“I don’t think politics in Canada takes into account the voice of immigrants,” Daniela Rodriguez, an international student from Colombia, said about the June 2 Ontario election.
Rodriguez, 25, currently resides in Scarborough and studies event planning at the Progress campus of Centennial College. She believes Canada, at all levels of government, should consider the opinion of immigrants who can’t vote because they are not yet citizens, a population that includes international students.
“Canada is a country where most of its population are immigrants, and who are international students, especially Ontario. The government should find a way to make (us) feel part of the election,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez wants to stay in the country after finishing college. She thinks it’s unfortunate that politicians are not interested in knowing the opinions of non-citizens. She’s not interested in politics because she can’t vote and feels disengaged.
“I know that the results of the elections may affect me, but I am not interested,” Rodriguez said.
Paula Villa, 28, is also an international student from Colombia living in Scarborough. A student at Centennial College, Villa plans to stay in Canada. She arrived in the country two months ago and said she knows nothing about Canadian elections.
“We (international students and non-citizens) know a few things about the elections or nothing, and we don’t seek information about it because we feel excluded,” Villa said. She added that she does care about the elections, but didn’t get involved in the issues surrounding the Ontario election.
Villa believes that the problem is not a lack of information. “You can find information about the elections and the parties in the media, on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook,” she said. The problem, she said, is non-citizens feel excluded and lose interest.
“(Canada) doesn’t make you feel part of the country but it would be important that non-citizens could contribute to the elections because, in the end, all changes affect us too,” Villa said.
According to the 2016 census, 29.1 per cent of the population Ontario are immigrants and non-permanent residents.
Consultations and surveys
Villa suggests a solution to help engage non-citizens could include a type of consultation in which politicians explore the perspectives of the non-citizen immigrant population.
“The situation would definitely improve if we were taken into account, not in the voting, but in a consultation or survey,” she said.
Rodriguez feels the same. She said that engaging non-citizens in surveys, like they do in Colombia before an election, could help her feel like she has a voice.
According to statistics from the Government of Canada, 75 per cent of population growth comes from immigration, making it key to the economic growth of the country.
Other related news: These Scarborough residents can’t vote, but they still care about politics
Non-citizens shouldn’t be indifferent
Elina Grigoryan, a licensed Canadian immigration consultant and founder of RightWay Canada, an immigration organization specializing in express entry, the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP), among other immigration issues, spoke to Toronto Observer about the position of immigrants in the elections.
Grigoryan explained that the word ‘immigrant’ defines a person who “resides in a country other than the country of his birth, and by that, this phrase to some extent encompasses non-citizens, permanent residents and non-permanent residents.”
The main difference between the above-mentioned terms is in the duration of the authorized stay as well as the allocated rights that come with the respective status, she said.
According to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, certain rights and freedoms protect everyone, including non-citizens. “But the key difference between immigrants and citizens is the right to vote,” Grigoryan said.
Even though immigrants live under and abide by the same policies and legislative bodies as citizens, she said, they undoubtedly have less impact and ability to influence those policies.
“The inability to vote should not and cannot make non-citizens indifferent towards the outcome of the elections given the latter impacts their daily lives as well,” she said.
There are other indirect ways to participate in the election process without necessarily being able to walk into a voting booth, said Grigoryan, including being informed on the vital political and social processes and contributing to the development of civic education and volunteering in the respective campaign of the candidate.
“One way to make non-citizen immigrants more involved in the election process is to stress on the further development of the civic education in the country, which is aimed at conveying knowledge of a country’s political system and context,” she added.
What do politicians say?
Cara Brideau, the provincial Green Party candidate for Scarborough Southwest, said that in her riding, Scarborough Southwest, “there are more internationally born people versus Canadian born, so the immigration vote is very important in the party results.”
“In fact, the winner, Doly Begum, is an immigrant from Bangladesh, which is representative of the ride,” she said.
Brideau believes that although non-citizens can’t vote, there are many other ways that these immigrants can participate in elections, for example, they can volunteer for candidates they believe in.
In addition, she said that this population is very important for the Green Party and that it would be valuable for immigrants to know the proposals and resources that favour them.
For instance, the party has specific elements in its platform to fight companies that take advantage of immigrants.
“Temporary workers and gig workers are predominantly new Canadians and these jobs are very dangerous for the people who work them because they aren’t trained properly,” Brideau said.
“They also have a higher risk of getting taken advantage of because they are not aware of the rules of Canada.”
Brideau said the Green Party has “the Charter of Rights for gig workers, which talks about giving these temporary workers rights that they currently don’t have.”
“We are a country of immigrants, and every new person adds to our culture and our colourful history. One of my favourite parts about living in Scarborough and Ontario is that I get exposed to so many cultures and it makes me a better person for it,” she said.