Today, Canadian voters head off to the polls for the third time in six years. While some voters could be forgiven for not embracing that prospect, new Canadians voting for the first time have no such worries.
“We are very excited,” Nerveen Kardan and Nour Moudarres tell Peterborough Currents, their two voices merging into one as they speak in unison over the phone.
Kardan and Moudarres each immigrated to Canada from Syria with their families, and both recently became Canadian citizens in the past year – just in time to vote in arguably one of the most consequential elections in years, called as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seeks to earn a majority in parliament.
“It’s probably our first time voting where there are multiple parties to vote for,” says Moudarres, who last voted in Syria where elections are not considered free nor fair. “We’ll go on Monday and we’re excited to see how it’s going. My priorities are my family, health and immigration, as a newcomer myself.”
For Fabiola Contreras Carracso, who arrived in Canada from Mexico six years ago with her husband and son, her excitement about voting is still caught up in her joy at recently receiving citizenship.
“All good things come together. I got Canadian citizenship in July and I am still feeling the emotions of citizenship. I am excited I can now be a part of this country and to have the opportunity to choose somebody.”
It is a sentiment Ayat El Moussa echoes: “I am so excited. I just received my Canadian citizenship a month ago, and I am thankful I am over 18. It’s going to be very fun to go and vote on Monday.”
Housing, cost of living and healthcare top concerns for new Canadians
This year’s election has been dominated by questions about a COVID-19 recovery plan and vaccine mandates, the cost of living, healthcare and the climate crisis. For Peterborough’s new Canadians, these issues are high priorities, too.
“We want to build something here but house prices are very high,” Contreras Carrasco says.
While Contreras Carrasco will be thinking more about local Peterborough concerns than national policies, she says she felt that none of the parties explained enough about how they’ll improve things for house buyers.
“They need to do something about house prices. Even if you save, you just cannot do it. It’s impossible,” she says.
Kardan and Moudarres are also worried about the parties’ economic policies, in particular a pandemic recovery program. Moudarres felt that no party could offer a detailed plan.
“When I was watching the debates, I was thinking about jobs, and I didn’t find any party which explained how they will recover from the pandemic,” Moudarres says. “They all talked about recovery, but they did not really have a specific plan.“
The four voters Peterborough Currents interviewed agreed that while all parties had something to offer these first-time voters, all parties also lacked detail where it mattered, failing to come through on important issues. With the risk of new variants emerging and divisions over vaccine passports and vaccine mandates growing, the lack of an alternative for managing COVID19 worried Kardan and Moudarres.
“I’m really concerned. I don’t think people are ready for another lockdown,” Moudarres says.
Kardan suspects politicians are reluctant to discuss the vaccine proposals until after the election, given the opposition such policies can provoke. “No one mentioned their Plan B for COVID19 during the fourth wave, and what they would do if the vaccine didn’t work out.”
A close race may disrupt Peterborough’s record as a bellwether riding
As the election enters its final day, polls show the Liberals sneaking out ahead of the Conservatives nationally, having been neck and neck for much of the election. Locally, electoral projection website 338 Canada is calling Peterborough as a toss up, with the Conservatives and Liberals within one percentage point of each other in vote projections. Since 1965, the party that wins Peterborough has also formed the federal government—for this reason Peterborough is dubbed a ‘bellwether’ riding. With this status potentially in doubt, new Canadians voting for the first time may participate in an historic election.
But for voters prioritising healthcare, jobs, education and immigration, the lack of clarity on some of the parties’ key policies will weigh heavily when it comes time to vote.
“I watched the debates and I’m reading the platforms before making my decision,” Moudarres says.
Kardan believes “each party has something good for sure in their plans and some gaps, but I will choose the one with the fewest gaps. The best party offers 80 percent of what I want.”
El Moussa has already made up her mind for how she’ll be voting – she’s looked at candidates’ records. “I’m choosing from experience, on everything they’ve done.”
For new Canadians voting for the first time, today’s ballot will be a very special day – the culmination of a long, difficult journey to citizenship.
“I am so happy that I am in a democratic country, I am just so happy about it,” Moudarres says.
“You can choose whatever you want, not just one person. In the end, I am happy that I am part of this democratic country and proud to be a Canadian citizen,” Kardan says.
Dan Morrison moved to Peterborough from England after studying as an exchange student at Trent University. Since graduating in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from Lancaster University, he’s co-edited Arthur newspaper and worked for Pagemasters North America. He is currently the editor of the food journalism magazine Sliced.