OTTAWA — When 33-year-old Lucas Cunha fills out his ballot for Canada’s 44th election, he won’t be doing so by mail.
Cunha is set on going to his local polling station; as someone who became a Canadian citizen in early 2020, this is the first time he’ll be able to vote in the country he now calls home.
Unlike many Canadians grumbling about heading back to the polls, the Mississauga resident, who arrived in Ontario from Brazil 10 years ago, is thrilled by the prospect. He wants to wait in line, duck behind a screen and mark an “X” beside his preferred candidate, just like everyone else.
“The vote is actually a privilege that we have as a citizen that not every single country has,” said Cunha. “So I feel really excited for it. And I feel really honoured to finally be part of this community and have my voice heard.”
Cunha is one of many Canadians who are now eligible to cast their inaugural vote. More than 172,000 people became citizens between the last election and May of this year, though that figure includes some who fall below voting age. New citizens voting for the first time will also join more than an estimated 811,000 young Canadians who are old enough to vote in their first election.
Where new Canadians are concerned, there are a number of platform issues through which parties will try to woo voters, says Andrew Griffith, a former director general of Citizenship and Multiculturalism within Canada’s federal immigration department.
Affordable housing is one, as is streamlining how foreign credentials are recognized, addressing family reunification and committing to tackling racism and hate.
“I think a more pragmatic approach is probably stronger than the rhetorical approach,” Griffith said, referring to how clearly parties will articulate their promises in their platforms.
But when it comes to newcomers — especially those who could be establishing their political loyalties for years to come — parties are thinking about more than just platform pledges.
As the party in power for the last six years, the Liberals feel they have an edge.
For people who arrived in Canada during that time who had a positive experience with the country’s immigration and refugee system, there’s a hope those voters will respond favourably at the polls, say those involved with the campaign.
In a statement to the Star, Liberal spokesperson Alex Wellstead also cited the party’s efforts to improve immigration levels, economic immigration and pathways for permanent residence as reasons why new Canadians should feel welcomed by the party.
“We have also worked to create economic conditions for growth and innovation and brought in policies to address inequality,” Wellstead said.
On the ground, the Liberals are looking to the diversity of its candidates and staffers to attract new Canadians across the country. The party is running several Filipino Canadian candidates in a bid to elect the first Filipino Canadian MP in 17 years.
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The party has also established a presence in a slew of WhatsApp chat groups, where many immigrants and newcomers tend to communicate. A dedicated outreach team is responsible for crafting culturally sensitive messages that are then shared through different networks.
The Liberals are also ensuring candidates pop up in community and multilingual media outlets, which happens to be a key focus for the Conservative party in this year’s campaign.
“We’ve had a very aggressive, and I think effective, ethnic media engagement strategy,” said Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who served as the party’s international development critic before Parliament’s dissolution.
The party is holding weekly virtual news conferences with multilingual media about its platform commitments, and is enlisting candidates who speak languages other than English and French to conduct interviews with community outlets.
While the Conservative platform lacks a plan for addressing racism at the domestic level, it includes a section on Canada’s immigration system that sees new Canadians as key to the country’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
That includes pledging to do away with Canada’s government assisted refugee program in favour of boosting private and joint sponsorships, kick-starting a credential recognition task force, addressing processing delays and vowing to scrap the Liberals’ family reunification lottery and replace it with a new system.
The NDP platform is less clear on the specifics, but promises to tackle credential recognition, application backlogs and improve refugee resettlement among other commitments. Confronting racism and other forms of discrimination factors strongly into the document.
NDP national director Anne McGrath believes the COVID-19 pandemic has offered a strong reason for new Canadians to turn up to the polls, given that some immigrants were exposed to additional risk by holding precarious, front-line jobs and living in multi-generational homes.
As with the Liberals, the New Democrats are also banking on their diverse roster of candidates, hoping voters will be able to see themselves among those in the running.
“We have really strong, some would say, rigid, equity requirements,” McGrath said.
Candidates themselves are doing the bulk of community outreach, which includes talking to new Canadians who are contemplating who gets their first vote.
That also means ensuring that newcomers, who might be less familiar with where and how to cast a ballot, feel comfortable with the process.
“We’ll be working hard to make sure that first-time voters … know how to vote, that they know how to get to the polls and that they know how to do the mail-in ballots,” McGrath said.
Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel
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