I arrived in Canada in 1984 as an adult of voting age.
I had never voted in my country of origin, which is probably not unusual for immigrants who may come from countries where democracy is scarce.
In my case, I left in the middle of a civil war that pitted the Muslims and the Palestinians against the Christians, and due to the war, Lebanon held no elections for 20 years, from 1972 to 1992.
When I arrived in Canada, I soon became involved with the New Democratic Party (NDP) due to my left-leaning political views, and I interacted with many activists from the NDP and other parties.
As I gained a better understanding of Canada, my opinions moderated, and I have at various times supported each of the three mainstream parties.
[E]ach of the main parties has strengths and weaknesses; each is an important part of the fabric of Canadian politics.
I now believe that each of the main parties has strengths and weaknesses; each is an important part of the fabric of Canadian politics.
Having been a voter in Canada for many years now, I have compiled some friendly advice for my fellow immigrants who are now voters in free and fair elections in an advanced liberal democracy. I hope you find it useful.
1. All mainstream parties are friendly to immigrants. The Liberal party has in the past been considered the party of immigrants, but the Conservatives and the NDP have significantly increased their support among immigrants. Unlike some other countries, none of our mainstream parties are racist or anti-immigrant.
2. Think for yourself. Do not rely on the advice or pressure of other members of your community. Their priorities may not be yours, and they may themselves be acting based on community pressure. The fact that you are reading this article already shows that you are taking your own initiative.
Read and watch what the leaders say during the campaign, particularly their promises.
3. The leader is important. Party policies are important, but they are far less important than the leader. The Prime Minister and a very small number of trusted ministers set the government’s priorities. Your confidence in a leader’s abilities and vision is more important than your agreement with every single policy. Read and watch what the leaders say during the campaign, particularly their promises, but keep in mind it is not unusual for leaders, particularly if they are currently in opposition, to break some promises when they are faced with reality.
4. The local candidate is important. You vote for a local candidate, not directly for a party. Although members of Parliament (MPs) tend to follow the leader’s direction, it is always possible for an MP to take a different direction or even to switch parties. For this reason, it is important to know about the individual that you are voting for. You can contact a candidate through their website, and a good candidate will make time to speak with a voter.
5. Know your own expectations. Take the time to decide which political issues are important to you personally based on your family life, your work life and your own values. Do not get caught up with narrow issues that may receive a lot of media attention.
Elections Canada also lists a phone number for each candidate – do not be afraid to call.
6. Look up the parties and the local candidates. Go to the Elections Canada website and click on tab “Candidate & Parties”. When you enter your postal code, you will be told about your electoral district and the registered candidates. Be sure to Google the candidates and parties that you are interested in. Elections Canada also lists a phone number for each candidate – do not be afraid to call.
7. Take activists’ claims with a grain of salt. Party activists present a stark contrast between their party and others, but this is not always true. The leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair, has positioned his party firmly in the centre-left, the Conservatives have governed from the centre-right, and the Liberal party is, of course, centrist. Their practical policy differences are rarely fundamental. Canada is a stable and prosperous country that needs the occasional tweaking rather than fundamental shifts.
By voting … you also uphold a right that many people in the world do not have.
8. Do not waste your vote on minor parties. The only parties worth considering are the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives. All other parties have limited scope and little to no relevance. If a particular issue is critical to you, find the mainstream party that comes closest to your view, but do not waste your vote on a party that will have zero influence in Parliament.
9. Make sure that you can vote. Go to the Elections Canada website and click on “check or update your voter registration now” to find out.
10. Vote! By voting you exercise the most fundamental right that you will ever have as a Canadian, and you also uphold a right that many people in the world do not have. Choose wisely.
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/fred-maroun/ and http://www.jpost.com/Blogger/Fred-Maroun.