Thursday, 01 October 2015 00:31

Getting First-Time Voters to the Polls

by Caro Loutfi in Montreal

When it comes to elections, new Canadian citizens and young Canadian voters share similar challenges. Broadly speaking these two demographics share an unfamiliarity with the Canadian democratic process. Put another way, both are often first time voters.

An event hosted by the Canadian Arab Institute Oct. 1 recognizes this overlap – the theme of the evening is youth.

A panel including representatives from Free The Children, the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, Samara and Apathy is Boring will take questions after discussing topics relating to immigrant youth and how to encourage their civic participation.

Similar barriers 

To better understand some of the barriers that new Canadians encounter when voting, the Institute of Canadian Citizenship recently released a report entitled Ballots and Belonging. 

The study used a national online survey, along with focus groups in seven Canadian cities, to uncover the attitudes of new Canadians when it came to political participation. 

Comparing the findings of Ballots and Belongings to the 2011 National Youth Survey conducted by Elections Canada, we see similar attitudes and barriers regarding voting. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][A]pathy is not a main barrier to voting for either new or young Canadian demographics.[/quote]

For example, Ballots and Belonging found 40 per cent of new Canadians surveyed listed time constraints as a barrier to voting. The 2011 National Youth Survey indicated that 50 per cent of Canadians under 24 did not vote due to being occupied with studies, work or caring for a family member. 

Another similar finding by both studies is that apathy is not a main barrier to voting for either new or young Canadian demographics. 

Ballots and Belonging found only six per cent of those surveyed did not vote due to lack of interest in politics, while the 2011 National Youth Survey found 12 per cent of young Canadians did not vote due to “not caring about politics”. 

Similar interests 

Where new Canadian citizens and young Canadians truly overlap is in their recommendations for how to improve the electoral process. 

The Broadbent Institute's Millennial Dialogue Report demonstrates that Canadian millennials are keen to have Internet voting, longer polling hours and more convenient polling stations. These are the very same recommendations given by the participants in Ballots and Belonging. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][I]t is important that young and new Canadians be offered clear and concise information about our election process.[/quote]

This alignment again shows how new Canadians and young Canadians share attitudes towards our electoral system. 

Due to these similarities it is important that young and new Canadians be offered clear and concise information about our election process.   

Apathy is Boring continues to share accessible, non-partisan information with both demographics through our website, and we launched a #5MMV campaign to highlight the diversity and power of the more than five million millennial voters eligible to cast a ballot this election. 

The Canadian Arab Institute is drawing attention to the issue through its youth forum and yourvoiceCAN campaign. 

We encourage readers to engage with these campaigns, share them with their friends and, most importantly, cast a ballot on October 19. 


Caro Loutfi is the executive director of Apathy is Boring, working in a non-partisan manner and on a national scale to engage Canadian youth in democracy. She currently sits on the Inspirit Foundation’s board, working to inspire pluralism among young Canadians and has been involved in the volunteer sector for over nine years.

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Published in Commentary

by Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17) in Mississauga, Ontario

If a beer company can harness the power of Canada’s diverse languages to open a fridge full of its wares as a marketing stunt, why not use that same force for civic engagement? 

In time for this year’s Canada Day and the upcoming federal elections, the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI) has released an Arabic version of “O Canada” to open the hearts and minds of its cultural community. 

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33oWbDJAamw[/youtube] 

Part of the CAI’s Your Voice campaign, “Ya Canada” is performed by soprano Miriam Khalil, and hits all the right notes, including the replacement of the contentious, “in all thy sons command” phrase with the gender-inclusive “in all of us command.” 

This unofficial translation of the national anthem is “one of the tricks up our sleeve” to roll out the non-partisan voter engagement campaign, said Raja Khouri, president of the CAI during a recent panel discussion titled “From Marginalization to Integration” it hosted in Mississauga, Ontario. 

The panelists included Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University; Cathy Winter, Manager of DiverseCity onBoard; Crystal Greer, Director of Legislative Services & City Clerk with the City of Mississauga and Mohamad Fakih, the CEO of Paramount Fine Foods. 

Bemoaning that voting was becoming more transactional in nature and not part of nation building, Omidvar emphasized the need to shift away from this trend. “Democracy belongs to all of us only when we actually start participating.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Mohamad]Fakih shared his experiences in civic engagement at the local level. Fakih stressed that, “Change is a belief that you can make a difference even if it takes time and hard work,” and it starts with voting to ensure the right to have a say isn’t lost.[/quote]

Omidvar said there are all kinds of opportunities, including small daily acts as well as sitting on the boards of various public and non-profit institutions that lead to participation. “It is all about taking ownership and paying it forward.” 

She said it is not an anomaly for people to have split national loyalties in an increasingly globalized world where multiple identities are a fact of life. “As long as we wear our various hats properly, it is the values we uphold that matter.” 

‘Don’t have to Keep Heads Low’

Picking up on the importance of being involved in the community, Winter highlighted the work of DiverseCity onBoard. The program enables visible minorities to find a place on non-profit and charitable boards. Winter said it is imperative that the face of leadership reflects the new Canada and all communities need to stretch their social capital.

