First Person: The privilege to vote: Reflections from a newly minted Canadian

·6 min read
Ariana Salvo moved to P.E.I. in 2004, but didn't receive her Canadian citizenship until 2019. (Submitted by Ariana Salvo - image credit)
Ariana Salvo moved to P.E.I. in 2004, but didn't receive her Canadian citizenship until 2019. (Submitted by Ariana Salvo - image credit)

This First Person article was written by Ariana Salvo, a freelance writer and photographer based in Charlottetown. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

There are four privileges that Canadian citizens enjoy that residents do not: the ability to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, access to high-security government jobs, being called to serve as a juror and the privilege to vote in elections.

I moved to P.E.I. from Italy in 2004 to pursue my master's degree in Island Studies, but only received my citizenship in 2019. Every year for 16 years candidates came knocking, and every year I told them I wasn't yet able to vote.

But today I will vote in my first Canadian federal election.

This year, of course, not a single candidate knocked on my door. I had assumed that Citizenship Canada would share the list of new citizens with Elections Canada so they could send us voter registration information, but this didn't happen. Eager to enjoy my new privileges, I went online and registered myself to vote.

A friend asked me to describe how it felt to register to vote for the first time in one word.

"Exhilarating," I said.

'Canadian citizenship is a big deal'

Submitted by Ariana Salvo
Submitted by Ariana Salvo

Becoming a Canadian was, for me, the culmination of years of sacrifice and hard work.

For the first four years I lived on the Island, I didn't own a car because I couldn't afford both wheels and plane tickets to see my parents — and visits with family came first.

Once I became a resident and was free to work for myself, I ran my own social media marketing business, taught ESL to international students and ran a flower farm, fully embracing the fast-paced, multi-hat-wearing lifestyle that so many of us on P.E.I. live.

Canadian citizenship is a big deal to me.

I was born in the U.S., but my parents moved to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus when I was six, and we lived there for 16 years. I attended British schools, had an English accent, and spelled my words all wrong according to my friends back in the U.S.

When I finally returned to the U.S. for university, people teased me about my accent, the fact that I didn't know what nickels or dimes were, and how long it took me to locate books in the library because I kept going to the wrong floor (since when was the first floor on ground level?).

Rightly or wrongly, I sensed an intolerance to difference in the country of my birth, and never really felt at home. In Cyprus, which I considered to be home, my family was subjected to routine harassment and denied citizenship because of our religion (Baha'i). So for most of my life I got questioned by U.S. border officials about why I had so many foreign stamps in my passport, and asked how long I would be on holiday when I went home to Cyprus.

'A place that feels like home'

For me, Canada has been a country that represents a celebration of unity in diversity rather than suppression or outright rejection of difference.

When I first arrived on the Island as a student, not knowing anyone and unable to find a furnished apartment I could afford, a complete stranger (who has since become family) furnished my house for free and left her family's antiques with me for the duration of my master's program.

Canada has been a country that represents a celebration of unity in diversity rather than suppression or outright rejection of difference. — Ariana Salvo

Another couple, aware I didn't own a car and had never had to navigate snow on foot, offered me weekly rides to the grocery store. Yet another stranger regularly loaned me his car so I could travel across the Island to conduct interviews with farmers and fishers for my master's thesis on sustainable farming and fishing.

As a white, native English-speaker I am aware that my immigrant experience has been one of privilege. On the surface my differences are not evident, and language does not impede me from connecting to others or accessing jobs. That said, this is the first place I have lived where I can practice my faith freely without fear, and where the diversity of experiences I've lived is seen as an asset.

Canadian citizenship has given me the legal right to live in a place that feels like home.

Getting to know the candidates

I value the fact that I'm being given the opportunity to choose the individuals who will work to shape this community I call home.

This will be the first time I've voted in a country in which I feel wholly accepted for who I am: a polyglot great-granddaughter of Italian immigrants to New York who was born in Massachusetts, raised as a Baha'i in Cyprus, lived in Italy, Mexico, Arizona and California, and feels at home in a tightly-knit Island community.

Never having voted in a Canadian election before, I have spent the last few weeks familiarizing myself with the candidates. In determining who I will vote for I've read a lot about our candidates, watched them debate and tried to get a sense of their characters as well as what their stated priorities and past accomplishments have been.

Some of the qualities I am looking for are a service-oriented mindset; humility; the capacity to prioritize what is best for their community over the need to be right; a focus on public priorities rather than on highlighting personal accomplishments; the ability to listen to their fellow candidates and constituents with a curious, open and respectful attitude; the skill of asking good, probing questions; and the ability to find commonalities with, and work alongside, their opposition to improve the quality of life for my community.

An honour and a privilege

Submitted by Ariana Salvo
Submitted by Ariana Salvo

As a new citizen and someone who lost both parents to aggressive forms of cancer in the last five years, one of my personal concerns is the fact that I (along with thousands of others who have been on a waiting list for far too long) still do not have a primary care physician. Electing an official who will work to secure the funds to hire enough doctors to care for our population is at the top of my list of priorities.

As a renter living in the centre of downtown Charlottetown, the severe lack of central, affordable housing is another issue I'd like to see addressed.

Funding to help with developing coastal zoning regulations better adapted to the projected effects of global warming and sea level rise could also use more attention.

The insufficient number of staff to care for residents in long-term care, highlighted by COVID-19, is also on my list, as is better financial support for the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada, which provides invaluable assistance to the growing number of immigrants who settle on P.E.I. with the hope of making it home.

I'm excited to go to the polls today.

No matter what the outcome, the opportunity to play an active role in electing the federal representative for my home province is an honour and privilege.

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