Community leader Cici Liang admits that she had little knowledge of politics – and particularly the way Canadian democracy functions – until a few years ago when she moved to the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
The president of the White Rock Chinese Association (and organizer and M.C. of the group’s annual Spring Festival event), said she draws on her past experience as an actor and television presenter in China in her current high-profile activities as a community spokesperson.
But like many who grew up there, she feels that she had little grasp of becoming involved in politics in a western sense.
“The Chinese don’t have the political freedoms or rights to do that,” she noted.
To help Chinese Canadians on the Peninsula become more involved in the political process and better understand resources available, she created the non-profit Surrey-White Rock Political Engagement Society, established this January.
Each month, except July and August, the society presents a ‘Cornerstone Community Forum’ with a keynote speaker (thoroughly prepared by questions from the society) to provide an individual perspective on political, governance and social support processes.
This month’s speaker is White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker, who will discuss his vision for the city this Wednesday (March 13, 10 a.m. to noon), at White Rock Community Centre, 15154 Russell Ave.
Sponsored by Wealthy-U Financial, the event follows successful forums featuring South Surrey-White Rock MP Gordon Hogg and Surrey-White Rock MLA Tracy Redies, sponsored in turn by Amber Financial and La Baia Italian Restaurant.
Liang became involved with the Conservative Electoral District Association in 2015 and is currently a director of the board of Redies’ riding association.
She emphasizes, however, that the society is a completely non-partisan organization and that the forums welcome input from all sides of the political spectrum.
Upcoming forums (at the Semiahmoo Library meeting room) will feature Surrey-White Rock Chamber of Commerce executive director Ritu Khanna (April 12); Surrey Panorama NDP MLA and Citizen’s Services minister Jinny Sims (May 10); David Young, CEO of Sources Community Resources (June 7).
South Surrey-White Rock federal Conservative candidate Kerry-Lynne Findlay will be the speaker for a Sept. 27 forum, location to be announced.
Liang underlines that while the forums were initially created with the Chinese-Canadian community in mind, they are open to all members of the community and provide information that is helpful not only to new immigrants of all cultural backgrounds, but also Canadian-born citizens and longtime residents who want to learn more about political and social engagement.
“It’s not only for Chinese people – it’s basically a bilingual forum, and we welcome everyone to join in,” Liang said.
“Knowing about Canadian democracy enables us to live here more confidently,” she added.
“People want to know about taxes, federal and provincial budgets and ICBC – and before the forums we collect questions and topics from the community to present to the politicians and other speakers.
“We need to think as Canadians, and learn how government works, and what are the advantages of the system. The only way we can do it is learn and spread the information. We’re going to live here now – this is our second home. This is where our offspring are going to live and we do it for them.
“I’ve been working on that for four years with colleagues and friends, but I started to think about setting up a new organization to focus particularly on engagement.”
Liang said establishing the society could not have been accomplished without a strong team that includes co-founders and directors Edward Su, Christine Ma, Matthew Zhao, Marc Burchell, Wen Zhou, and Michael Mei, with Banderaz Cheng as general secretary and May Huang as chief financial officer.
“We’ve established dialogue between officials and community leaders and the Chinese Canadian community, but we’ve also spread the knowledge and built a platform for people of all cultures getting to know the political process,” Liang said.