Extending municipal vote to permanent residents a key election task force proposal

Only one of the City of Vancouver’s Independent Election Task Force proposals to increase voter turnout seems sure to achieve the goal: extending the municipal vote to permanent residents.

This group of 60,000 residents have made a decision to stay in Canada and, in almost all cases, to become Canadian citizens. They work, pay taxes and contribute to our community but do not have the right to vote.

This means between eight and ten percent of the city’s residents don’t have voting rights. Adding them to the voters’ list in 2014 would have increase the number of city voters to 482,000 from the 422,000 registered that year. About 182,000 voted in 2014, increasing turnout to 43 percent from 35 percent in 2011, suggesting 24,000 additional ballots could have come from permanent residents.

(You can read the entire proposal here at page 102.)

This can’t happen fast. It would require a change to the Vancouver Charter to make it happen, as well as reform of the provincial rules for registration, because the city uses the Elections BC voting list.

At first, the idea of extending vote rights to non-citizen permanent residents seems challenging. On second thought, it seems in line with the long history of expanding democratic rights to non-property owners, women, Japanese Canadians, Chinese Canadians and Aboriginal people. In an era of wall-building and even ethnic cleansing, measures of inclusion and tolerance seem to be more important than ever.

The idea has found support elsewhere. The task force notes that “a number of municipalities in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia have investigated and supported extending voting rights to permanent residents, including Toronto, North Bay, Guelph, Kitchener, Saint John, Fredericton, Edmundston, Moncton, Dieppe and Halifax.

“Around the world, more than 45 countries granted permanent residents the right to vote, with some regulations and/or residency restrictions, including seven municipalities in the US, Hong Kong, Uruguay, Israel, 25 European Union countries such as Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Finland, Slovenia and 15 Commonwealth Nations including Australia and New Zealand.”

This is one of the task force’s most important and practical recommendations — it deserves serious consideration.