Becoming “Canadian” for me was a very emotional experience. It was not only the most proud moment in my life; it was a moment when I realized that the title I was assuming brought a significant responsibility with it.
This past May I went to cast my ballot in the federal election. Soon after of course there was a second opportunity of demonstrating my civic duty at the provincial election that was held in the fall. This of course was simply an important and exciting experience for me, just because it was my first voting experience.
Some may see voting as an extension of their political interest and active engagement. Others will argue that this is an integral part of a being a responsible citizen and every citizen’s civic duty. I see it as combination of the two. But further more for me as a new Canadian this process of participating in the election also meant, being one step closer towards the integration within the society.
I remember going to the polling center with my mum back home, when I was a child. It was always such a special event; it almost seemed a holiday! You would put on your best outfit to go to the polling center. Casting a ballot usually deserved a good celebration, so after we would always have people over in a small celebration. Of course historic events and the legacy of Soviet Union may explain why elections were commemorated in such a festive manner. Simple existence of elections was the signifier of transitioning towards democracy. However today, when I look back at the elections, all that seemed like a bright masquerade. While counting of ballots may have been legitimate, the final outcome of elections and just the lack of variety of candidates appeared somewhat invalid.
Politically sophisticated part of the population will tell you right away, voting in Russia did and still does very little, while the other naïve half still blindly believes in the power of election. Of course you can’t blame them for being the true believers in democracy and responsible citizens who fulfill their duty. At the same time you cannot ignore the fact of propaganda doing its share of brainwashing. But becoming discouraged and distancing ourselves from active engagement in civic life, like the politically educated part of the population does, is also not an answer.
Coming to Canada with such sentiments, some newcomers may inevitably distance themselves from being politically engaged in their new homeland. I am sure for many newcomers that democratic experience back home has been somewhat similar to above-described. And of course it comes as no surprise that some may no longer believe in the fairness of election, power of democracy and freedom of choice. Some of newcomers can simply become passive as they are accustomed to seeing “their votes not to count”. And I would absolutely agree with Indira Naidoo-Harris, South African Native who is a Canadian journalist-turned politician, saying that “To be in a country where you don’t have political influence, political voice, is really terrible”. But the truth is that here in Canada government puts immense emphasis on the accountability and responsibility to their citizens and it goes to show that voting is important and that each vote counts.
So then why opt out of becoming involved and engaged in politics and the civic life of your new homeland? Why ignore such great opportunity and be passive, when it is the foundation stone of our new homeland and the pillar of good governance. I see voting as a responsibility that comes with the oath of citizenship. Assuming this responsibility, becoming an active participant of this society and regaining faith in fair election are necessary steps for our growth as true citizens of Canada. And I believe that each newcomer should see such responsibility seriously!
Gloria Elayadathusseril. Political engagement of immigrant becomes crucial with changing demographics. August 2, 2011.