Issue: Should Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing amend the Municipal Elections Act to allow non-citizen permanent residents to vote in Toronto elections?
- The Ministry understands and is respectful of the city of Toronto’s commitment to diversity and multiculturalism, a commitment that reflects the values of many Canadians in other parts of the nation. Canadians have diverse origins, but all are equally Canadian.
- The Ministry recognizes the importance of participation in municipal elections: in the act of voting, residents of communities are able to make important decisions about who will govern them and what policies will be implemented.
- However, the Ministry also recognizes the importance of Canadian citizenship: whether by birth or by choice, citizens of Canada have a substantive interest in the rights and responsibilities accorded to them as Canadian citizens. One of these rights is the right to vote, at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels.
- Accordingly, the Ministry does not believe that extending the right to vote in municipal elections to non-citizen residents is the best way to incorporate them into the rich and diverse social fabric of Canada.
- The Ministry would like to remind the City Council that Canada has a much easier path to citizenship than most other countries. Thus, non-citizen residents who have not been indicted already have a path open to them by which they can become full members of Canadian society. In many countries that allow non-citizens to vote, this right is a palliative for the fact that it is difficult for non-citizens to attain the citizenship. In Canada this is not the case.
- The Ministry does share what it believes to be the very laudable goal of City Council to embrace diversity and inclusiveness. Accordingly, the Ministry would like to encourage the Council to work towards encouraging eligible non-citizen residents to attain the citizenship. The Ministry is very willing to assist in such outreach initiatives.
- The city of Toronto has about 246,000 permanent residents who are ineligible to vote because they are not citizens. They comprise about 16% of Toronto’s population.
- Canada has a rich history of welcoming immigrants, and contemporary immigrants hail from the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
- In the 2003 election, nearly half of Toronto’s permanent residents were eligible for Canadian citizenship. Residents sometimes opt not to pursue Canadian citizenship due to economic and/or citizenship interests in their countries of origin.
- Permanent residents pay taxes just as Canadian citizens do. They also use public services, such as schools.
- Non-citizen residents are allowed to vote in at least some elections in many other countries. Usually these are local elections, but New Zealand allows non-citizens to vote nationally.
- Allowing non-citizen residents to vote in local elections would by no means mandate they be allowed to vote at a provincial or federal level.
- Allowing non-citizens to vote at the local level would give them a say in how they are governed where they live. The crucial argument here is that these decisions affect their day-to-day lives.
- There is no reason to think that non-citizens would be worse voters than citizens.
- However, Canada has a much easier path to citizenship than many other countries in the Western world. Many countries that allow non-citizens to vote are more restrictive in this regard.