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First-Time Electors – New Canadians

New Canadians come from a variety of backgrounds, and from countries with different political and electoral systems. This makes it difficult to make broad statements about this group of electors. Like other first-time electors, becoming a citizen means gaining the right to vote in a federal election. Research and consultations show that many new Canadians face barriers to exercising their right to vote in a federal election.

What we know about how new Canadians participate in elections

Eligible immigrants have been shown to vote less than other citizens. Many reasons have been put forward to explain this, including the lack of democratic traditions in some regions of the world, the lack of trust in institutions, or differences in political culture (Statistics Canada).

  • Compared with established immigrants (have lived in the country for 10 years or more) and non-immigrants, new Canadians (immigrated to Canada in the previous 10 years) were less likely to vote in the 2011 general election. This was also the case in 2015, although the gap between the two groups narrowed.
  • Among immigrants eligible to vote, turnout rates can vary considerably by region of birth. In 2015, immigrants from “Anglosphere” countries (United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand) had the highest turnout rate, followed by Western/Northern Europe and South Asia. Immigrants from other regions had turnout rates that were significantly lower than non-immigrants. Examples of such regions include Eastern Europe and East Asia. (Statistics Canada)
  • The data also show differences in civic engagement. New Canadians are less likely than non-immigrants and established immigrants to be members of a group, organization or association, such as sports and recreational organizations, or union or professional associations.
  • In 2015, youth (aged 18–34) who were born in Canada were more likely to say that they had voted in all or most elections for which they were eligible (64%), compared to youth who were not born in Canada (48%). National Youth Survey (NYS )

Access versus motivation?

New Canadians who do not vote are less likely to report that their main reason was a lack of interest in politics.

  • In 2015, 20% of new Canadians who did not vote in the general election reported not being interested in politics. This is compared to 34% of non-immigrants and 25% of established immigrants. (Statistics Canada) This is consistent with 2011 data. (See Immigrants and Canadian Citizens by birth)

Access to information

New Canadians may face obstacles to getting information on the electoral process because of language barriers and lower registration rates.

  • Among new Canadians who did not vote in the 2011 federal election, 8% reported that they were not on the list of electors. This is compared to 3.6% of non-immigrants and 3.7% of established immigrants (Statistics Canada, see Immigrants and Canadian citizens by birth). Electors who are not registered in advance do not receive the voter information card that tells them where, when and the ways to vote. This meant that many new Canadians assumed that they could not vote.
  • In 2015, among new Canadians who did not vote in the general election, 14% reported reasons related to the electoral process. This is compared to 7% of both non-immigrants and established immigrants.
  • Many new Canadians are not fluent in English or French. This can make it more difficult to find and understand election information. Among the new Canadians who came to Canada between 2006 and 2011, 9% were able to converse only in non-official languages in 2016. (Statistics  Canada, see Knowledge of Languages)

Schedule limitations and employment

Time constraints, family commitments and lower employment status can be significant barriers to voting for some new Canadians.

  • Among new Canadians who did not vote in the 2011 general election, 35% reported that they did not vote because they were too busy. This is compared to 22% of non-immigrants and 23.3% of established immigrants. (Statistics Canada, see Immigrants and Canadian citizens by birth)
  • Among those who immigrated to Canada more recently, several indicators point to lower employment as well as lower job security and wages for those who do work. Unemployment is linked to lower voter turnout, and there is some evidence that immigrants with low-wage jobs may hesitate to ask their employers for time off to vote on election day.
Research note: Elections Canada's current focus on “new Canadians” has replaced a previous approach focused on “ethnocultural communities”, defined as Canadians who identify themselves as a visible minority or those who were born outside Canada but who do not consider themselves a visible minority and for whom English, French or an Indigenous language is not their first language. We are planning a series of public opinion research projects for the 2019 general election, which should provide more evidence on the barriers faced by new Canadians in exercising their right to vote.

Did you know?

There is a difference between an elector and a voter. An elector is every Canadian citizen 18 years of age and over. A voter is a Canadian citizen who has voted.

Click here Information for first-time voters – New  Canadians to see the programs and services designed to address the barriers to voting that new Canadians face.

Go to Inspire Democracy to learn more about how Elections Canada and our network of stakeholder organizations are working together to address some of the barriers to getting involved with elections.

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