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From Syria to Antigonish, Tareq Hadhad’s journey has a sweet ending

News

Any sweet-toothed Canadians looking for some patriotic treats for this year’s Canada Day celebration could do worse than the Go Canada Go bars sold by Nova Scotia’s Peace By Chocolate.

The bar sports a Canada flag wrapper with the slogan “Go Canada Go” emblazoned on the top. Inside the milk chocolate treat is a maple cream filling. Even the most red-blooded, flag-waving, hockey-watching Canadian might think it’s a little over the top.

But for Tareq Hadhad, a Syrian refugee who fled his country’s civil war to Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and quickly set up a family-run chocolate shop, the message perfectly reflects his own feelings.

“Whenever someone eats one of our chocolates, I think they’ll become proud Canadians to think how great this country is that opens the doors for us,” said Hadhad, on Thursday’s episode of the Hub Dialogues.

Hadhad’s story of going from refugee to massively successful chocolatier has been turned into a feature film, entitled Peace By Chocolate, which premiered last year in Canada after appearing at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

To say the Hadhad family’s life has been cinematically harrowing could be an understatement. In 2010, Hadhad’s father was making ambitious plans for his Syria-based chocolate company and, by 2012, the company’s factory was destroyed by an airstrike. His extended family was soon scattered around the globe, in 26 different countries, as they joined the millions of refugees fleeing the war.

“The whole experience of becoming a refugee was (that) we did not know what tomorrow is going to bring us,” said Hadhad. “We did not know what the future is holding for our family, and we did not know if we will get that chance to immigrate, or if we can go back to our homeland. There was so much uncertainty, so much adversity.”

Hadhad arrived in Antigonish in 2016 and agonized over whether he should pursue a medical career, before eventually deciding to reopen the family’s chocolate business. Peace By Chocolate has been a smashing success, shipping products globally, opening a new location in Halifax, and raising money for causes close to the family’s heart.

In 2018, when Peace By Chocolate was experiencing its first, modest success the company donated some proceeds to the Canadian Red Cross’s wildfire relief efforts in Fort McMurray. Hadhad also sees the company’s job creation in Nova Scotia as another way to give back to his new home and to counter the idea that refugees won’t contribute to the community.

“That’s why the movie, for example, has conflict within the family and conflict within the community, and how people, sometimes, have fears against newcomers, and then all the fears dissolve after newcomers prove themselves that they are here as givers and not takers,” said Hadhad.

Hadhad and his family particularly wanted to give back to the small community in Antigonish that had sponsored them as refugees through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program.

That PSR was a pioneering innovation when it was created in 1979 in response to the arrival of Vietnamese refugees to Canada. The program proved to be a remarkable success and, after only six months in existence, 5,457 groups across Canada had applied to sponsor refugees. For every privately sponsored refugee under the PSR program, the government matches this by sponsoring a refugee themselves. The program has been pivotal in giving Canada a refugee program that is internationally recognized as fair and generous.

Hadhad said that before he arrived in Canada he knew it as a welcoming country that had taken in refugees from Vietnam, Iraq, and Rwanda, among others. Hadhad said he knew Canada as a country of immigrants, dedicated to continuously building the country in the same way that immigrants before them had.

“I think we were very similar to a lot of former immigrants in that we believed we have to be laser-focused on our mission. We have to be laser-focused on building a Canada that is better for our kids, leaving this country better for our kids and grandkids than we found it,” said Hadhad.

In building a better country, Hadhad believes there are few better ways to do it than providing a steady supply of chocolate, whether it’s a patriotic chocolate bar or not.

“Everyone who eats chocolate would be happy. No one who eats chocolate will ever be sad,” said Hadhad.

“We wanted to do something remarkable, something unique, and that’s when he realized that chocolate is the best path. It was the product that makes everyone happy.”

How Pierre Poilievre could benefit from the rise of the non-voter

News

They rarely get mentioned but during last year’s federal election a massive bloc of potential voters dwarfed the supporters of both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party.

On election day, the Liberals clung to a minority government with 5.6 million voters, while the Conservatives pulled in 5.8 million voters.

