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A small army of ethnocultural community leaders are mobilizing their members to get out the vote on Oct. 24.
"I think we’re going to change how the election works," Got citizenship? Go vote! committee member Noelle DePape told more than 80 people who took part in a civic election training session Wednesday night.
The plan is to make sure immigrants and refugees are educated on the issues and the candidates, and get 10,000 more people to the polls.
"Winnipeg won’t know what happened," she told the newcomers from more than two dozen ethnocultural groups gathered at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba building on Isabel Street.
In the 2014 civic election, voter turnout was just 49 per cent, said Abdikheir Ahmed, director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, a coalition of non-profit newcomer groups. While there are no stats, Ahmed said an estimated 15 per cent of eligible newcomers — adults with citizenship who are Winnipeg residents — cast a ballot.
Getting out the immigrant and refugee vote can have a huge impact, he said, especially in the five wards with the most immigrants of voting age. In Old Kildonan, for instance, 54 per cent of those of voting age are immigrants, according to the University of Winnipeg’s Institute of Urban Studies.
One in four Winnipeggers are immigrants, and 20 per cent are second-generation Canadians, meaning close to half of Winnipeggers are closely linked to the newcomer community. That’s not reflected in the present city council.
Only two of 15 current city council members — Devi Sharmi, who came to Canada from India as a toddler, and Mike Pagtakhan — are visible minorities, Ahmed said.
To make sure newcomers voices are heard by school boards, city council and the mayor’s office, they need to know how to speak up and vote at election time.
"It’s important newcomers learn about the system," said Maggie Yeboah, president of the Ghanaian Union of Manitoba. "When we get integrated with the community, that’s how we’re going to have a voice."
One of the ways to do that is to invite politicians and candidates to community events — something Winnipeg’s well-established Filipino community of nearly 60,000 has been doing for years.
Perla Javate, a longtime community leader, said there are at least 80 different organizations within the Filipino community that come together at election time to get out the vote.
Winnipeg’s fledgling Bhutanese community — with about 600 members, including people from Nepal — is connecting to the political process. It celebrates Bhutan’s Women’s Day on Sept. 8, and has invited politicians from three levels of government and across the political spectrum to attend.
"We encourage members to vote," said Chitra Pradha, who was at the training session with his wife, Manika, one of the Women’s Day organizers.
Wednesday night’s session offered tips and tools, including a "plan to vote" fill-in-the-blank checklist that will make sure each new voter is ready on election day. The list includes: where is your polling station? What time will you vote? (Did you know by law that your employer must give you time off to vote?) How will you get there? What ID will you bring?
Among the crowd were some who have taken the next step, and are running for office.
Jennifer Chen, who came from China for her master’s degree in kinesiology at the University of Manitoba focusing on the health of communities, is running for school trustee.
She attended the training session with her baby, and is on the committee organizing a mayoral forum on newcomer issues Sept. 22 at Hugh John MacDonald School. Connecting newcomers to the voting process can only strengthen and make communities healthier, she said.
Peter Koroma, who came to Canada from Sierra Leone decades ago, is running for city council in Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry. He said a healthy, growing city needs to address the issue of homelessness, and speed up expanded bus rapid transit to all four points of Winnipeg.
"Whatever it takes, we have to have a plan," Koroma said.
Carol Sanders Legislature reporter
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
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