Municipal election candidates in Ontario races worried about religious conflict

Municipal election candidates in Ontario races worried about religious conflict

Some municipal election candidates are not pleased with the date of this year’s municipal election.

It happens to be on the same day as Diwali.

“Decision-makers have to be more concerned with inclusivity and take diversity into consideration,” said Fazle Baki, a candidate for trustee in the Greater Essex County District School Board for Wards 1, 2 and 9 in Windsor. “It’s equivalent to having [the election] on Christmas.”

Diwali is a religious and cultural holiday for Hindus and Sikhs around the world. Traditionally, observers go to religious temples to join in prayers, spend time with family and friends, exchange gifts and light candles and fireworks.

The date of Diwali changes every year, as Hindus and Sikhs follow the lunar calendar. This year, the festival is on Oct. 24, the same day as municipal elections across the province.

“It’s going to be a very busy day,” said Gurpratap Singh Toor, a candidate for Wards 9 and 10 in the Brampton regional council. “We see the economic impact to the point where banks and telecommunication companies are all advertising and marketing specifically for that date.”

Toor notes that prominent politicians are also getting involved.

“You’ll see the prime minister and the premier joining congregations or joining the community and celebrations,” he said.

Municipal election candidates in Ontario races worried about religious conflict
Gurpartap Singh Toor, a candidate for Wards 9 and 10 on the Brampton regional council, is concerned about the municipal election in Brampton taking place on the same day as the religious festival of Diwali. He says most people only think about municipal elections on the same day. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Baki says having the election on the same day as Diwali could have a major impact on Hindus and Sikhs who want to vote, calling it a “systemic barrier”.

“They will have difficulties going to vote,” he said. “They will be excluded from the election. A lot of our supporters are [of] south Asian descent.”

Toor says there is a precedent of moving election day in Ontario, which occurred during the 2007 provincial election.

“The [date was] moved from Oct. 4 to Oct. 10 because it coincided with the Jewish holiday Shemini Atzeret,” said Toor. “That wasn’t an official holiday, either, and that was in the same case as Diwali.”

Windsor Morning8:21Municipal Elections Happening on Diwali

This year, municipal elections overlap with Diwali, the biggest holiday in the South Asian calendar. We spoke to Brampton candidate Gurpartap Singh Toor, who’s asking Elections Ontario to make a change.

Although Toor’s campaign has reached out to the provincial government and Elections Ontario, he worries it might be too late to change the date of the election.

In an email to CBC News, Elections Ontario said it’s not responsible for administering municipal elections in Ontario and recommended contacting the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

CBC News has reached out to the ministry for a comment.

Article 5 of the Municipal Elections Act says that voting day “in a regular election is the fourth Monday in October.”

Advance polling not the best alternative

When Baki mentions his campaign to Windsor residents of south Asian descent, he does mention there are alternatives to voting on Oct. 24.

“I’m telling them there are some early voting dates as well,” he said.

A man wearing a white dress shirt
Fazle Baki, a candidate for trustee in the Greater Essex County District School Board for Wards 1, 2 and 9 in Windsor, is concerned about the municipal election in Windsor taking place on the same day as the religious festival of Diwali. He calls it a “systemic barrier” to South Asians who will not be able to vote on Oct. 24. (Sonya Varma/CBC)

But Toor says advance polls are not an effective solution. Only a small percentage of voters cast ballots that way, he says.

“Most people leave it all the way to the election date where they wake up that day, go on about their day, and they realize, ‘Oh today’s Election Day for the municipal government. Let’s get out and vote,'” he said. “That’s why we see such low voter turnouts.”

Toor suggests targeted voting, where polling stations are set up at Hindu mandirs and Sikh gurudwaras. It has also influenced his campaigning strategy.

“We’ve talked to the temples and see if they can help us,” said Toor. “Not to me as a candidate alone, but to help all candidates in general by making the public aware that the election date is going to be on Diwali before you come visit the temple.”

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