Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New Canadians new to our politics

Happy to cast vote, but for whom?

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After taking the oath of citizenship Thursday, some new Canadians said they're glad to have the right to vote in their first election Oct. 4, even if they're not all sure for whom.

"I don't know who I'm going to vote for," said Jeremy Castro, who came to Canada from the Philippines seven years ago and lives in Winnipeg's West End. He's been too busy, getting settled and working full-time in a warehouse to support his wife and toddler.

"But I am going to vote," he declared.

Aditi Kapoor, who came to Canada from India five years ago and lives in Elmwood, said she's voting for the candidate with "vision" in his slogan and who's tough on crime. "I really support more cops on the street fighting crime," said the woman, who lives with her husband in Elmwood. She also supports a cap on post-secondary tuition. Kapoor is working for a courier service and saving money to go to university. "I don't want to take loans."

Veterinarian Harvinder Pal Singh Hirkewal said he knows where his vote is going, but won't say to whom.

His wife, Amarjeet, who became a citizen three years ago, said she's not made up her mind yet. "I'm going to vote; I've just been too busy," said the adult-education teacher and mother of three. With both parents working and three children, daycare is an election issue, said Amarjeet. "Child care can be a little better," she said.

For Harvinder, who worked as a vet in India for nearly eight years, having his professional credentials recognized in Canada is an issue. He had to work at odd jobs for several years but is working in the field now. To be certified, he has to wait another year and take one more exam, he said.

The candidates running in the Hirkewals' Fort Garry neighbourhood have all been to their door, Amarjeet said.

For some newcomers, however, canvassing door to door can be seen as a threat, not political engagement.

"We come from a country where our own government has persecuted us," said Ariana Yaftali, an Afghan refugee who came to Canada in 2002.

"Anytime anyone knocked on your door, they were coming to pick one of us up to go to jail or detention."

She remembers the first Canadian election in which she was eligible to vote six years ago. "The local MP knocked at my door" and Yaftali was suspicious. "Do I open the door? Are all Canadians opening their doors to these people? I had no idea." Now she works at Welcome Place helping new Canadians get settled.

"Their immediate goal is to get to a safe country, find work, get the kids to school," Yaftali said. "The process of voting becomes less of a priority." She ended up going on the Internet and researching parties and candidates so she could make an informed choice on election day.

"I'm grateful and proud -- it's a good thing you exercise your right to vote. But if they don't know who they're going to vote for, I don't know the ramifications of that," she said. "It's time for our politicians to get engaged with new Canadians -- let them know that they're there for them... "

That approach is coming in Minto riding. An "immigration and newcomer support" election forum is being held next Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Wellington School on Beverley Street.

The issue is relevant to the neighbourhood, said Kemlin Nembhard, executive director of the Daniel McIntyre St. Matthews Community Association.

In that community, 30 per cent of residents are Filipino, 20 per cent are other newcomer Canadians and 20 per cent are aboriginal, many of whom are new to Winnipeg and have similar issues, she said.

"Whether it's employment or supports to new Canadians... language training, child care or credentialling support, there are a whole variety of issues," Nembhard said.

"Women who would like to be earning an income don't have child care, and you can't take a course if you can't find child care. Many people who come have all sorts of great skills and education that should be recognized but are not. Engineers are working as security guards or cleaners."

The first part of the moderated forum will have panellists from community groups asking questions of the candidate, with people getting a chance to ask questions in the second half and meeting candidates one on one during the break.

A voter kit for Minto, Wolseley and Logan voters, put together by the John Howard Society, about the ins and outs of voting and advance polls and who's running in the ridings, is being distributed. Posters are being put up and word about the forum is being spread.

"It's not just geared toward newcomers but all the people in our neighbourhood," said Nembhard. "What's most important is that people come out and make an educated choice for who they vote for," said Nembhard.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 23, 2011 A4

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