Greer showcased the City of Mississauga’s efforts in engaging citizens and making sure city council utilizes its skills and knowledge while developing policy. Greer said this is mostly done by including citizen advisers on the different committees of the municipal council and making sure their input and feedback is heard.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[W]e must all become members of one political party or the other. We must infiltrate the system by not just sitting aside – when we move, we make change.” - Ratna Omidvar[/quote]

With the self-deprecating claim that, “I am a shawarma man, not a politician,” Fakih shared his experiences in civic engagement at the local level. Fakih stressed that, “Change is a belief that you can make a difference even if it takes time and hard work,” and it starts with voting to ensure the right to have a say isn’t lost.

Apart from merely voting, Omidvar wanted the level of involvement in the political process to be a notch higher. She suggested that, “We must all become members of one political party or the other. We must infiltrate the system by not just sitting aside – when we move, we make change.”

All the panellists were of the opinion that new citizens coming from repressive societies must be made aware that it is possible to make change happen here in Canada and they have nothing to fear. “You need to unlearn repressions and know that you don’t have to keep heads low to stay out of trouble,” was the collective message from panellists to new Canadians to elevate their involvement in nation building.

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Published in Arab World

by Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17)

Canadians should be having an informed discussion about their country’s involvement in the fight against ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). This was the advice given by Rami Khouri, Senior Fellow at the Issam Fares Institute, American University of Beirut (AUB), during a lecture in Toronto last week titled "Beyond Sunnis and Shiites: Understanding the Turbulent Reconfiguration of Arab States and Citizens."
 
Quipping that he expected to see some rational thinking north of the U.S. border, Khouri said America is again leading a military adventure in the Middle East about which it has “no clue.” Former Canadian foreign minister Bill Graham, who was present at the lecture, agreed with Khouri and recalled that one of his proudest moments in office was when then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien resolutely decided against joining the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It is no surprise that not one among the 22 Arab countries is democratic and the Middle East as a whole is the only region in the world that has remained undemocratic as a whole.[/quote]
 
Khouri said defeating ISIS by military means will only bring about a temporary respite in the continuing bubbling of Islamist movements across the Arab world if the underlying conditions that gave rise to in the first place persist.  He said these conditions were brought about by corruption, mismanagement of national resources, poor governance, widespread disparities in society, abuse of power, incompetence in confronting Zionism and its threats, subservience to foreign powers, and the dominance of society by single families and their cronies.
 
Tunisian example
 
Giving a broad sweep of the troubled history of the Middle East over generations, Khouri said much of its current problems could be traced back to the many Western interventions over the years starting from the First World War. Adding to the turbulence was the undefined link between citizen and state in the countries carved out of the defeated Ottoman Empire. “The citizenry never played a role in the forming of these states and there never was a social contract between them.”
 
It is no surprise that not one among the 22 Arab countries is democratic and the Middle East as a whole is the only region in the world that has remained undemocratic as a whole, Khouri said. This structural fault led to the eruption of anger during the Arab uprising that began in December 2007 and whose repercussions are still being felt, he said. “The established systems are being challenged while a whole new order is still being fashioned.” Pointing out last month’s Tunisian election as a good case study of the evolutionary process, Khouri said it was the first-ever constitutional exercise seen in the Arab world.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]People were treated as animals and are now some are behaving like animals.[/quote]
 
Pointing out that binary and linear connections cannot be applied to current events in the Arab world, Khouri said one must understand that a series of epic developments are happening there simultaneously. “Demands for citizenry rights, constitutional reforms and social justice have come up together unlike in other parts of the world where they came in progression.”
 
Consequence of dysfunction
 
“ISIS is a logical consequence of the dysfunction experienced by the people over the years. It is a reaction that is not coming out of a vacuum and is doing exactly the same thing as the marauding Bedouin tribes who carved out territories for themselves in the wake of retreating European powers from the region after the two world wars,” Khouri said. “Instead of the European powers, central governments are in retreat in the Arab world today and all kinds of groups are filling the gaps. ISIS is but one such extreme manifestation emanating out of the dehumanizing of populations by various regimes. People were treated as animals and are now some are behaving like animals.”
 
Whatever else it represents, in contemporary terms, ISIS is the latest manifestation of at least half-a-dozen other Islamist movements in Arab society since the 1970's, Khouri said. “The very different natures of these movements and the reasons for their emergence should be noted by anyone interested in understanding how ISIS came to be and how it could be confronted and defeated.”
 
However, the Middle East scholar said, the threat posed by ISIS should not be exaggerated. “This criminal cult of social misfits have no anchors in the community. They are trying to resolve the stress felt by society by banking on Islam which is a strong part of the people’s identity.” He reminded the audience that the civil rights movement in the U.S. was led by Christian churches. “The Islamists very well understand the power of religion.”

The lecture was co-hosted by the Canadian Arab Institute, The Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History and the Toronto AUB alumni association.

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Published in Top Stories

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