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Municipal election candidates in Ontario worried October voting day falls on Diwali

Some Hindus and Sikhs in Ontario are not pleased with the date of this year’s municipal election, especially some of the candidates, because people are set to cast ballots on the main day for the religious festival of Diwali in October.

“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.

Diwali generally consists of a five-day celebration that peaks on the third day with the main celebration of Diwali. The date changes every year, as Hindus and Sikhs follow the lunar calendar.

This year, the main day is on Oct. 24, also municipal election day.

“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 noted 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 worried october voting day falls on diwali
Gurpartap Singh Toor, a candidate for Wards 9 and 10 on the Brampton regional council, is concerned the municipal election is taking place on Diwali. He says most people only think about voting on the day of the election. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Baki said having the election on the same day as Diwali’s main day could have a major impact on Hindus and Sikhs who want to vote. He called it a “systemic barrier.”

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

Toor said 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 election day.

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.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the ministry said there are “several” options municipalities can use to get people to vote before Election Day if necessary, including proxy voting, internet voting and mail-in voting.

“It is up to each municipality to determine whether to have alternative voting methods based on local needs and circumstances,” the statement continues.

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

Advance polling not the best alternative

“Municipal clerks have the authority to establish advance voting dates to offer voting opportunities to those who are not able to vote on Oct. 24,” the ministry statement said. “Advance voting can be held beginning 30 days before voting day.”

When Baki mentions his campaign to Windsor residents of south Asian descent, he says 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, says voting day falling on the same day as Diwali is a ‘systemic barrier’ to South Asians. (Sonya Varma/CBC)

But Toor said advance polls are not an effective solution. The City of Brampton says that in the 2018 municipal election, 13 per cent of the total number of people who voted did so in advance polling.

“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 suggested 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 — 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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