The Canadian Press
Some Ontarians who celebrate Diwali are critical that the province’s municipal elections fall on the South Asian holiday, which many equate with Christmas.
Municipal election dates are set by provincial law, and the government says those who cannot get to the polls on election day can vote by mail, at advance polls or by proxy – suggestions that some believe disadvantage their communities.
Ryan Singh, president of the Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association, said the conflict with Diwali could lead to lower voter turnout among those celebrating the festival, affecting their political representation in communities across the province.
“When people are in conflict with their family on an important religious or cultural day, they won’t take the time to go and vote on election day,” he said in a phone interview.
“Diwali [involves] usually events that you celebrate in the evening after work, and that’s also when most people go to vote, right after work.”
Looking forward to Diwali, says Toronto man
Diwali, a religious and cultural festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, falls on October 24 this year, the same day that municipal elections will be held in communities across Ontario on a fixed election date.
Singh raised the issue earlier this month in a letter to Steve Clark, Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs, asking him to “immediately change” the date of the election.
“We recommend that the government ensure that these Ontarians do not have to choose between their religious practices and their civic duties,” Singh wrote in the letter, which notes that the government moved the date of the 2007 provincial election to because of a conflict with a Jew. holiday. Singh said he did not receive a response to the letter.
Toronto resident Ravi Singh said he and his family are looking forward to Diwali this year after two years of muted pandemic celebrations. Holding municipal elections on the same day could hamper some of these plans, he said.
“There is extreme excitement…with everyone being together for Diwali.” he said. “But now that you know people are going to watch CP24, Global news, tune in to the election, people are going to be late, they’re going to vote.”
Melissa Diakoumeas, spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said the date of the elections is determined by a law which fixes it on the fourth Monday in October. She suggested those who cannot vote on Election Day use other available options such as advance, proxy, mail-in or internet voting, where available.
In Toronto, where South Asians make up about 17% of the population, officials said no specific effort was underway to engage with voters celebrating Diwali. They noted, however, that the city has conducted “extensive outreach” to ensure residents have the information they need to vote.
“I’m confident in the work of our staff and the outreach we’ve done in communities across the city to try to bring voting options to as many people as possible,” City Clerk John Elvidge said. .
In Brampton, Ont., where about 40% of the population is South Asian, the city said it has various options for those unable to vote on Election Day, such as advance and proxy voting. It also sends information to places of worship and cultural centers in languages such as Punjabi, Hindi and Gujarati as part of outreach to various communities.
But the suggestion that those celebrating Diwali find a way to vote in advance has been criticized by some.
“The overwhelming majority of people, no matter how many options you give them, will still vote on election day,” said Ayesha Khan, a Toronto voter who also volunteers in campaigns for a council candidate. municipal and a school counsellor.
Those directly involved in Election Day, such as volunteers, candidates and election workers, will have to forego celebrating the festival with their families, Khan added.
“There is no possibility of being able to participate in the celebration,” she said. Although Khan acknowledged it may be too late to change the date of this year’s mayoral elections, she said it was important to speak out about what she saw as a form of “systemic racism.” “.
“We’re kind of told that our cultural values aren’t as important as others,” she said. “We’re not just going to be silenced if this happens again, and [we] hope to learn from this mistake.”