Nfld. & Labrador

Interfaith event hopes to get newer Canadians ready to vote

Some newer Canadians are getting used to the idea of choice, just one week out from the federal election.

Candidates from 2 N.L. ridings answer questions about refugees, discrimination and minimum wage

Syed Pirzada, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, says the event was an opportunity for common people to ask questions of the candidates. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Some newer Canadians are getting used to the idea of choice, just one week out from the federal election.

An interfaith open house was held at the Masjid-al-Noor mosque in St. John's on Saturday to give attendees a closer look at the candidates.

Organizers hoped it would help newcomers in the group warm up to the democratic process.

"So many members of even our community, they have not seen elections," said Syed Pirzada, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"They're coming from different parts of the world where most [leaders] are dictators.… Here, they should get used to it. This is the exercise we do. This is how we elect our parliamentarians."

About 60 people from different religious backgrounds attended the event organized by the Muslim Association, Anglican East NL and the Religious Social Action Coalition. 

Three main topics

Together, the groups decided to focus the event on three topics. Candidates had five minutes to touch on what they would do to reduce poverty, help refugees and stop Islamophobia and discrimination.

"We had some internal consultations with different members of the organizing committee and we came up with these three topics because we realized that they were coming up and up over and over again to the agenda, to the table," said Ayse Akinturk, an executive with the provincial Muslim association.

"We decided that these are the three most important policy matters that are of concern to the different faith communities living in Newfoundland and Labrador."

Ayse Akinturk, an executive with the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, helped narrow it down to three main topics of discussion. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Candidates running in St. John's East and St. John's South-Mount Pearl were invited.

All four candidates in St. John's East and half of the hopefuls from St. John's South-Mount Pearl attended.

From St. John's South-Mount Pearl, the New Democratic Party, Christian Heritage Party and the People's Party of Canada candidates were present. The Conservative, Liberal and Green candidates were absent.

Organizers acknowledged Liberal candidate Seamus O'Regan announced he was taking time away from the campaign to be with his father, but didn't give a reason for the absence of the other candidates.

Other questions

After candidates covered the main three topics, they took questions from the audience.

People asked about climate change, carbon tax and the affordability of electricity.

Akinturk gave the candidates who attended credit for being knowledgeable and prepared. "It will be a hard decision on the part of the voters," she said.

When asked whether any of the hopefuls changed her mind or surprised her with their answers, Akinturk said "certainly" and called the event a transformative process that brought them together "as members of the same community caring for each other, despite our differences."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador