A friend of Brazil in Parliament.
By Paula Mazulquim
When the Canadian government deported Portuguese construction workers in 2006 he defended their rights. He keeps urging the government to deal with the undocumented workers issue at Parliament. Community initiatives including Immigration Rights, Aids Fundraisers and teaching of English as a Second Language are among Mario Silva’s projects and portfolio. As the Chair of the Canada-Brazil Parliament Association, the Liberal MP has been working closely with the Brazilian community in Toronto. He was responsible for organizing and requesting the ceremony to hoist the Brazilian Flag at Toronto’s City Hall in commemoration of Brazil’s Independence Day this past September 7th.
Although the Brazilian community is not as large as the Portuguese community in Toronto, you have always been considered a supporter and “friend” of the Brazilian community. How did you get involved with Brazilians?
Mario Silva – I have always been a friend of this community, especially as more of my constituents are of Brazilian origin. There are many Brazilians who live and work in Davenport. As their MP it is my duty to be involved in the Brazilian community so that I understand the needs of Brazilian-Canadians so that I may best represent them. As the Chair of the Canada-Brazil Parliamentary Association, I have also worked in Parliament so that the Parliaments of Canada and Brazil cement links and cooperate in various areas.
Last September 7th you hoisted the Brazilian flag at Toronto’s City Hall to commemorate Brazil’s Independence from Portugal with the Brazilian Consul General in Toronto, Ambassador Américo Fontenelle. Was this your idea?
Mario Silva – It was my initiative. Hoisting the flags of various countries in celebration of their national day is a tradition at City Hall. The request to fly the Brazilian flag had never been made and so I thought it was important to initiate this tradition to mark the growing presence and dynamism of the Brazilian community in Toronto.
Do you see the Brazilians immigrants as your potential voters? Do you believe in ethnic votes?
Mario Silva – I don’t see one particular community as more supportive than any other. Davenport is a very diverse area of Toronto. There are many Portuguese and Italians, but also thousands of Hispanic, Vietnamese, Indian, Jamaican, Pakistani, Bangladeshi. More Brazilians are calling Davenport their home too. No community can be targeted, as there are simply far too many. Many Canadian-born residents of Davenport also support my work and that of my party, while some ethnic communities support other parties. Brazilian voters connect more with me because of the linguistic and cultural affinities we have, but I work to represent all the communities of Davenport, including the Brazilian community.
You have won another term representing Toronto’s Davenport riding (October 2008). This western downtown community has been your home for nearly thirty years. In which way would you say this has helped you with the results?
Mario Silva – Ever since I came to Canada, Davenport has been my home. I grew up here, went to school here and continue to live here. I know this community very well. I have seen the changes that have occurred through the years and understand the needs of this community. The people of Davenport know about my work and respect the efforts I have taken, both while I was at City Hall and now as their MP, to best represent their interests, and improve things here in Davenport.
Davenport has a higher than average ratio of new Canadians and minorities, and lower than average income and education levels among voters. What are your main platforms addressing the newcomers’ issues?
Mario Silva – Acquiring Canadian citizenship is a major step towards improving immigrants’ quality of life. I have organized various citizenship drives where we have helped thousands of people with their citizenship applications. I have also helped over 3000 of my constituents with problems they may have with Immigration Canada. I have lent my support to various community organizations in Davenport that help new Canadians integrate and succeed in Canada and have obtained government support in the form of summer students to many of these organizations. In Parliament I have introduced various motions asking the government to regularize the situation of undocumented workers.
You are the country’s first and only MP of Portuguese origin and you have made immigration a key component to your campaign by stressing equal rights for immigrants, including those who are undocumented. Do you have a specific plan to address the undocumented immigrants’ issues?
Mario Silva – I have asked the government on many occasions to deal with the situation of undocumented workers. Regularizing their situation will not only help them integrate and succeed in Canada, but will also enhance our economy which suffers from a chronic lack of skilled labour. It is also essential that we create a complete overhaul in our immigration system. We need to put in place new mechanisms to deal with the backlog in the system and to make it a lot more accessible.
Employment for Davenport constituents consists mainly of construction and manufacturing jobs as well as retail trade and service sector industries. What expectations can you provide to the undocumented construction workers?
Mario Silva – When the government discriminately deported Portuguese construction workers in 2006 I took it upon myself to defend their rights. I helped organize and participate in demonstrations calling for an end to this mean-spirited and ideological move. Undocumented workers, in the construction industry or any other industry can expect to obtain my help with their immigration files. I will also continue my fight in Parliament asking the government to deal with this issue. It is important that we regularize this situation so that the thousands of people in this condition can fully take part in Canadian Society and are not sidelined. It is simply a matter of human rights.
Davenport was established in 1933 and has been held by the Liberals since 1962. Running as a member from the Liberal Party, how would you say the tradition of Davenport electing Liberals have helped you to win your third term there?
Mario Silva – Winning a third term here has little to do with the Liberal tradition of this riding. The residents of Davenport know of my work and appreciate it. I have always worked for this community and the people of Davenport realize this. I also think that new Canadians tend to have a stronger connection with the views of the Liberal party, which has always been open to immigrants and ethnic communities thanks to the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
You once said that the Liberal plan offers economic prosperity, a greener environment, health care, childcare, stronger and safer cities for all. Don’t you think is important to prioritize it?
Mario Silva – Every issue is of importance to Canadians and we need to work to improve in every area that is necessary. The Liberal plan in the election we just had, proposed a variety of mechanisms that would create economic sustainability while respecting our environment. Health care and child care on the other hand were vastly improved under former Liberal governments. We had reached a comprehensive national child care plan with all the provinces that would revolutionize child care in this country. The NDP joined the Conservatives to defeat Paul Martin’s government and effectively killed this plan for Canadian families.