Nfld. & Labrador

They work, they own homes, they pay taxes, but permanent residents can't vote for city council

Halifax, Toronto and at least eight municipalities in New Brunswick have asked their provinces to open voting to permanent residents and not just Canadian citizens.

Not a Canadian citizen? Not an eligible voter

More than a thousand people became permanent residents in Newfoundland and Labrador last year. None of them can vote in this month's municipal elections. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

As the city sounds the alarm on a lower-than-average ballot return rate, some citizens are frustrated that they aren't able to vote at all.

Philippa Jones, originally from England, has lived in St. John's since 2009. She works full time, running Eastern Edge Gallery, a non-profit arts organization. She volunteers, she owns a home and she pays taxes.

Municipally, I definitely am a citizen of St. John's.- Philippa Jones

But she doesn't have a say in how the city will be governed.

"I've invested here, and I want to be able to have a say in how I think it can be improved and governed," she said.

Philippa Jones is the executive director of Eastern Edge Gallery, a non-profit arts organization. (submitted)

Jones is a permanent resident of Canada, not a citizen. Only Canadian citizens can vote in municipal elections.

"I've always understood why I wouldn't be able to vote federally, because I'm not a citizen," she adds. "But municipally, I definitely am a citizen of St. John's."

Not an easy process

Last year, 1,190 people in Newfoundland and Labrador became permanent residents. If their experience is anything like Jones's, they've invested a lot of time, money and sleepless nights into their futures here.

Jones and her partner were sponsored by the province in 2013: he's specialist in computer graphics and gaming, and she was sponsored as his spouse. The process cost them each about $2,000. There were also medical exams, police record checks, stacks of paperwork, and two years of not knowing if they'd be able to stay.

Philippa Jones and her partner Benjamin Thwaites were sponsored by the provincial government for permanent residency in 2013. The process took two years. (Submitted)

"I think it should be a more respected position that permanent residents are in," she said. "You can potentially live your whole life here as a permanent resident and not a citizen."

Giving permanent residents a voice in local elections could help them feel more welcome and engaged in their communities, she said. And applying for ctizenship is more time, more money and more hoops to jump through. 

"And some people's nationality [makes it] much harder for them to become citizens," she adds.

Other cities agree

At least a few Canadian cities agree. Both Halifax and Toronto asked their provincial governments to change the rules, and the New Brunswick Commission on Electoral Reform recommended a change to their province's legislation.

So far, nothing has come of those requests. But Jones is hopeful: a few of the candidates running for a council seat in St. John's have been vocal about the issue.

This is my home and I care about what happens to it.- Philippa Jones

"Municipal elections affect everyone who lives here, not just citizens," said Maggie Burton, a candidate for councillor at large. "We want people who move here, even temporarily, to feel like they are part of the community."

Permanent residents won't need to worry if their ballots were soaked in the rain last week. (CBC)

There haven't been any official requests to change the rule in Newfoundland and Labrador, according to the Department of Municipal Affairs.

Jones hopes that if those candidates supporting a vote for permanent residents are elected, they keep their word and push for change.

"I really love St. John's and I want to invest my time here," she said. "I think that's something at the core of the reason why I want to be able to vote: this is my home and I care about what happens to it."