Why more diverse candidates aren't running in P.E.I.'s municipal elections

Over the last number of years, P.E.I. has become a more diverse province. But when it comes to municipal politics, that's not necessarily the case.

Thousands of people of Asian and Middle Eastern origin live on P.E.I., but few are running for council

Even though there are more than 6,000 people of Asian origin living on P.E.I., very few have come forward to run in politics. (CBC)

P.E.I. is the fastest growing province in the country, and according to a Statistics Canada report, as of 2016 there were almost 6,500 people of Asian origin living on P.E.I., the majority from the Middle East and China.  

But with such a fast growing population in the province, why is that diversity not more reflected in P.E.I.'s municipal elections?

Language and citizenship barriers

Paul Yin, president of Chinese Canadian Association of Prince Edward Island, said for his community, one of the biggest barriers to getting involved is language. 

"A lot of people in Chinese community are very aware of the election, but because there is no very detailed translation in Chinese for all the candidates, we are not so familiar with the candidates, so not a lot of us are involved," said Yin, through translator Ally Guo.

President of the Chinese Canadian Association of Prince Edward Island, Paul Yin, left and translator Ally Guo. Yin says most people in the Chinese community can't vote or run for council because they don't have citizenship. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

As for people in P.E.I.'s Chinese community running for office themselves, Yin said it's a matter of citizenship.

"There are very few people in P.E.I. who became [citizens] of Canada already, so a lot us are just [permanent residents], so that's why we don't have the right to elect," he said.

Yin said in time, he'd like to see better representation on city council, and until then hopes that the current candidates will reflect the interests of the Chinese population.

Elected officials should 'reflect' society

Zain Esseghaier, spokesperson for the Muslim Society of P.E.I. said his community is interested in participating in the democratic process, but running for council has never been discussed.

Zain Esseghaier, spokesperson for the Muslim Society of P.E.I., says running for municipal politics has never come up as a consideration for his community, but he thinks that will change. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Esseghaier could only speculate as to why, but said he suspects more Muslims on P.E.I. will consider putting their names forward in the future. 

"I guess with the Prince Edward Island population now becoming more and more diverse, I think it might be a good idea for different groups to be represented," he said. "Or at least our elected officials should reflect the composition of the society in which we live."

'A healthy curiosity' at the door

Valentine Gomez, a candidate for Ward 4, said he thinks Charlottetown city council is lacking in diversity.

"I think Charlottetown over the years, especially the last three years, has started to grow in diversity, so I think it's important to represent that," he said.

Valentine Gomez, a candidate for Ward 4 in Charlottetown, says campaigning hasn't been difficult, but most people are curious about where he's from. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

As for his own experience at the door, Gomez, who was born in the Middle East and is mixed-race, said a lot of people aren't used to someone with a different background campaigning.

"A lot of it is a healthy curiosity. A lot of people want to know where I'm from and I use it as an opportunity to educate people and turn it into a positive experience," he said.

Not about 'colour, or ethnicity' 

Paul Haddad, who is running for council in Ward 1 in Charlottetown, was born and raised in Charlottetown. His parents are from Lebanon.

Paul Haddad, centre, sits in his home with his parents. He says campaigning hasn't been difficult for him because his parents, originally from Lebanon, are established members of the community. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

He said he hasn't had any difficulty campaigning, but attributes that to how well-established his family is in the community. 

"They know me, so it was much easier for me to meet them door-to-door," he said.

Haddad said he believes running for council could be difficult for anyone who wasn't well-known. 

"I don't really think it's about colour, or ethnicity or visible minority, really. I think it's about people that are familiar with somebody, whoever's running."

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About the Author

Nicole Williams is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. She previously worked as an associate producer with CBC News in Toronto.