The Current

3 first-time voters explain why they're excited to cast their ballots

A formerly incarcerated Indigenous man, a new Canadian and a black youth advocate share their stories at a special town hall event hosted by The Current and q.

A new Canadian, a formerly incarcerated Indigenous man and a black youth advocate on the power of democracy

Zahra Sultani, Ryan Beardy and Breanna Lee will be voting in a federal election for the first time this month. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)
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Three Canadians who will be voting for the first time in this month's federal election may have different backgrounds and political leanings — but they share an excitement to cast their ballots, and desire to see others follow their lead.

With the Oct. 21 federal election just weeks away, CBC Radio's The Current and q threw a live town hall event on Tuesday evening to celebrate Canada's democracy, in all its imperfection.

Host Laura Lynch sat down with three first-time voters — an Indigenous man with a history of incarceration, a new Canadian, and an advocate for youth and black voting — and asked them what the chance to cast their ballot means to them.

'I never thought anybody would be listening to me'

For years, Ryan Beardy, 35, says he didn't think his vote mattered.

"I spent a large portion of my life in and out of the criminal justice system," Beardy, who is Cree-Saulteaux from Lake St. Martin First Nation, north of Winnipeg, said. 

"I saw a lot of human rights abuses … a lot of things that need to be addressed." 

Beardy has spent years in the criminal justice system. Now he says he wants to use his voice to fix the problems he saw there. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

Beardy faced his first criminal charges at the age of 13, and said he was instantly aware of the disproportionate numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated alongside him. 

"I'll tell you all the truth, it was mostly brown in there, and there's the disproportion that exists in this country," he said.

Indigenous youth made up 46 per cent of admissions to correctional services in 2016-17, while making up only eight per cent of the youth population, according to data released by Statistics Canada last year.

"These statistics have been studied, but what's being done about it?" Beardy said. 

"Acknowledgement is great," he said, but it's time for action. 

He told Lynch that after getting his high school diploma in prison, he "decided to see if [he] could do something about it."

Beardy is now in his second year of studying political science at the University of Winnipeg, and is a volunteer with Winnipeg Indigenous Rock The Vote.

"I understand that my ancestors fought for the right to vote, and we were just allowed to vote without disenfranchisement in 1960. So here I am to continue that fight," he said. 

"I know my vote will make a difference, and the Indigenous vote will make a difference as well."

Ryan Beardy's wants to continue his ancestors' fight for justice 1:12

While he said he's "leaning left" and "likes the NDP platform right now," he wants unsure or hesitant voters to know that "anybody can use their voice, anybody can be heard."

"I never thought anybody would be listening to me," he told the audience. "I sat in a cell, in a gown with nothing, and here I am — now you're listening to me."

'It's not going to be easy to win me'

As a new Canadian, Zahra Sultani, 28, said she feels excited and privileged to vote in her first federal election.

"Just having that right, having that ability to add my voice to others is pretty powerful," she told Lynch.

"It's good to know that you have a part to play in the administration of governance of a G7 country — that's pretty big."

Sultani was born in Iran to Afghan parents who had fled the war in Kabul. Her family lived there as refugees and moved to Canada in 2007. She became a citizen in 2013.

Now dividing her time between Toronto and Newmarket, Ont., she volunteers with the Canadian-Muslim Vote, a non-profit that aims to increase civic engagement through community outreach and education. She has been active on campaigns for the Conservative Party of Canada.

She said she's leaning toward voting for the Conservatives this election, but warned that "it's not going to be easy to win me."

Sultani is a new Canadian. She says it's a privilege to vote in the coming weeks. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

She said she wants to know how the parties will address cost of living, particularly for younger voters who are starting out in life.

"When they say that millennials are the first generation that are worse off than their parents, it is a thing, it's an issue," she told the audience. 

"I cannot afford to live a normal life, live independently from my parents and be able to pay my ... debt and all that stuff — and keep my sanity."

She said she doesn't think any of the parties are addressing those issues right now, but she wants her involvement to push "the society, the politicians, the campaigns to talk about things that actually affect our lives — to talk about things in a smart way."

She said people feeling disillusioned with elections should "get involved with anything that you're passionate about," and "hold these people to account." 

"This is your money, this is the money that ... is taken out of your pocket, put in the government wallet and they spend it," she said.

"Put them in the spot. Make them work for it." 

These three young people are voting for the first time. Here’s why they think you should too 1:45

'Do your research'

Breanna Lee, 23, missed the chance to vote in the last federal election because she was studying abroad — but she said it's something she's been looking forward to for a long time.

"I, at a young age, got interested in policy and legislation and how those decisions are made," Lee told Lynch.

"So for me, this is my way of putting out my own opinion and my own voice, into the policies that get passed." 

Lee says she wants more young people to get involved — and get informed. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

Lee lives in Mississauga and is involved with Operation Black Vote Canada, a non-profit dedicated to increasing the representation of black people in politics and public life.

She's leaning Liberal, but said parts of the NDP platform are "piquing [her] interest a lot." 

As a young person dealing with the economic pressure of starting out in life, she said she wants to see the next government look at education and the cost of housing. It should work to create jobs, and policies that protect jobs, she added.

She said she worries that young voters don't engage as much as they should because of "a lack of information" and a misplaced belief "that their vote doesn't actually count."

"Do your research on all the platforms and look at what they are actually representing," she said.

"It might be the party that you've never even given a thought [to] that is the party that is representing what you need in the election."


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from The Canadian Press. Produced by Lara O'Brien, Yamri Taddese and Julie Crysler.

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