Truck driver, Jaspreet Singh, plans to vote for the first time in this federal election after arriving in Canada about six years ago.
In his riding of Surrey-Newton, home to about 60,000 people where more than 60 per cent are South Asian New Canadians, all five candidates vying for the seat have South Asian heritage.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet, but one key issue for me is who will stand up strongly for farmers rights in India,” he said.
His family in Punjab are among the thousands in India fighting new farming laws passed last September, which they say will devastate their livelihoods and negatively impact ancestral land holdings. The Indian government says the reforms are needed to modernize the country’s agricultural industry.
“Taxes, housing and the environment are all important issues for me, but I think I will vote for the candidate that can promise they will do something to help the farmers in India,” said Singh, who has been part of street-corner protests and car rallies in Surrey in support of the protesting farmers in India.
In the neighbouring Richmond-Centre, Ally Wang, who recently launched the website CCGTV.org or (Chinese-Canadians Go To Vote), is asking election candidates to publicly state their views on how they will respond to discrimination against the community, China-Canada relations, and what they will do if the English media vilifies the community.
Wang believes these community-specific views will encourage the Chinese-Canadian community, which has a historically low voter turnout, to get out to the ballot box.
The Richmond Centre riding, which has the second highest population of Chinese-Canadians after Markham-Unionville in Ontario, had the lowest voter turnout in British Columbia in the 2015 federal election.
Over in Quebec, which is home to some of the largest Muslim-heavy ridings in Canada, the Bloc Québécois has come out to condemn the human rights violations in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, which has been claimed by both India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
Constituents are asking what candidates will do if elected in order to ensure that Canada holds India accountable for its settler-colonization happening in Kashmir, a statement from the group Just Peace Advocates said.
“Thousands of Canadians let the Canadian Government know this through petitions sponsored by three political parties, the Liberals, NDP and Conservatives, in the fall of 2021. Now the election is underway; we hope to hear from other federal political parties and their leaders regarding this matter,” said the group’s spokesperson Karen Rodman.
In this election, where there seems to be no galvanizing subject other than the fact that three in four Canadians hate it, New Canadians are increasingly looking at how political candidates feel about issues in their homelands, say experts.
Of 338 federal ridings in Parliament, 41 have populations where visible minorities form the majority, compared with 33 five years earlier.
It is here where some of the key races are being held and where the New Canadian sentiment about issues pertaining to their home country could sway the vote, said Gurmant Grewal, a former Conservative MP, who represented the Surrey riding of Fleetwood—Port Kells from 2004 to 2015.
“Candidates who can speak to and address issues affecting New Canadians in their homelands resonate with the ethnic communities,” said Grewal, who now runs an immigration consultancy in Surrey.
“Here in Surrey, immigration policies have always been a big election topic…but the Conservatives here are not speaking to it because the Liberals have done a good job…so you are seeing candidates prioritize Canada-China tensions and the Indian farmer crisis to lure the ethnic vote,” he said.
Ethnic Voter Turnout
Andrew Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Environics Institute, said polling data suggests that New Canadians of South Asian heritage have a general tendency to vote Liberals or NDP while the Conservatives have fairly strong support from Chinese-Canadians.
He agreed that candidates who can address issues pertaining to the homelands of New Canadians will resonate better with ethnic communities.
“But we cannot assume New Canadians all vote the same way and think the same way about issues in their country of origin…that can backfire because the same polarizing values of an issue in the country of origin is also played out here.
“Political parties have always taken demographic realities into account when selecting candidates,” he said.
In an analysis of the 2015 election, Griffith found that all the main parties increased their numbers of visible minority candidates to attract New Canadian voters.
“According to my analysis, 14.4 percent of candidates were from visible minorities, a figure close to the percentage of visible minorities who are Canadian citizens. The election resulted in 47 visible minority MPs (13.9 percent of MPs), a record number and proportion for Canada. While most of these MPs were elected in ridings with large visible minority populations, nine were from ridings with 20 percent or fewer visible minorities,” said the analysis which used the latest available data.
“17 percent of all ridings, meaning that any path to a majority government requires winning these ridings,” said Griffith in his post 2015 election analysis.
The New Canadian vote could be pivotal is some key battleground areas especially for the Trudeau Liberals, said a political analyst in Victoria who declined to be quoted because he works for the provincial B.C. government.
Based on the latest polls and at this stage of the campaign, most expect an outcome that will be either a Liberal minority government or a Conservative minority government, he said.
“I don’t think this is what most Canadians want and if the ethnic voter turnout is strong, it could change that,” he said.