BC has municipal elections in October this year and I will be voting for the candidates whose policies, values and voting records on housing affordability, harm reduction, and walk/bike/transit friendliness match mine the closest. I might even have an endorsement or three up my sleeve. This year, I will also be asking Victoria’s municipal election candidates where they stand on letting permanent residents vote in our elections.
In the 2016 census, nearly 2.5 million people identified as non-citizen residents, out of which two million were permanent residents. The permanent residents live here, work here, play here, pay taxes, grow pensions, volunteer, commit crimes (yes, they’re like any other Canadian) and more, just like those with Canadian citizenship. However, they have no say in who represents them municipally, provincially or federally. I find this unfair, so do many people, including the Vancouver city council, who passed a resolution in 2018 (PDF) calling for the province to approve voting by permanent residents. This globe news article provides a good backgrounder.
In short, municipalities have run into the conservative buzzsaw that is the state of our (mostly) conservative or liberal provincial governments. This won’t change unless more people speak up.
The opposition is mainly that non-citizens are not sufficiently “invested” in the country, they’re too “new”. The more paranoid ones talk about divided loyalties, and bring up stories of foreigners being flown in to vote. Perhaps they should try getting a visitor visa to Canada (spoiler alert, difficult). People who judge other people’s belonging or membership, however, usually have other items on their agenda. Let’s just leave it at that.
From my perspective, extending the vote is common sense, fair and just, and that’s that.
Permanent residents? The case is simple. They’re like citizens in all ways, except for voting, and having to renew every five years. If you want to make life difficult, you could ask them to renew voter registration every five years too, but really, you shouldn’t. Are you concerned about “loyalties”? If you are, then you should not be letting the thousands of dual British-Canadian passport holders vote.
How about residents without the permanent residency paperwork? Don’t see why not? If you’re concerned about timing of residency, put a time limit on the voting registration. There are very few non-permanent residents in Canada, half a million at last count, so, impact is small.
Undocumented? May be difficult, especially with visibility and its consequences. But, I would support it if we can find a solution that protects people while allowing for verifying identity for voting.
Of course, giving people a vote does not solve most problems, but that’s not the point. We see conservatives south of the boarder ceaselessly chipping away at the right of non-white people to vote. We need to be be going in the opposite direction on representation.
So, here are the questions on this issue I intend to ask Victoria’s municipal candidates in 2018:
- Do you support efforts to extend voting rights to all residents in Victoria?
- If you do, what are you willing/able to do to make this happen at the municipal level at least, then at the provincial level and federal levels?
A “no” on #1 is going to make it difficult to vote for you. A “yes” on #1 without some coherent plan on #2 means that you need to think about it some more.
Are you with me? Would you be willing to ask prospective candidates the same questions? Should there be additional questions? Do these questions make sense, or should they be reworked?