Although Canadians are increasingly connected via media and social experience, people frequently find themselves separated by both language and political ideals.
Enter Diversity Votes, a website and media initiative that aims to educate the general public about the demographic, economic and social characteristics affecting electoral strategies, increase the accountability of regional and national media sources by making their work more accessible in various languages, hold candidates and political parties responsible to the greater population, and inspire informed discussions regarding Canada’s diverse voting patterns while bringing disparate voices into the national discourse.
Sharing the small stories
When asked about the impetus for starting Diversity Votes, sources director Blythe Irwin stresses the need to validate ethnic media voices using both data and new access to their work.
“In order to validate ethnic media voices with the statistical data of the population they serve, we produced a citizenship education tool. Diversity Votes combines demographics with ethnic media to showcase what’s being said in these communities about upcoming elections [and political matters in general],” she says.
The goal was to produce a citizen education tool using the statistical data of Canada’s population as its backbone, while providing access to the conversations and problems media sources specific to ethnic communities address that may be forgotten or passed over in the wider media spotlight. Two clear and important examples of this have been the conflict some Jewish communities have experienced with “Shemini Atzeret” and “Simchat Torah” falling on federal election day, as well as the Italian-Canadian community’s request for Trudeau to apologize for the detention of over 700 Italian-Canadians during World War II. These community-specific topics may fall through the cracks or be brushed over by larger Canadian media.
Irwin reminds us that as an important benefit of Canadian citizenship, people have the right to free speech and to make their voices heard, and that the increased prominence gained by many communities will always lead to the exposure of frictions.
Because Canada shares an ideologically porous border with the United States, Canadians often feel themselves drawn into the tide of American politics while still hoping to remain distinct from their southern neighbours.
“The States is our monster neighbour which gets all of the attention and has a much larger population; Canadians feel the need to differentiate themselves in perception from the U.S. to the rest of the world, who might otherwise just lump us in with the U.S,” says Irwin. She continues by pointing out how closely linked Canada is to America both economically and culturally. But there is a downside to this close connection: “It is becoming increasingly evident that Canadians are not insulated from the U.S. as the polarization in the U.S. has led to an influx of migrants (to Canada) but also to anti-multicultural and anti-immigrant rhetoric here in Canada.”
Irwin explains that though populist democracy is often an attack on multicultural democracy, immigrants are often just a pawn of a bigger crisis. Since populism frequently works as a tool to enhance larger divisions in societies, she posits that this is a time and place where making diversity inclusive rather than divisive can play a major role in protecting the wider Canadian population.
Bring us closer to them
As social media spreads various bad faith political ideals or open attempts at misinformation, Irwin wants to be clear that gullibility does not discriminate along ethnic lines. In reality, all demographics are equally susceptible to fear mongering, and education may be the most important factor in helping people make strong political decisions
“As a society we need to ensure that all Canadians can participate in our democracy, and that they have full access to the education and resources needed to make informed decisions,” she says.
Lastly, Irwin invites Canadians to educate themselves about the interplay between diversity and politics.
“Canadians can be open to new things, new points of view, leave our echo chambers and talk to each other and not just our Facebook followers and friends,” she says. “Communication can bring ‘us’ and ‘them’ closer together.”
For more information, please visit www.diversityvotes.ca