Toronto

Permanent residents want to vote in Toronto this fall, but there's little hope for electoral reform

Advocates of expanding the right to vote to many non-citizens don't expect support from Premier Doug Ford, who voted against that idea during his time on Toronto city council.

Advocates of expanding municipal voting to permanent residents don't expect support from Premier Ford

Chris Bateman has been living in Toronto since 2011, but because he's only a permanent resident, he can't cast a ballot yet again in this fall's municipal election. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

Chris Bateman is an expert on Toronto's history, but he can't vote on the city's future.

A 32-year-old writer and historian from England, Bateman has been living in Toronto since 2011. He helps produce the heritage plaques marking city landmarks. He works here, bikes here, dines here, and shops here, and he's even married to a Canadian.

But like some 400,000 Torontonians he's only a permanent resident, and that means Bateman won't be able to cast a ballot in this fall's municipal election.

"I pay taxes and I access city services and the decisions city council make have an effect on me on a very real, day-to-day basis," he told CBC Toronto. "And I don't really have a say on how that's done."

Currently, only Canadian citizens are allowed to vote in this city. Councillors voted to explore allowing permanent residents the opportunity to vote back in 2013 — something other municipalities like Vancouver and Halifax have pushed for as well — but so far Ontario hasn't changed its municipal elections act.

Those advocating for change say they see little hope from the recently-elected PC government of Doug Ford.

That means when Toronto residents head to the polls this October, a population roughly the size of London, Ont. won't be participating.

Residents should get a say in neighbourhood decisions, councillor says

Many electoral reform advocates, like Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, have been pushing for a mindset shift. On the campaign trail, she often meets residents with concerns about transit, daycare, and parks, who offer their input before revealing they can't vote. 

"They're not matters of national security," said Wong-Tam, herself an immigrant from Hong Kong. "They're really much at the neighbourhood level."

Changes are long overdue, says Ryerson University politics professor Myer Siemiatycki, because there's currently a "ludicrous" double-standard where people who own property here while living elsewhere can vote, while permanent residents actually living here can't.

"The kind of admission charge for having voting rights at the municipal level is paying property taxes, and these people pay property taxes," he said.

When Toronto residents head to the polls to vote in a new council this October, there's a population roughly the size of London, Ont. that won't be participating. (John Rieti/CBC)

Boston latest U.S. city to consider non-citizen voting

While no Canadian city currently allows permanent residents to vote municipally, dozens of other cities elsewhere are loosening those restrictions.

On Tuesday, for instance, Boston became the latest American city to consider allowing some non-citizens to vote for its city council — meaning it could one day follow other Massachusetts cities like Cambridge and Amherst, which have already extended the ability to vote, according to the Boston Globe.

But despite the growing push, advocates in Ontario worry the recent change to a PC government will further delay their cause. 

While he was a city councillor in 2013, Premier Doug Ford was among those opposed to asking the housing minister to amend the Municipal Elections Act. His spokesperson has not responded to CBC Toronto's request for comment on whether or not this is something the new provincial government will consider in the years ahead.

"Realistically, looking at the political climate in Ontario, I don't think this is something the premier is going to entertain," said Wong-Tam, who supported the council motion five years ago.

The narrow 21-20 vote highlighted the polarizing nature of expanding voting rights, with critics suggesting it could discourage people from pursuing citizenship. Ford's brother — the late former mayor Rob Ford — was one such outspoken critic of the efforts, saying at the time it "doesn't make sense" to have non-citizens casting a ballot.

Coun. Vincent Crisanti, who voted with the Fords, now says he's willing to have an open mind, but stressed that if cities allow permanent residents to vote, the provinces and the federal government should too.

"You should all have the same policy in respect to voting," he says.

Only Canadian citizens are allowed to vote for city councils in Ontario, according to the province's Municipal Elections Act. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Municipalities a 'unique' level of government

Siemiatycki disagrees, citing the direct impact of council decisions on residents' lives. Municipalities, he says, are a "different and unique order of government."

That's something Bateman feels every day.

While he's resigned himself to not voting municipally this fall, he believes the hundreds of dollars he spent and months-long application process he endured to become a permanent resident should qualify him for the opportunity while he's working toward getting his citizenship. 

Eventually, Bateman says he wants to have concrete political input on local issues like road safety and the city's Vision Zero efforts, since he now considers Toronto his home.

"I really would like to have my say," he says. "I think everyone who lives in Toronto wants to feel like they're represented at city council."

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

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