Whether they were sitting at home, busy with work, or chasing children around, more than 10 million Canadians who were registered to vote chose not to cast a ballot.

What do we know about these people?

For one, some of them are embarrassed about not voting. In a recent poll, 76 percent of Canadians said they vote in every election, a number far higher than the actual turnout in recent federal elections. The online survey was produced by Public Square Research and The Hub and conducted with LEO, Leger’s online panelClick the link to join the Leger Opinion online panel and get your voice heard in surveys like this..

We also know that non-voters are far less likely to say they don’t feel a sense of duty to vote than people who claim to be committed voters. Only 15 percent of committed voters say they don’t feel a duty to vote compared to 50 percent of non-voters.

And only 40 percent of non-voters think their vote will make a difference compared to 74 percent of people who say they are committed voters. The online survey of 1,528 respondents was fielded between June 10 and June 13.

Although our political conversations tend to assume that non-voters will always be non-voters and that parties should battle over the existing voter pool, that’s not always how elections are won.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s strategy in 2015 was not to move to the centre, but to lean left and energize younger voters who hadn’t voted before. It resulted in a sweeping victory and a huge increase in youth voter turnout.

Seven years later, Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre is trying to pull a similar trick.

“We get so caught up in political analysis, talking about party affiliation, when actually most Canadians don’t even think about that,” said a source on the Poilievre campaign, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about strategy.

The Poilievre campaign knows anecdotally that many of the people who attended their large rallies around the country this year are new to politics and they expect that many of the more than 300,000 new members they signed up during the ongoing party leadership race will be casting a ballot for the first time.

Poilievre himself has sometimes been surprised by the extent his speeches or interviews have resonated with online audiences, drawing millions of views on Twitter and Facebook, and that has informed how he has approached his public events.

For instance, Poilievre’s attacks on “gatekeepers” has become an overarching theme of his campaign, but it started as a single speech that happened to resonate and grew organically into a campaign mantra.

Poilievre believes his strength is speaking in plain terms about issues that are an immediate concern for Canadians. When something strikes a chord, he doubles down.

The Hub’s polling shows that 82 percent of people who don’t vote say they would cast a ballot if it was for a party leader they really believed in. There is a sense in Poilievre’s campaign that his style—plain speaking about highly salient issues—could be the path to these voters.

It’s strikingly similar to Trudeau’s strategy in 2015.

The voter turnout rate that year increased among people aged 18 to 24 from 55 percent in 2011 to 67 percent in 2015. Among those aged 25 to 34, it rose 11 percentage points to 70 percent. It’s no surprise that with voter turnout coming back to normal levels in subsequent elections in 2019 and 2021, Trudeau’s Liberals have been unable to get back into majority government territory.

In 2015 the Liberals were picking up young, left-leaning voters who were tired of a Conservative government, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that followed, the profile of these voters may be changing.

When the trucker protest against vaccine mandates and other COVID restrictions descended on Ottawa earlier in the year, it brought the city to a grinding halt and divided the nation. Although Canadians were generally disapproving of the protesters’ tactics, they were far more inclined to say they sympathized with their complaints.

Young Canadians were especially inclined to show sympathy to the protesters.

Ipsos found that 61 percent of Canadians aged 18 to 34 said the truckers’ frustration is legitimate and deserves our sympathy, even though they may not agree with everything the protesters said.

According to Statistics Canada, the most common reason people give for not voting is “not being interested in politics” and some political organizers believe this group of people, who never previously concerned themselves with politics, has been activated by the pandemic and other economic issues.

“When you’re not filthy rich, the economy matters,” said Vitor Marciano, a political organizer in Alberta who was part of the movement to bring down Premier Jason Kenney.

Marciano said there is a common thread among this new era of populists: they’ve discovered a new group of voters who are now suddenly paying attention.

“It’s a growing group of people who’ve never been involved in politics, who have all of a sudden realized that in the past, they didn’t care about politics, but politics cared about them,” said Marciano.

This survey was conducted with LEO, Leger’s online panel. If you want your voice to be heard, you can join the LEO panel today.