What matters to Canada’s new Syrian-born citizens in this federal election?

Syrian-Canadians, Yasser Issa of Bedford, Nova Scotia, Mohammed Alsaleh of Burnaby, BC and Aya Mhana of Calgary, Alberta are preparing to vote in their first Canadian federal election. Global News

The Syrian refugee crisis became a key election issue in 2015 after a heart wrenching photo of a lifeless young Alan Kurdi was seen around the world.

The Liberals made a campaign promise to open Canada’s doors to thousands fleeing violence in the war-torn country. Since then, Canada has welcomed more than 44,000 Syrian refugees.  The crisis is no longer top of mind but a small number of those refugees (168 as of the end of August, 2019) are now citizens over the age of 18, eligible to vote in the federal election on Oct. 21.

Aya Mhana became a Canadian citizen during a ceremony on Friday morning. The Calgary mother arrived in Canada in 2016 as a privately-sponsored refugee.  Mhana says the ability to vote in the upcoming election is a dream come true.

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“People all over the world are dying just to have the right but now I have it,” Mhana said.

As a newcomer, Mhana says immigration policy is important to her when deciding who to vote for.  She hopes whoever forms the next government will continue to welcome those seeking a better life.

“I know not everybody can live in Canada but it is a big place and Canada can support people who are really suffering and living in bad situations in other countries.”

Mohammed Alsaleh came to Canada as a refugee in 2014.  Last year he became a citizen as well – in fact he will celebrate his first anniversary as a Canadian citizen just before election day.

“This will be the first time in my life that I vote, that I choose and review different policies and vote for the policy that is aligned with I want to see,” said Asaleh.  “It’s such an amazing feeling to have freedom to have a voice.  I couldn’t be more happy to have this experience.”

Housing affordability and climate policy are important issues to him as he decides who will get his vote, but he worries about immigration policy as well.

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PPC Leader Maxime Bernier has denounced “mass immigration” and “extreme multiculturalism,” and has promised to dramatically reduce the number of immigrants admitted to Canada, saying the country should look after its own citizens first.

Click to play video: '14% of Canadians say immigration a top election issue: Ipsos poll'
14% of Canadians say immigration a top election issue: Ipsos poll

In Atlantic Canada, Yasser Issa is getting ready to vote as well.  The Halifax-area dentist will be casting a ballot, alongside his wife and oldest son.

Issa’s family did not come to Canada as refugees but he says it was the war in Syria that lead the family to decide to start a new life in this country.

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“I believe voting is a privilege for everyone and in the beginning, [my decision] was emotional and quite personal but it evolved to be more about the full picture,” Issa said.

“We look now at issues which any Canadian cares about.  Health, education, environment, taxes, employment.  These are becoming quite important subjects for me to decide who will represent me.”

–With files from The Canadian Press

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