Over the last fourty days, Justin Trudeau faced a lot of scrutiny for calling an election during a pandemic when it was wholly unnecessary. Many people felt it was a waste of money, time, and resources on top of putting the health of Canadians at a blatant disregard by asking them to go out and vote while also encouraging distancing and safety. As someone who works in Community Health, I was not only shocked that an election was being held during a pandemic, but also what this would mean for the racialized, underprivileged, poorer communities already struggling much more deeply with the reality of the pandemic.
In my few months working in the Community Health sector I have noticed that the vast majority of the people we serve are Black or racialized, often immigrant and newcomer communities, who may also be queer, drug users, or have mental health issues because the system has not worked for them and has left them to struggle more so than their white counterparts. As a mixed (Senegalese and Acadian) bisexual woman who has overcome addiction issues, I empathize deeply with the people who rely on community health centres for resources.
Throughout the pandemic, they have struggled much more than others. They may not have a home to isolate in if they have COVID, they may not be able to read forms for tests or vaccines, they may have vaccine hesitancy because they do not trust doctors, they may require community health centres to be open to give them food, to be a place of socialization, to offer them dental care. When the pandemic hit, a lot of this population was forgotten about by everyone but these community health centres. Outside of the aforementioned specific population, there is also the population of immigrant, newcomer and racialized people who are essential workers who (in different parts of the country) did not have sick days, or could not take time off if they caught COVID, or to even do their due diligence and get vaccinated.
Holding an election during a pandemic tells the people with severe barriers to be able to participate within society that they still do not matter as much as the people who can easily vote and have not struggled throughout this election. How are poorer Black communities of Toronto who have struggled with getting vaccinated, and getting support throughout this pandemic, supposed to feel comfortable voting when they are among the most neglected populations of this country?
How are the people struggling with opioid crises in the rural west coast supposed to prioritize an election when they are currently struggling day to day? When you hold an election, in the middle of a fourth wave of a global pandemic, you are telling marginalized groups that you do not care if they vote, if they participate in democracy, if they have a say in who represents them. We know the focus of marginalized groups is survival, and we know statistically that marginalized groups are often racialized, queer, mentally ill folks and yet we do not allow them to have a say in their own support.
To me this election was a means to keep power and keep white systems in play and that was shown by the simple fact we were made to participate in democracy at a time when people are still falling ill and dying with COVID. Our health should not be up for political debate, and yet because of the People’s Party of Canada’s stance on vaccine passports, they, a right-wing racist group, have gained serious traction at a time when everyone should be focused on their physical and mental health.
Asking a country to participate in an election, while those with barriers are struggling the most they ever have due to the pandemic, is making it very clear who your party supports and who your voters are: white, able-bodied people. This election was not about “seeing Canada through to the end of the pandemic” – most racialized, marginalized people are having a hard time believing the end is even in sight. It seems they have been forgotten, and they were certainly forgotten about by Trudeau when he called this snap election.