Ontario’s upcoming Municipal Election Date conflicts with Diwali

To include diversity in voters means to include diversity in representation of ideas.

BRAMPTON, ON – Gurpartap Singh Toor, Brampton resident and Candidate for Regional Councillor Wards 9 & 10, wrote the following editorial that appeared in the Toronto Star:

"Ontarians will go to the polls on October 24th, 2022 to choose their respective municipal governments. As a resident in Brampton - a city with some of the most diverse slate of candidates, I sympathize with voters’ concerns across suburban and urban wards in the province. The election date falls on Diwali, a religious or cultural festival so significant that you see Canada’s Telecommunications companies, banks and grocery chains carve out specific marketing budgets for the occasion. Diwali is observed by Hindus, Sikhs (as Bandi Chor Divas), and many other South Asian cultures. It is probably the biggest holiday in the South Asian calendar.

Why should this matter to Ontario? In Ontario, we have over 4 million people of South Asian descent. Some of the biggest cities have huge South Asian proportions in their population mix - Brampton (44%); Mississauga (23%); Ajax (21%); Markham (18%); and Toronto (17%).

This is not a South Asian demographic issue. All Ontarians need to care and advocate for a solution. By putting up barriers to voting, we exclude a huge population of our residents who equally contribute to our municipal coffers and society at large, and who will be equally impacted by the decisions of their municipal government.

To include diversity in voters means to include diversity in representation of ideas.

We are talking about the future of Canada’s fastest growing cities. In Brampton alone, at least 47 of the 110 candidates will be personally observing Diwali. And I can assure you that even the rest will be making their rounds at places of worship to encourage their voters to go vote. Our provincial government recognizes the significance of this holiday too, as we will see the Premier and many MPPs attending Diwali celebrations.

It is not just voters and candidates, but the backbone of every campaign, the volunteers, will also have to make a difficult choice on October 24th, 2022.

But what about advance voting days? While a great tool for election participation, the usefulness of advance voting will be tested against historic low voter turnout. Ontario provincial elections saw a massive drop in participation from 58% in 2018 to an embarrassing 43% this summer.  If municipal election turnout follows the same trend, we will see an already low average turnout of 38% drop to around 28%. Now combine this with an election date scheduled on a culturally significant day, and we are headed to a potentially lowest turnout recorded in Ontario’s municipal history.

This is not just a gut feeling. In 2018, Quebec’s provincial elections took place over a Jewish holiday (Shemini Atzeret) and voter turnout in heavily Jewish ridings was just 47% compared to a previous 72%.

We have precedent of shifting election dates if they overlap with a significant holiday. The very first fixed election date in Ontario was moved from October 4 to October 10 in 2007 because of Shemini Atzeret. The Election Act is designed in a way that we can move election dates in such circumstances.

We are running out of time to make this change happen, but it is very much possible.

The City of Toronto was able to adjust its municipal election changes in less than 3 months before E-Day after Premier Ford slashed its council size.

All we need to resolve this conflict is to merely move E-Day forward a day or two. Band aid solutions like additional advance voting dates or “culturally targeted marketing” will not work. It is only fair and equitable that those celebrating Diwali get to vote when everyone else does.

I truly hope those celebrating this festival of the victory of Good and Light are not left in the dark for the next four years."