting tallies from ridings identified as areas of concern by various reports and by Conservative campaign officials. The ridings are all home to large populations of Chinese Canadians.
Across multiple ridings, a similar pattern emerged: Conservative candidates saw significantly fewer supporters coming to the polls, however the Liberals did not see large gains, indicating not that large numbers of voters switched allegiances, but that for some reason, large numbers of voters did not vote at all.
Markham–Unionville is one of the ridings Conservatives have pointed to as a concern. The former MP, Bob Saroya, won the suburban Toronto seat in 2015 and 2019 as a lonely blue island in a sea of Liberal red across the region.
In 2015, Saroya received 24,605 votes, about 3,000 more than his Liberal challenger, allowing him to take a seat from the Liberals even as the Trudeau government was swept to power. Saroya held the seat in 2019, receiving just over 26,000 votes, but in 2021 his vote total fell by more than 7,000 and he lost.
The victorious Liberal MP, Paul Chiang, put on a strong campaign garnering nearly 22,000 votes. It was Chiang’s first election, and on doorsteps he emphasized his strong local roots in the riding and his decades of work as a police officer. Trudeau visited the riding several times. But Chiang only received 1,500 more votes than the previous Liberal candidate did. Far more important to the election result was the steep drop in support for Saroya.
Chiang has shown no evident favouritism to China since being elected, voting for a motion condemning the Chinese government for their treatment of the Uyghur genocide just last month.
In B.C., former Conservative MP Alice Wong won the seat for Richmond Centre in 2015 with more than 17,000 votes and in 2019 with more than 19,000 votes. But in 2021, her vote count sank by almost 6,000 votes, to 13,440. She lost to a Liberal, despite the Liberal vote increasing only by about 2,000.
Several other ridings around Toronto and Vancouver with large Chinese Canadian populations saw declines in Conservative support, without the bulk of that support switching to other parties.
Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu lost his Steveston-Richmond East riding after 4,400 fewer Conservative supporters voted for him in 2021 than in 2019. He has alleged a misinformation campaign was spread on Chinese social media apps, including WeChat, about his party and his positions, including that the Conservatives were going to ban WeChat.
However, Chiu also said many of his constituents were extremely cautious of COVID and Trudeau’s decision to run an election during a pandemic hurt his campaign.
“It’s understandable right in the middle of the pandemic, that people not only would not open their door, let alone go out to the ballot and vote,” Chiu said.
Chiu’s riding has been hotly contested in the past. He won fairly narrowly in 2019 after losing in 2015. He said he is still convinced there was outside interference, because the time between the 2019 and 2021 elections had been so short, and most of the news about the Liberals during that time was negative.
“Between 2015 and 2019, there are four years. Between 2019 and 2021, there are 22 months, and all of that (time) it’s all pandemic and it’s full of government scandals,” Chiu said.
Éric Grenier, a polling analyst who runs The Writ website, said it’s clear the Conservatives lost support in a wide swath of ridings, and supporters mostly stayed home.
“It is pretty clear that the Conservatives were in trouble in ridings with big Chinese Canadian populations, because they did lose a lot more support in those ridings than they did in neighbouring ridings,” he said.
Grenier said many factors could explain the drop. To begin, overall voter turnout dropped by five per cent between 2019 and 2021. He also points to local candidate factors and other possibilities.
“In these ridings, it’s clear that something was happening that was motivating those voters, it’s just impossible to say what it was.”
Andrew Enns, vice president with polling firm Léger, said these ridings are an anomaly because the Conservative vote declined, even as it rose more broadly across Ontario and British Columbia. He agrees there could be many other factors at play.
“You’ve got to really look at other factors, the quality of the candidate. Did something happen to that local candidate in the campaign? And I don’t have any answers to that. But it is certainly an unusual trend.”
Enns said it is also possible Chinese Canadians soured on the Conservatives. While there was evidence of misinformation circulating about the party’s view on China, the party’s then leader, Erin O’Toole, generally favoured a more hawkish stance with the country.