By Faiza Zia Khan
Amber Afaq, a recent immigrant from Pakistan, is suffering from first-time voter panic.
Afaq, a childcare worker, became a Canadian citizen last year and will be voting for the first time in this federal election. Her challenge is two-fold: how to understand the issues and processes and then decide which candidate to vote for. She admits she doesn’t have much insight into Canadian politics and is reaching out to friends and colleagues with a diverse range of opinions.
“I feel anxious when someone asks: ‘Who gets my vote?’ For me personally the struggle is to choose the right candidate.”
Despite her concerns, Afaq’s vote matters. According to Simon Fraser University Communications and Public Policy professor Catherine Murray, votes from new immigrant Canadians could affect the outcome of this election. “We know that many immigrants who arrived in Canada before the year 2000 have very high voting rates, compared to other Canadians.”
Murray adds the first thing new Canadians must do is register to vote.
For Afaq, registering to vote on the Elections Canada website was the easy part. But recognizing that as a new Canadian voting is a civic duty that part “did not sink in immediately”. She did not think of the election process and voting as an important part of being a Canadian citizen until her citizenship ceremony. During the citizenship ceremony speech, the judge highlighted that it was a Canadian’s civic duty to vote.
“Canada is my home now and my decisions will affect me and my family directly. I do not think it will help if I don’t vote, as every single vote counts. I will vote for sure.”
In preparing to vote, Afaq is looking at party platforms. As a mother of two children and a child care worker she said she likes the NDP campaign platform about establishing new child care spaces through the Early Learning and Child Care Act.
The Act, which has passed its second reading in Parliament, will fund a Canada-wide child care program that will make non-profit and licensed childcare available to 150,000-220,000 Canadian families.
Pakistani Youth Council executive Hamza Malik, who works closely with first-time voters in a local riding association, said the election process is similar in Pakistan. In Malik’s experience new immigrant Pakistanis take their time learning about the process, rather than plunging into Canadian politics or elections.
“To help new immigrants ease into the process, organizing information sessions for Pakistani Canadians to highlight the importance of elections will prove beneficial,” said Malik.
Afaq is still making her final choice because she is having a difficult time evaluating the party policy solutions. “The candidates seem to be aware of the prevalent issues but provide very different solutions.”
The jury is still out for Afaq but she has learned a lot during this challenging process.