Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

I pay taxes, obey laws and give back to our province — but in this election I can't vote

Permanent residents contribute to the social, cultural and economic landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador, but we will not have a say on Thursday, writes Prajwala Dixit.

Permanent residents contribute in many ways, but we will not have a say on Thursday

With focus shifting to attract and retain immigrants, it becomes imperative that permanent residents have a say in who makes decisions for them and about them, writes Prajwala Dixit. (John Gushue/CBC)

Recently, my friend Sofia Descalzi posted a special picture on Facebook.

Alongside her Ecuadorian passport lay a piece of ID with her name in bold below the Government of Canada's logo. This wasn't any regular piece of plastic, it was her permanent resident card.

I knew the pride exuding through that post.

It was the same pride I had felt some years ago when I became a permanent resident of Canada. Sofia, like me, had successfully transitioned from an international student to a worker to a permanent resident — a process that has cost each of us close to $6,000-$7,000, years of our lives — and considerable emotional stress. 

The argument I often encounter is that the responsibilities of a citizen are far greater than that of a permanent resident.

I, much like the thousands of temporary and permanent residents calling Newfoundland and Labrador home, diligently continue to pay taxes, respecting all Canadian laws at the federal, provincial and municipal levels.

I contribute my time and energy, personally and professionally, to add to the social, cultural and economic landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Despite all of this however, for this election — I will not have a say. And sadly my story isn't an exception.

Of the total population in the province, nearly 10,000 people are not Canadian citizens. Of these, nearly 4,000 aren't permanent residents. That translates to roughly 6,000 permanent residents who won't have a say in who should represent them in the province's highest office.  

Sofia Descalzi, chairperson of CFS NL, spoke with CBC about post-secondary education funding after the 2019 provincial budget. (CBC)

Voting is belonging

Permanent resident voting has always been a touchy and tricky subject not just nationally but also internationally.

The argument I often encounter is that the responsibilities of a citizen are far greater than that of a permanent resident. I've seen many permanent residents actively engaged with their civic responsibilities that include "protecting and enjoying our heritage and environment" or "helping others in the community" — even before they become citizens on paper.

Often in other cases, the thought of a temporary or permanent resident criticizing the current system and advocating for change in their home, is viewed as audacious.

An unsaid sense of gratitude for whatever's being doled out is an expectation and a social norm that is a constant immigrant experience. The consequence of this sort of "othering" has direct impacts on the sense of belonging without which immigrants find it enormously difficult to stay, grow and thrive here.

Often in other cases, the thought of a temporary or permanent resident criticizing the current system and advocating for change in their home, is viewed as audacious.

Although a sensitive topic, non-citizens in different parts of the country and globe have a right to vote.

Sweden is one of 60 countries where many non-citizens can vote in their municipal and local elections.  

Last week, Prajwala Dixit took part in a conversation for our series Undecided, about immigrants who have made N.L. their home. Click the player to watch:

In our province, if one is a citizen, all they need to do is be a resident here for one day before polling and they can exercise their right to vote in provincial elections.

But for individuals like Sofia and me, who have resided in the province for years if not decades, paid their taxes and contributed to the social and cultural footprint of this province — there is no such option. 

Enfranchising the excluded

With focus shifting to attract and retain immigrants, it becomes imperative that permanent residents have a say in who makes decisions for them and about them.

In addition to promoting a sense of belonging, it amplifies the civic engagement of temporary and permanent residents (many of whom are fulfilling the responsibilities of being a citizen even before they become one on paper).     

Effective democratic institutions enable equitable expression of all voices.

The disenfranchisement of the individuals who pay their taxes, respectfully obey laws of the land and meaningfully contribute in more ways than one seems to go against the grain of democracy, and go against the grain of what this land stands for.     

As for Sofia, she begins a new journey this month.

She's leaving our province. When we chatted about her choice, she said, "I do think that having an opportunity to vote and entice politicians to create a platform that provides justice to immigrants and migrants would have made me reflect about my choice [to leave or stay]."

Election day in Newfoundland and Labrador is May 16. (CBC)

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Corrections

  • A prior version of this column had indicated that non-citizens of Sweden can vote in national elections. This is not correct.
    May 13, 2019 6:00 AM NT

About the Author

Prajwala Dixit

Contributor

Prajwala Dixit is an Indian-Canadian writer. An engineer, wife and mother, she resides in St. John's.