Halifax mulls letting permanent residents vote

Halifax may become the first Canadian city to let permanent residents, who are not Canadian citizens, vote in municipal elections.

Mike Savage says Halifax could become first Canadian city to extend franchise to non-citizens

Mike Savage thinks it's time to extend the franchise again. (CBC)

Halifax may become the first Canadian city to let permanent residents, who are not Canadian citizens, vote in municipal elections.

Mayor Mike Savage said Tuesday that he asked city staff to investigate the possibility and prepare a report.

"Their kids go to school, they pay tax, they're entrepreneurs, they're business people, they're working," he said. "What they can't do is vote."

If I had the chance I would want to. I live here and I hope it becomes better.- Wan Jin Huang

No Canadian city currently permits non-citizens to vote. Calgary, Saint John and North Bay are discussing the idea, according to Immigration Settlement and Integration Services.

Toronto city council voted last year to extend municipal voting rights to permanent residents but the province of Ontario has not yet agreed to amending the necessary legislation. 

"It's less than 100 years since women got the vote in Canada and only really half a century since aboriginal Canadians voted," Savage said.

"Every time you look to extend the franchise some people will say, 'Does that make sense?' I think it's time to look at it for permanent residents."

He said it could be good for Halifax and for its new residents.

"In a place like Nova Scotia, particularly Halifax, we want people to come here, we want immigrants. We want them not only to come but to stay and we want them to be involved in so many things," he said.

The proposed extension would not apply to temporary foreign workers or students who aren't permanent residents.

More than 40 countries let newcomers vote

Claudette Legault of Halifax's Immigrant Settlement and Integration Services said 40 countries — including Ireland, New Zealand and Denmark — let newcomers vote.

She said it would be especially valued by those who were politically active in their old country and are keen to get involved in Halifax.

"For people who haven't had the opportunity to vote, Canada represents an opportunity to engage in the democratic process in a real way," she said.

Legault said newcomers drive over the same potholes as other residents, go to the same schools and use the same parks.

Eager voters

Wan Jin Huang, who currently can't vote, is backing the idea.

"If I had the chance I would want to," she said. "I live here and I hope it becomes better."

She said many immigrants have a high level of education and experience of different places, and could bring good ideas.

"They can make the city better," she said.

If the Halifax staff report finds promise in the idea, it will go to regional council. If council backs it, the city would ask the provincial government to change the legislation to make it happen.


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