A Newcomer’s First Election

Harlee Kelly, Writing Clinic Instructor at the First Nations University of Canada. Photo by Mick Favel

Harlee Kelly is not yet a citizen of Canada but is excited to watch her first Canadian election.

Originally from the United States, Kelly has been living in Canada for two years but is not yet eligible to vote in elections.

“Watching the Canadian election has been an experience for me,” said Kelly, a First Nations University instructor. “It’s very different than it is in the States.”

Getting the right to vote at the age of 18 is an important time for a person in the U.S. says Kelly. Voting is seen as a “beautiful privilege” and is one of the most important acts a person can do.

In the 1990s Kelly’s interest in politics happened through MTV’s “Rock the Vote” campaign, an initiative aimed at young adults to get out and vote.

“In the States the election is spectacularized; it’s constantly on T.V.,” said Kelly. “It’s like a flashing neon light in your face … pretty much the day after a new president is inaugurated, we are already thinking about the next election.”

“In Canada I have seen [the election] is not quite as intense, but it’s something that people care about.”

For Kelly to be eligible to vote she will need legal permanent resident status for three years before she can apply for full citizenship. The process will take a while and there is a possibility she may not be able to vote in the next federal election.

As an American, Kelly said political preference is a large part of a person’s identity.

“Sometimes it’s too [much of] an extreme where it interferes with other parts of your life or relationships and I don’t see that happening the same way in Canada,” said Kelly. “There’s not that same kind of tension between people.”

One part of the Canadian political system that surprised Kelly was the amount of parties running. Kelly said people she has met think the U.S. is a two-party system and that she had the same misconception towards Canada.

Kelly has a strong interest in Indigenous and environmental affairs and if she could vote she would vote for whomever aligned with those ideologies.

“In the States we use the electoral college … the person who gets the most votes doesn’t necessarily get elected,” said Kelly. “The more I think about it, the more I want to vote in Canada.”

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