Conservative leadership candidate Deepak Obhrai is alleging that some national media commentators are biased against him for being a visible minority.
The MP for Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta. attributes the bias to “institutional discrimination,” and says it is evident in their coverage of his leadership campaign.
A couple commentators he singles out deny any discrimination.
Specifically, Mr. Obhrai called out The National Post’s John Ivison, and CTV’s Don Martin, for pieces they published in July, when he first announced his intention to run. He also said the Post’s Andrew Coyne demonstrated a bias insofar as he has not mentioned Mr. Obhrai’s candidacy in columns he has written about the Conservative leadership race.
“Here you are with these old conservative columnists attacking me, because I do not represent them, in their view,” he said. “This shows that candidates like us feel the glass ceiling.”
Mr. Obhrai’s specific examples included a July 20 column penned by Mr. Ivison, in which he borrows from the popular political TV comedy Veep, writing, “Certainly the news that veteran Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai intends to run brought to mind some of Veep’s more cutting barbs: ‘He’s middle of the road—mediocre. Of all the -ocres, he’s the mediest.’”
“I don’t care if they don’t consider me as a serious candidate. They can say: well we don’t give him any chance to win. That’s acceptable to me. But why do you say I’m a mediocre candidate? Where did you get that?” Mr. Obhrai said.
Mr. Ivison responded to The Hill Times in an email, writing, “there’s no discrimination—institutional or otherwise.” He said the point of the column was “just because you can run, doesn’t mean you should.
“I will leave it at that, pointing out only that money talks. According to the last Elections Canada data, Mr. Obhrai has raised just $1,100 from two people.”
Mr. Obhrai laughed when he heard this explanation.
“In July, when he wrote that article, that was when I indicated I was going to run. At that point I hadn’t even filed my papers,” he said, adding that he hadn’t started fundraising at the time of the column, so it was irrelevant to Mr. Ivison’s characterization of him at the time.
Mr. Obhrai said it’s true that he’s only been recorded as having raised $1,100 to date from two donors. He says this is due to the fact that he only filed his papers with Elections Canada in September, and wasn’t able to begin fundraising before then. The period captured by the latest fundraising report only goes to Sept. 30.
Mr. Obhrai also referred to a blog post by Mr. Martin, host of CTV’s Power Play, on the news channel’s website on July 27. Mr. Martin assesses each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
“His only major assignment in government was to land a United Nations Security Council seat for Canada. He assured the foreign affairs minister it was in the bag. We lost with considerable humiliation to Portugal,” Mr. Martin wrote of Mr. Obhrai.
Mr. Obhrai said that’s just not true. He was assigned to campaign for the seat, and that’s what he did, said the Calgary MP. He said he never assured the foreign minister it was a sure thing, and that placing the loss on his shoulders was unfair. Mr. Obhrai served as parliamentary secretary to the foreign minister from 2006 to 2015.
In response, Mr. Martin said: “I completely stand behind the contents of my blog post as being entirely accurate, fair, and balanced, and in no way discriminatory against Mr. Obhrai or any of the leadership candidates.”
Mr. Coyne was also contacted for comment, but did not respond.
Mr. Obhrai said he is well known for speaking his mind in caucus throughout his career, and standing his ground when he disagrees with something he considers to be divisive. After the Conservatives lost power last fall, he publicly took a stand against the party’s citizenship policy and more recently also criticized the party’s membership fees as too high and not inclusive enough.
Mr. Obhrai was first elected to parliament in 1997, and has been re-elected each election since then. Born in Tanzania, he is of Indian descent.
He is running for the leadership against 11 others, and perhaps soon to be more, including MP Kellie Leitch, whose main proposal involves screening immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.” Mr. Obhrai said Ms. Leitch’s rhetoric belongs to the “old Canada,” and that he has always made it his mission to bridge gaps, and make change from within the Conservative Party.
The Hill Times reported last week that Mr. Obhrai had been receiving racist emails to his MP account after Ms. Leitch unveiled her plan. As recently as Monday, Mr. Obhrai said he received one calling him a “brown piece of shit.”
Erin Tolley, a political science professor at the University of Toronto who has researched race in Canadian politics, spoke on the condition that she would not comment specifically on Mr. Obhrai’s allegations and the coverage of his campaign. She offered her general insight.
Prof. Tolley said she has interviewed journalists about race. “My own perception was not so much that there’s blatant racism or that journalists sit down and think how can I write a racist story. It’s more of a case of blind spots, where people aren’t aware how their own implicit judgments or understandings about how politics work,” she said. But that’s not limited to journalists. Everyone has blind spots, she said.
MP Michael Chong is also running for the Conservative leadership. He, too, is a visible minority, being the son of a Dutch immigrant mother, and a Chinese immigrant father.
When asked if he had considered that Mr. Chong was receiving more favourable coverage even though he was a visible minority, Mr. Obhrai said he had, but that Mr. Chong is “seen as a white guy.”
“I am visible minority, born outside the country,” he said. “So I am an outsider. I am sick and tired of being put in a corner.”
He said he plans on seeing out his campaign through to the last ballot.