Canada

This activist wants ‘a different kind of government.’ That’s why she’s trying to get more people to vote | CBC News

With the Ontario election just days away, some community groups are trying to get more people to the polls —  after less than 60 per cent of the provincial electorate cast ballots four years ago.

Those groups include Operation Black Vote Canada (OBVC), a non-profit, non-partisan organization that’s trying to encourage community members to vote, become more involved in civic life, and seek election to public office. 

OBVC chair Velma Morgan said there’s a variety of barriers blocking people from voting.

“Some, they don’t know that there’s an election on … they don’t know where to vote, and some just say, ‘You know what, we don’t want to vote, because it doesn’t matter who we vote for, the same thing’s going to happen, and all the parties are the same,'” she told CBC Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa as she handed out pamphlets and spoke with residents in Toronto’s Little Jamaica on Monday. 

The west-end neighbourhood, which is home to one of Canada’s largest concentrations of Black-owned businesses, is centred along Eglinton Avenue West. It straddles two provincial ridings — Eglinton-Lawrence to the north and Toronto-St. Paul to the south. In the 2018 Ontario election, both had a voter turnout of around 60 per cent, slightly higher than the provincial average of 58 per cent.

The pamphlets Morgan was handing out lay out where and how area residents can vote in advance polls, on election day, or by mail-in ballot.

Toronto’s Little Jamaica straddles two provincial ridings Eglinton-Lawrence to the north and Toronto-St. Paul’s to the south. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“We not only educate them on those issues, but we also want to tell them it’s extremely important that they go and look at the platforms, and look to see which party has included us on the platform,” she said.

“Because those are the things that are important to them, and if we’re not in those platforms, it means we’re not important to them, so we want them to go out and make an informed decision when they vote.”

Morgan said although it’s hard to pinpoint how many Black voters are voting in each riding, they do vote.

“What I think we need to do is do a study on voter turnout and voter patterns in the Black community, which we’re starting to do now,” Morgan said. 

Morgan said many of the issues Ontarians have are also issues for Black voters, such as health care and education. However, she said OBVC wants to see how politicians look at their policies “through an anti-Black systemic lens.”

If more of the community got out and voted, “we would see a different type of government,” Morgan said.

“I think if we did our homework and looked at the platforms, I think we would vote for a government that actually has our best interests in hand, actually has our best interest in terms of making things better for us in education, [and] making things better for us in health care, so I think it’s very important for us to go out and vote.”

Morgan pointed to women’s involvement in politics as an example of how members of a community can bring their issues to the forefront by getting more involved in civic life.

“We’ve seen how the conversation in politics has changed to ensure that we have daycare, we have sanitary products that are available now,” she said.

Leaders ‘not actually talking to the community’

Black Canadians are historically underrepresented in the federal parliament, and there have been fewer than a handful of Black MPPs elected in Ontario. In 2018, Toronto-St. Paul’s elected Jill Andrew, Ontario’s first MPP who is both Black and identifies as part of LGBT community.

Many community members who were out for the Little Jamaica street cleanup along Eglinton Avenue West on Monday agreed elected leaders need to be physically present in the ridings they represent.

“They’re not in the community, they’re not speaking to the people,” said Dane Williams.

NDP MPP Jill Andrew, seen here at a community meeting in 2018, was elected to the provincial legislature in Toronto-St. Paul’s four years ago. (Michael Cole/CBC)

“They have advisers who are passing them information to be able to speak on [the issues], but they’re not actually talking to the community and actually getting a real understanding of what’s plaguing the community and how they can activate those changes.”

Williams said he’s not going to vote in the provincial election because none of the candidates’ platforms speak to him, and there’s a lack of accountability on delivering the promises politicians make.

“I’m more focused on actually building within my communities, and activating that change within, as opposed to listening to politicians speak about things, nuances that they don’t understand,” he said.

Ross Cadastre agreed, saying he hardly sees “people who look like us on the ground.”

“I would like to see more people who look like me standing up and getting involved in politics,” he said.

“We need more representation … and showing that we understand the value of the vote, understanding that we have the opportunity to change.”

Cadastre said he’ll “absolutely” be voting in the June 2 election.

“I believe my vote counts, and I believe that if I don’t vote, I can’t complain.”

(CBC)

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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