Thunder Bay·Opinion

To my fellow immigrants — If we don't vote, we get left out

Yamaan Alsumadi says new Canadians eligible to vote in Ontario's election on June 2nd, need to cast their ballot and make their voices heard.

'Our votes matter, and we need to have our say,' says Yamaan Alsumadi ahead of Ontario election

Groups across Ontario are encouraging new Canadians to vote in the upcoming provincial election. The David Suzuki Foundation is publishing voting guides in six languages to help do that. (Submitted by Maham Kaleem)

This article reflects the experience of Yamaan Alsumadi, a Jordanian-Canadian woman living in Thunder Bay, Ont. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

For immigrants, life is about survival. 

When my family left Jordan, my family brought our savings and our lives, ready to embark on a new journey in Canada with all kinds of questions: What is set for us? Am I doing this right? Will we find the "Canadian dream?" 

Then I became a Canadian, with a new identity. I was no longer just Jordanian. I was now Jordanian-Canadian, the fusion of two cultures, living in Thunder Bay, Ont. 

That new identity provided me with a new responsibility — the right to vote. 

Voting is a fundamental right as a Canadian. It's the bare minimum we need to do to create change and improve the Canada we want to see. 

My life is shaped by politics. Who I vote for affects my well-being, and I'm preparing to cast my vote on June 2 with millions of voters in Ontario. 

Our hospitals and healthcare system, road regulations, education, property and civil rights, housing and provincial taxes are all controlled by the people we vote for.

Politics has a profound impact on our lives. Every decision made by politicians can influence our ability to get a student loan or buy a house. Who are these politicians? They are individuals that have been elected, but do these elected officials address our needs?

Building a life in Canada

I have seen firsthand how our needs as new Canadians are unique. It's difficult to be engaged in the political climate when you're focused on building a new life in Canada. 

My family set priorities, like finding and settling in a new house, immigration status and governmental documents, sending my siblings to school, and understanding everything from finding halal options at grocery stores to finding and purchasing a car.

Yamaan Alsumadi is a Jordanian-Canadian nursing student in Thunder Bay. Ont., and says immigrants and new Canadians need to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming Ontario election. (Submitted by Yamaan Alsumadi)

Growing up, I realized how difficult it can be for immigrants to engage with Canadian news. And it's not always because of a language barrier (although for some, it can be). Rather, Canadian news, especially politics, requires previous knowledge of the event in order to understand the current situation. 

For example, Indigenous issues are new to many immigrants due to the lack of information concerning Indigenous history. It is not that immigrants don't care about Canadian news — everyone reads the news.

But many will continue to read the news of the countries from which they emigrated, news they can understand and relate to. Coupled with this, many recent immigrants have family members in the countries they left and the news and issues have a direct impact on their families and loved ones.

Still, it's critical for new Canadians to participate, to be engaged, and set voting as a priority when we have the chance to do so. 

The Canadian-Muslim Vote launched their get out the vote efforts across the province at mosques from Cambridge to Ottawa on April 15. (Submitted by The Canadian-Muslim Vote)

Groups across Ontario are working with newcomers to get out and vote, answering questions and encouraging immigrants to participate. The David Suzuki Foundation have released multilingual voter guides in six languages to inform people about how to register and where to vote.

For new Canadians, it's not that they don't know when the elections are or know the issues at stake, it's that they lack information on how to cast their ballot, explained Maham Kaleem, the elections coordinator with the foundation. 

"Two of the biggest barriers we see are accessibility barriers and motivational barriers for immigrant or new Canadian voting," Kaleem said. 

Research suggests that new Canadians tend to vote at a lower rate when compared to the general population, though the gap has been closing since 2011. The voting rate for new Canadians is 72 per cent, compared to born Canadians at 78 percent, according to a 2019 report from Statistics Canada. 

That six per cent gap represents thousands and thousands of Canadians eligible to vote though decide not to — holding back their right to choose.

From surviving to thriving

Although my family's story in Canada began with survival, I am trying to thrive. I realize what my parents have been through. I have the privilege to learn from their experience, go to school here in Canada and learn about how policies are created and shaped. 

Voting is a fundamental right. The more of us that vote, the more people we have represented in the election. 

Our voices and perspectives about life in Canada deserve to be heard. 

Politicians care about votes, and we care about change. If we as new Canadians work together as a community and increase voter turnout, then our provincial candidates will listen to our needs. 

Our votes matter, and on election day, we need to get out, vote and be heard.


Yamaan Alsumadi

Freelance Contributor

Yamaan Alsumadi is a nursing student attending Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. and has been involved in anti-racism and multiculturalism activism in the city.