Nova Scotia

Young Lebanese Nova Scotians push for change in home country

Hundreds of Lebanese living in Nova Scotia cast ballots last weekend for Lebanon's first parliamentary elections since mass demonstrations in 2019, a crippling economic collapse and the blast that devastated their capital of Beirut.

Lebanon's general elections take place May 15

Lama Farhat, Simon Achkar and Nancy Hoyeck formed Lebanese Diaspora Atlantic to promote independent candidates in the Lebanese election. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Hundreds of Lebanese living in Nova Scotia cast ballots last weekend for Lebanon's first parliamentary elections since mass demonstrations in 2019, a crippling economic collapse and the blast that devastated their capital of Beirut.

Nancy Hoyeck proudly voted.

"We're voting for our people to have a better chance to survive," Hoyeck said. "Everything that people are suffering from is due to the current government's neglect or corruption."

Thousands of Lebanese people living in Canada have cast ballots for the election in that country. Lebanon has been through several crises in recent years, including a devastating explosion that destroyed a huge swath of Beirut. Hear from a group in Nova Scotia that hopes voters outside the country will help bring a future of change to Lebanon.

Hoyeck, 28, emigrated to Halifax from Lebanon in 2019, but her family still lives in a town 40 kilometres north of the capital. She said the country's economic crisis, exacerbated by the massive 2020 explosion at the Port of Beirut when a fire ignited a stash of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, has been very tough on her community. 

There is no guarantee whether they can access basic necessities such as electricity or medical supplies. 

"My loved ones are inconvenienced by every aspect of their life," she said.

Hoyeck is shown speaking at a vigil honouring the people who died in the Beirut port explosion. (Submitted by Nancy Hoyeck)

In August 2020, Hoyeck organized a vigil in Grand Parade in Halifax to honour the 214 people who died in the port's explosion. There she met Lama Farhat, 23, and Simon Achkar, 25, who have similar discontent with the way the current regime is ruling their country.

The trio formed Lebanese Diaspora Atlantic, a Nova Scotia-based group, to promote independent candidates unaffiliated with Lebanon's religious parties. They use social media and meetups to foster conversation among the province's Lebanese community.

Parliamentary elections take place every four years in Lebanon, electing members of parliament to 128 seats allocated under a sectarian power-sharing system. This year's election is taking place May 15.

Hoyeck said this election is breaking the status quo.

"We're not used to having independent lists running in every single region of Lebanon," Hoyeck said. "This is the first year that this has happened and it is showing people that there is an alternative choice to the leaders we've seen for the past 20 years."

Nova Scotia's Lebanese community votes

This is just the second time Lebanese people living abroad have been able to vote.

According to the Arab Reform Initiative, Canada had the highest number of Lebanese expats registered to vote in 2018. Halifax had the highest voter turnout percentage among the eight cities with polling stations, with 286 of the 429 registered Lebanese Nova Scotians casting a ballot.

The Lebanese honorary consul in Halifax, Wadih Fares, said 600 Lebanese Nova Scotians voted this past Sunday. The increase isn't only in Nova Scotia. There are nearly 226,000 Lebanese expats worldwide on the voters list for the upcoming election, more than three times the figure in 2018.

Hoyeck said the current government pushed to restrict the diaspora from voting.

Hoyeck said the current government pushed to restrict Lebanese people living abroad from voting. (Dave Laughlin/CBC )

"They are afraid to let us vote," Hoyeck said. "They know that people are aware that they can change the conditions that their families are living through."

The number of emigrants voting in the 2022 election makes up six per cent of the total votes.

Marie-Joelle Zahar, a Université de Montréal political science professor specializing in Lebanese politics, said increased mobilization against the current regime suggests that independents might get elected in certain seats.

However, the competing lists of independent candidates fragmented the vote of the opposition.

Marie-Joelle Zahar, a Université de Montréal political science professor specializing in Lebanese politics, believes those advocating for the independent movement need to consolidate powers in order to take on the traditional religious parties. (Zoom)

"This will not be an earth-shattering turning point in Lebanese electoral politics," Zahar said. "I do think that there is an opportunity for new parties and independent voices to emerge, but it's important that new parties calling for change play by the rules of the old system."

Zahar believes the members advocating for the independent movement need to consolidate powers in order to take on the traditional religious parties. 

Hoyeck believes this election was a great learning experience and they will take the small wins seriously. The three founding members of Lebanese Diaspora Atlantic are hopeful for the 2026 elections.

"This is going to be a long battle and this was just the first round."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will McLernon is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. You can reach him at will.mclernon@cbc.ca

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