N.B.'s Municipal reform could bring voting rights to some recent immigrants
There's an estimated 30,000 people with permanent resident status in the province
For the past seven years, Moncef Lakouas has spoken to just about every municipal council and politician willing to listen.
He's been pushing the idea of allowing immigrants with permanent resident status the right to vote in municipal elections in New Brunswick.
The recently released local governance reform paper suggests his efforts could finally pay off.
Buried in the New Brunswick government's white paper are plans to consult stakeholders about allowing the estimated 30,000 permanent residents to vote before the general municipal elections in 2026.
Lakouas, the president of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, spoke to Information Morning Saint John about the importance of this move.
If New Brunswick decides to allow permanent residents to vote in municipal elections, it would become the first province in the country to do so, according to Lakouas.
"To be able to be granted the right to [vote] is a message that you matter as much as anybody else," said Lakouas. "Many of them will be voting here for the first time in their life. And many of them will believe that casting a ballot makes a difference because sometimes, it's not the reality in the places where they were born."
More representation and involvement in the community
Permanent residents are citizens of other countries that have immigrated to Canada but are not yet Canadian citizens.
They are restricted in their ability to vote, run for political office, and apply for a Canadian passport.
In New Brunswick, permanent residents were allowed to vote in municipal elections until 1997, when an electoral reform took place that tacked on the requirement of being a Canadian citizen on top of the existing criteria of being at least 18 years of age.
Lakouas, who came from Morocco and arrived in New Brunswick 15 years ago, says a permanent resident works, pays taxes, sends their children to Canadian schools and can study anywhere in Canada, just like a Canadian citizen.
Under Canada's immigration system, an immigrant must have lived in Canada for at least 730 days in a five-year span before they can apply for permanent resident status.
Lakouas, who spearheaded the Lost Votes campaign last year, saidt if permanent residents are given the right to vote, increased involvement in political and community spaces will most likely follow.
"Their communities will be involved more because now they have somebody at city level that does represent them," he said. "We have a problem [in] New Brunswick because we don't have enough representations of racial minorities at the decision table."
A competitive advantage
Multicultural and democracy advocacy groups across the country have been advocating for this to be put in place in other provinces for years.
Last year, Premier Blaine Higgs laid out a goal of attracting up to 10,000 newcomers a year by 2027.
Lakouas says the only way to reach this goal is to provide incentives for newcomers to settle and work in the area.
"It's about making sure that we can sustain our economy for the next eight years or so," said Lakouas.
"In order for us to do so, we have to have something that other provinces don't have, because in some instances we cannot compete at the economic level. But we can compete somewhere else, and the right to vote will make a difference here."
With files from Information Morning Saint John