By Joe Friesen
Jeevan Rajaratnam sat patiently beside the polling booth. His list was gradually filling with check marks and as he greeted approaching voters he was pleased that Ryerson’s Tamil community had turned out in such force to elect Canada’s next prime minister.
More than two-thirds of the Ryerson young Liberals who chose Paul Martin as the next Liberal leader last Friday belong to the Tamil student association. “He’s done a lot for our community,” explained Rajaratnam, a fourth year business student. “He’s very minority friendly.”
Of the more than 100 members of the Ryerson’s Tamil students association, 86 were identified by Rajaratnam as Martin supporters.
Since the vote was held late on a Friday evening, the overall turnout, and that of Tamil voters in particular, was better than organizers had expected.
Martin received 41 votes, his opponent Sheila Copps nine. As a result, Ryerson will send three Martin delegates and one Copps delegate to the November 15 national Liberal leadership convention at the Air Canada Centre.
Milton Chan, the lone Copps delegate selected, was unhappy with the way the leadership race has been dominated by the Martin team’s financial clout.
“The Liberal party has never been as dirty as it is now,” said Chan. “When you look at the number of donations made to each campaign, the number is similar. What we don’t have is the anonymous numbered companies who donate huge amounts.”
Chan was also critical of the Martin team’s use of sample ballots. As voters waited in line, mere feet from the ballot box, paid Martin staffers handed out sample ballots which demonstrated how to mark an ‘x’ for Martin and the delegates supporting him.
Chris Drew, president of Ryerson’s young Liberals and a second-year urban planning student, said the sample ballots were meant as a reference guide only.
“The Paul Martin campaign is very happy with Ryerson’s support,” said Drew. “It didn’t go unnoticed.”
Drew said he is determined to foster a Liberal voice at Ryerson, despite the current organization being what Chen calls “a paper club”, created only to send delegates to the convention.
Almost 250 students paid the $5 registration fee to join the Liberal party. They have had only one meeting since January.
Drew said he expected Martin would become a prime minister committed to equality, democracy and a new deal for cities. Chan, on the other hand, said a Martin government would be at odds with the traditional interests of Ryerson students.
“Martin’s a competent manager, I just don’t think he’ll stand up for social justice,” said Chen. “The Chretien government has become much more progressive since Paul Martin left.”
Chan and Drew agreed that the Tamil vote was significant factor in Martin’s victory at Ryerson. Rajaratnam said his support for Martin began at home, where he heard from his parents that Paul Martin was a friend to the Tamils.
“When we get trashed in the papers we want a prime minister to say ‘there’s another side to the story,'” said Rajaratnam.