open Secondary menu

Electoral Insight – Electoral Participation of Ethnocultural Communities

Electoral Insight – December 2006

Chief Electoral Officer's Message
Electoral Participation of Ethnocultural Communities

Jean-Pierre Kingsley
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

Jean-Pierre Kingsley
Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

While nearly one fifth of Canada's population is foreign-born, relatively little has been known about the attitudes and federal voter turnout of new citizens and ethnocultural communities. It was therefore important for me to obtain a better understanding of this phenomenon to ensure that Elections Canada's services respond to their needs. It is widely thought that immigrants vote less than the Canadian-born electorate. This issue of Electoral Insight, however, presents a considerably more complex picture.

According to the contributors to this issue, the participation of the members of Canada's many diverse ethnocultural groups, whether born in Canada or not, is influenced by their cultural heritage, ethnic origin, interest in politics, sources of information, education, income, age and length of residence here. It is also important to note that just as participation and attitudes may vary between the Canadian-born and immigrant populations, so do they vary among ethnocultural groups, including visible minorities.

I wish to thank the many authors for their contributions to this issue. In their articles, Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies, and the Canadian Election Studies group, compare the turnout of immigrant groups and native-born Canadians, and they explore why there are differences. A survey of the views of federal candidates about visible-minority representation in Parliament is analyzed by Jerome H. Black of McGill University and Bruce M. Hicks of the Université de Montréal.

This issue contains three case studies of great interest. Andrew Matheson (M.A., Immigration and Settlement Studies, Ryerson University) examines South Asian political representation in Canada, particularly in Toronto's suburbs. Carolle Simard of the Université du Québec à Montréal reports on the political involvement of several groups of new Canadians in Montréal. The print media portrayal of Muslim Canadians during recent federal elections is examined by Yasmeen Abu-Laban and Linda Trimble, both of the University of Alberta.

The scope of this issue widens with the inclusion of articles from Antoine Bilodeau and Mebs Kanji of Concordia University, about the political engagement of immigrants in several Anglo-democracies, and international electoral consultant Rafael López-Pintor, about measures to encourage electoral participation in post-conflict countries with ethnic divides.

Elections Canada's initiatives for ethnocultural communities, which date back to 1988, are part of its larger outreach program. The agency has adopted a five-pronged approach to outreach, comprising leadership, partnerships, research, communications and operational initiatives.

Beginning with ads in community newspapers in 10 languages, Elections Canada's communications initiatives for ethnocultural communities have greatly expanded over the years. "My future, my vote" served as the central theme of the advertising program used at the 2006 election. Messages in 25 languages were placed in ethnocultural newspapers and in 23 languages on ethnocultural radio stations. Mainstream English and French television ads were voiced over in 12 additional languages. We also filled requests for almost 80,000 copies of our voter information guide, which was produced in 26 languages. Our distribution network has widened with the assistance of community associations and citizenship courts.

On the operational front, returning officers can appoint community relations officers to help identify and address the needs of individual ethnocultural communities and encourage their participation. For the 2006 general election, 64 community relations officers were hired in 53 electoral districts with significant ethnocultural populations. They partnered with ethnocultural groups to conduct outreach drives and distribute information about registering and voting. Returning officers also hired staff who were representative of the populations being served, poll officials who spoke the languages represented in their communities and, in some cases, interpreters.

As part of its research program, Elections Canada recently commissioned a concept paper examining the electoral participation and outreach practices targeted at ethnocultural communities in Canada and other national and international jurisdictions. The paper was prepared by Dr. Livianna Tossutti of Brock University. This study, based on an analysis of Statistics Canada's Ethnic Diversity Survey of 2002, puts forth a nuanced perspective. It reveals that when all other factors were controlled, newcomers voted less than established immigrants in the 2000 general election. As well, immigrants from certain visible minority groups voted at higher rates than Canadian-born members of these communities. Concerning outreach practices, while Tossutti regards Canada as a world leader in voter education, she recommends customized outreach initiatives for non-European ethnocultural communities and Canadian-born visible minorities. Elections Canada intends to publish this study in spring 2007.

Recognizing the growing importance of facilitating the participation of ethnocultural communities in the electoral system, Elections Canada is using the findings and recommendations of Dr. Tossutti's study to refine its outreach initiatives through a long-term strategic plan. We will continue to increase our consultations and partnerships with ethnocultural communities and organizations. Our ultimate objective is to implement a proactive and effective outreach strategy – one that ensures that all eligible voters, regardless of ethnicity or mother tongue, have every opportunity to cast their ballots. The research and findings of the authors in this issue of Electoral Insight will be of great assistance.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley


The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.