YOUR OPPORTUNITY – AND RESPONSIBILITY – TO VOTE

Canadians head to the polls September 20th. This is an opportunity for members of Canada’s Jewish community to play their role in the democratic process. With a brief campaign, and voting limitations linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, voters should avail themselves of any number of options that will help ensure their voice is heard.

Since the last federal election, B’nai Brith Canada has been engaged in consultations with Elections Canada officials, advocating for the democratic rights of Jewish voters, particularly on the matter of the election date.

Our overriding goal has been a process that takes account of the needs of observant Jewish voters, to avoid the unfortunate circumstances of 2019.

Discussions with Elections Canada have been productive, with officials clearly sensitive to concerns arising from the last election. Elections Canada will again be publishing its voters’ guide in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian and numerous other languages.

In 2021, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elections Canada will also be introducing innovations to the voting process, which will ensure opportunities for members of the Jewish community to make their views count: voting by mail and special ballot measures will be expedited, and special drop boxes will be part of the electoral landscape. These measures will be beneficial to Jewish candidates and electors, campaign staff and volunteers.

The election date selected this year is September 20, which is Erev Sukkot, meaning that observant Jews will lose a few hours of voting at the end of the day and will be unable to participate in the ballot scrutineering process. However, unlike in 2019, none of the four advanced voting days will fall on a Jewish holiday (one is on Shabbat, as it is each year). Moreover, B’nai Brith notes that because this is not a fixed election, the Chief Electoral Officer does not have the option pursuant to s. 56.2(1) of the Canada Elections Act to recommend that the date be switched in order to avoid a Jewish holiday.

B’nai Brith Canada will again be mounting an online Election Centre in 2021; this Election Issues Guide is one part of that effort. We will focus on ensuring Jewish community members have the information and tools they need to fully participate in the democratic process. We recommend, for example, that:

• Jewish community leaders should know their Returning Officers (ROs) and, in various ridings, Community Relations Officers (CROs), who can provide a wealth of advice and materials on the electoral process and voting options.
• Jewish community leaders should not hesitate to engage in dialogue with ROs (and CROs) to seek information and convey any concerns.
• Voters should know their ridings and their candidates, including candidates from smaller parties and those running as independents. For those with internet access, simply go to the Elections Canada website and enter your postal code.
• Everyone should consult the Guide to the Federal Election (for Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian, go to the ‘Other Languages’ button).
• There are many ways to vote. Special ballots are available so you can vote by mail, if you prefer not to cast your ballot in person. Drop boxes are also being made available in each riding. The processes for alternative voting methods have been simplified. The deadline to apply to vote by special ballot is Tuesday, September 14th at 6:00 p.m.
University students should be aware of how they can vote if they are on campus and not at their ordinary places of residence.
• Be mindful that, in addition to their website, information is posted by Elections Canada on all major social media channels.

For now, we encourage the community to follow us on social media for developments (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and watch for updates on our Election Centre page. In addition, Elections Canada is already making information resources available; for example, the ‘Inspire Democracy’ initiative provides a series of toolkits that can help inform you. And community leaders and voters can access numerous helpful insights on the ‘Spread the Word’ page of the Elections Canada website. (While we do our best to provide accurate guidance, remember that Elections Canada has the final say on the voting process).

And – although it does not apply now, as it did in 2019 – we recommend that Canada’s Jewish voters continue to ask their local candidates an important question: Will you support an amendment to the Canada Elections Act, backed by B’nai Brith Canada, to ensure that future fixed-date federal elections no longer take place on major Jewish holidays?

We say that the most effective step our community can take is to ensure our voices are heard. We urge Canadian Jewish electors to play their full part in the upcoming federal election, by getting to know the candidates and the party platforms, by asking hard questions about policies and positions that impact the Jewish community, and by voting!