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Immigrant Vote

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Immigrant Vote

The Land of the Fair Deal

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Exhaustion Mistaken for Peace


Nellie McClung, In Times Like These (U of Toronto Press, 1972) 53-55.

Then there is the problem of the foreign woman's vote. Many people fear that the granting of woman suffrage would greatly increase the unintelligent vote, because the foreign women would then have the franchise, and in our blind egotism we class our foreign people as ignorant people, if they do not know our ways and our language. They may know many other languages, but if they have not yet mastered ours they are poor, ignorant foreigners. We Anglo-Saxon people have a decided sense of our own superiority, and we feel sure that our skin is exactly the right color, and we people from Huron and Bruce feel sure that we were born in the right place, too. So we naturally look down upon those who happen to be of a different race and tongue than our own.

It is a sad feature of humanity that we are disposed to hate what we do not understand; we naturally suspect and distrust what we do not know. Hens are like that too! When a strange fowl comes into a farmyard all the hens take a pick at it—not that it has done anything wrong, but they just naturally do not like the look of its face because it is strange. Now that may be very good ethics for hens, but it is hardly good enough for human beings. Our attitude toward the foreign people was well exemplified in one of the missions, where a little Italian boy, who had been out two years, refused to sit beside a newly arrived Italian boy, who, of course, could not speak a word of English. The teacher asked him to sit with his lately arrived compatriot, so that he might interpret for him. The older boy flatly refused, and told the teacher he 'had no use for them young dagos.'

'You see,' said the teacher sadly, when telling the story, 'he had caught the Canadian spirit.'

People say hard things about the corruptible foreign vote, but they place the emphasis in the wrong place. Instead of using our harsh adjectives for the poor fellow who sells his vote, let us save them all for the corrupt politician who buys it, for he cannot plead ignorance—he knows what he is doing. The foreign people who come to Canada, come with burning enthusiasm for the new land, this land of liberty—land of freedom. Some have been seen kissing the ground in an ecstasy of gladness when they arrive. It is the land of their dreams, where they hope to find home and happiness. They come to us with ideals of citizenship that shame our narrow, mercenary standards. These men are of a race which has gladly shed its blood for freedom and is doing it today. But what happens? They go out to work on construction gangs for the summer, they earn money for several months, and when the work closes down they drift back into the cities. They have done the work we wanted them to do, and no further thought is given to them. They may get off the earth so far as we are concerned. One door stands invitingly open to them. There is one place they are welcome—so long as their money lasts—and around the bar they get their ideals of citizenship.

When an election is held, all at once this new land of their adoption begins to take an interest in them, and political heelers, well paid for the job, well armed with whiskey, cigars and money, go among them, and, in their own language, tell them which way they must vote—and they do. Many an election has been swung by this means. One new arrival, just learning our language, expressed his contempt for us by exclaiming: 'Bah! Canada is not a country—it's just a place to make money.' That was all he had seen. He spoke correctly from his point of view" (53-54).

* * *

"The foreign women, whom politicians and others look upon as such a menace, are differently dealt with than the men. They do not go out to work, en masse, as the men do. They work one by one, and are brought in close contact with their employers. The women who go out washing and cleaning spend probably five days a week in the homes of other women. Surely one of her five employers will take an interest in her, and endeavor to instruct her in the duties of women and girls. The foreign women generally speak English before the men, for the reason that they are brought in closer contact with English-speaking people. When I hear people speaking of the ignorant foreign women I think of 'Mary,' and 'Annie,' and others I have known. I see their broad foreheads and intelligent kindly faces, and think of the heroic struggle they are making to bring their families up in thrift and decency. Would Mary vote against liquor if she had the chance? She would. So would you if your eyes had been blackened as often by a drunken husband. There is no need to instruct these women on the evils of liquor drinking—they are able to give you a few aspects of the case which perhaps you had not thought of. We have no reason to be afraid of the foreign woman's vote. I wish we were as sure of the ladies who live on the Avenue" (55).

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