A Historically Inactive Population Has the Opportunity to Play a Decisive Role in the Future of Surrey.
The municipal election season is upon us, which means that candidates are scrambling to draw up support for their slate. Historically, voter turnout for municipal elections in British Columbia’s major cities has been embarrassingly low. In most cases only 20-30 percent of a city’s residents turn up to elect their municipal representatives. In light of these facts Surrey’s visible minorities have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the result of this upcoming election, and the policies that the new mayor sets for this city.
The Muslim Community
Approximately 75,000 Muslims live in British Columbia, and while a large portion of that number are spread out all over Metro Vancouver, nearly twenty percent call Surrey their home. Low voter turnout can see Surrey’s Muslim community represent anywhere from 10-20 percent of voters next month, in spite of the fact that their total number only reflects a small fraction of the city’s population. Surrey’s Muslims must overcome some historical obstacles, however, if they are to have any shot at making an impact on the city’s political scene.
Causes for Historical Inaction
Canada’s Muslim community is, by all accounts, underrepresented in our political system. This is both the result of, and the reason for, their political inactivity (the proverbial chicken v egg conundrum). There are two major reasons why Canada’s Muslims are not very active in the Canadian political system. The first reason is that a large number of our Muslim compatriots are first generation immigrants who have emigrated from nations ruled by despotic dictators that have stifled any culture of political participation. The political environment that the Muslims have emigrated from can be summarized by this outdated-but-true Syrian Joke.
An advisor to the president Hafez al-Assad (father of current President/Butcher Bashar Al Assad) says, “Congratulations Mr. President you won 99 percent of the vote.”
Assad growls under his breath.
His advisor, perplexed, says, “But Mr. President. Only 1 percent of the people voted against you. What more do you want?”
“Their names,” Assad says.
Muslims, as a consequence of their historical experiences, often view political participation as dangerous and undesirable. Despite spending a large number of years (sometimes the majority of their lives) in Canada, the absence of a foundation rooted in political participation deeply hinders their willingness to participate in the process. This is particularly tragic considering that, in many cases, political participation in the nations of their ethnic origin has increased over the last several decades. Another dimension of this obstacle is a general lack of awareness about the different levels of government, and the impact that political participation can have on these levels; to be fair, this problem is consistent among almost all Canadian communities, and is probably one of the main reasons why voter turnout in municipal elections is so low. Sadly, even if the remnants of political repression and a general unfamiliarity with different levels of government are remedied, Canadian Muslims also struggle to find political leaders who accurately reflect their views.
It is no surprise that Muslims are generally socially conservative compared to their non-Muslim counterparts. They are also, in many cases, fiscally conservative, and in favor of a less intrusive, smaller, and leaner government. In spite of these conservative qualities, an infinitesimally small number of Canada’s Muslims would classify themselves as Conservatives. This is no surprise considering the Conservative party’s zealously pro-Zionist and anti-immigration agenda. On the other hand, Muslims feel that the social values and domestic policies of the centre/centre-left (Liberal and NDP, respectively) do not accurately represent their vision enough to motivate them to vote. In some cases all three of Canada’s mainstream parties strike a bad note with their Muslim constituents.
PM Stephen Harper: ‘Canada is Unequivocally Behind Israel’. (Image Source)
For example, during Israel’s biannual pummelling of Gaza this summer – killing over 2,000 people and causing irreparable damage to the impoverished territory – all three parties declared their support for Israel to defend itself, and made no mention of the unimaginable suffering of the Palestinians. While many of the Muslim community’s historical grievances are not relevant for municipal politics, the distrust between Muslims and politicians is deep enough to impact their engagement with all levels of government. Both the absence of a culture of participation, as well as the lack of meaningful representation are legitimate hurdles that must be overcome. The great thing is that these are entirely fixable problems, and the first step to overcoming these obstacles is taking the great leap from inaction to action.
A Call to Action
As I mentioned earlier, Surrey’s Muslims can make a big dent in this upcoming election. Knowing this should motivate Surrey’s Muslims to vote, and vote in bloc; they must communicate, deliberate, and support a candidate that best represents their views. If they are skeptical about the impact this election will have on their future, and feel that the policies of municipal leaders will not have a significant impact on their lives, they should consider the following: Surrey’s Guildford and Newton districts have experienced sharp increases in crime over the last several years as a result of the city’s effort to clean up the city centre (in other words, crime moved from one district to two others).
Hockey Mom Julie Paskall dies after being attacked outside Newton Arena. (Image Source)
Guildford and Newton also happened to be where the majority of Surrey’s Muslims live. The fact of the matter is that high crime neighborhoods are a natural breeding ground for criminal enterprises. If Muslims want to keep their kids safe from drug use, gangs, and gang violence, they must pressure their municipal elected officials to keep their neighbourhoods safe and clean. This is one small example of how participation in this upcoming election will immediately impact their future.
Increased Muslim participation will not only help Muslims, but it will also improve the social fabric of this country. Governments all across Europe (and to some extent, North America) fear that their nationals are going abroad to support and fight with a merry band of unsavory characters known as ISIS. Contrary to the Harper government’s current plan, the best way to combat groups like ISIS is to make sure that Canada’s Muslims feel heard and engaged. Increasing political engagement levels among all of Canada’s minority communities increases confidence in the viability of inspiring global change through democratic action. Our municipal, provincial, and federal politicians should be doing everything they can to ensure that Muslims play an active role in all upcoming elections.