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Candidate feels 'ignored' over concern election day falls on Diwali

Ontario's municipal election day falls on the same day as Diwali, a holiday festival celebrated by millions of people across the province
Ward 8 candidate Vandan Patel is drawing attention to the fact the upcoming municipal elections are taking place on Diwali. Photo provided by Vandan Patel.

At least one Cambridge municipal candidate is raising concerns over the conflict between this year's municipal election day and an annual religious holiday celebrated by people of Hindu, Jain and Sikh faiths around the world.

“It’s like Christmas,” says Ward 8 candidate Vandan Patel, explaining how Oct. 24 will also mark Diwali, a religious day celebrated annually during the Hindu month of Kartik. 

“When was the last time we had an election on Christmas or Christmas Eve? How many people would show up?,” Patel asks.

A quick Google search makes it easy to find the dates for the festival in 2023, 2024 and 2025, so why would the province select Oct. 24 as this year's municipal election day knowing millions of Ontarians will have other plans for the day?

It comes down to tradition and provincial legislation, which mandates municipal elections be held every four years on the fourth Monday of October. 

But in the South Asian community, it’s a date that poses significant challenges for those who celebrate and also hope to have their voice heard in the upcoming municipal election.

According to the Government of Ontario website, in 2016 the South Asian community made up 29.6 per cent of all visible minorities in the province. Numbers from the 2021 census are set to be released in October.

The general sense Patel gets while out in the community is not positive when it comes to the scheduling.

“It’s not been a good response from the Hindu community,” Patel said.

“It’s disrespectful; that’s what I’m hearing. The community feels ignored. It’s a very busy time for those who celebrate and they don’t necessarily have the time to go out and vote.”

The City of Cambridge is directing those with concerns to the city’s elections page where both online and advanced polling options are available.

For those looking to Elections Ontario to step in, a spokesperson told Cambridge Today via email that "Elections Ontario is not responsible for administering municipal elections in Ontario."

Patel says overall, his campaigning is going well despite the concerns over the date.

“Everything is going awesome,” he said. “But I have no idea how to reach out or who to reach to about this issue. We are not a small community and they have ignored all of us.”

Jayne Herring is seeking re-election as a public school board trustee for Cambridge and North Dumfries, and while she doesn’t celebrate Diwali herself, she sympathizes with those who do.

“I was very surprised the fact Diwali was missed when the date was chosen,” Herring said.

“Diwali is a huge festival in many communities and there would also be candidates who would celebrate the Festival of Lights.”

Herring points out that there may be workaround options for voters, but there are also candidates who are hoping to celebrate the holiday.

“Advance polls and internet voting, where available, will help voters,” she said.

“But if you are a candidate this is a very busy week.”

Much of the frustration could have been avoided with a very simple solution, says Herring.

“I think it would be more respectful if when scheduling the date for the Municipal Election, the dates of major holidays or celebrations for all cultures be avoided if at all possible,” she said.

“For those who celebrate Diwali, most felt that given the fact Diwali is a major celebration, the date should have been avoided.”