Low immigrant vote numbers troubling
As a multicultural city, Calgary has a large population of immigrants. Sitting at 24 per cent internationally born citizens, they make up a large voice in this city – when they’re being heard.
A Statistics Canada report, published February 2012, suggested only 51 per cent of recent immigrants voted during the 2011 federal elections. Recent immigrants —those who immigrated to Canada in 2001 or later — were less likely to vote than established immigrants and Canadian-born citizens.
Linh Bui, an immigrant from Vietnam, became a Canadian citizen last year and won’t be voting in this coming election.
“It’s hard to understand what is going on, there is a big language barrier,” she said in Vietnamese through a translator. “I came here to survive and make a living, I don’t have time to learn the process of voting. It doesn’t affect me personally.”
This is an issue not only new immigrants are facing but also those who have made a life in Canada for years.
Photo by Ashely AlcantaraAnh Lam, a salon owner in Calgary, also migrated to Canada from Vietnam 34 years ago and has never voted.
“When I first moved to Canada no one told me about politics. I knew nothing,” Lam said. “I would like to vote but what is the process? If I understood more I would go.”
“There should be more programs to help new immigrants. I’ve been here for 34 years, and I’ve just gotten used to not voting in elections. One less vote doesn’t make a difference,” Lam said. “To me Canada means freedom. Your life is better, so I never worry about voting or anything. We are safe now,” she added.
In a 2011 report written by Debbie Belgrave and Charla Vall called Every Vote Counts, they found key reasons for low voter turnout among immigrants:
• Lack of resources and time
• Not understanding the Canadian political system
• Lack of trust in the democratic process
• Poor representation of diversity among elected officials
• Ineligibility due to not being a Canadian citizen
In the report, Immigrant Sector Council of Calgary and Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary conducted a survey with 174 respondents and hosted a community forum for immigrants from all around the world.
These councils suggest some of the immigrants feel there is a lack of knowledge surrounding election process like where and how to vote, the name of their community and ward number, the role of the municipality and the candidates’ positions on issues affecting immigrants.
“We realized that a lot of them were involved in community issues and couldn’t find answers or support from the political system to help address those community issues,” said Sheeba Vijayan, multicultural co-ordinator with Calgary and Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary.
“We decided it’s about time to educate the ethno-cultural community and the immigrants of our population that they should be more involved in the political process.”
“It’s their right to vote and it can change some of these systemic barriers,” Vijayan said.
The reality for some of these new immigrants is they face a language barrier. According to the report, providing election information in diverse languages and diverse media sources is critical to spreading awareness and knowledge throughout various ethno-cultural communities.
When asked how we can encourage more immigrants to vote in municipal elections, the immigrants in the report said, amongst other things, they would like to see candidates make greater efforts to connect with immigrant groups and that they could do this by attending different cultural events.
The City of Calgary’s returning officer, Barb Clifford, said there is no way to know how many voters are new immigrants or even established ones, so the city doesn’t have any special outreach programs for them during this municipal election.
With elections this month, informing and making recent immigrants aware of the political process is key to increasing voter turnout.