Why permanent residents should be given the right to vote in municipal elections

Granting voting rights can give a say to non-residents


In early April, the idea of granting voting rights to permanent residents resurfaced as Montreal heads for their municipal elections.

The idea has sparked a never-ending debate that hasn’t only surfaced in Montreal but also in Halifax, the Northwest Territories communities, and New Brunswick.

In this day and age, I say it’s finally time to update our old existing laws and make a change.

Permanent residents are immigrants with granted status to live and reside in Canada but are not Canadian citizens. They need to accumulate at least three years in Canada within the five-year span from the issuance of their status before they can apply for citizenship. They receive the same benefits as citizens, such as healthcare and protection under the Canadian Constitution.

However, they are not allowed to vote or run for political office and assume jobs with high-security clearance.

While Canada is known as the “land of the immigrants,” it is only now that the voices of permanent residents are being heard, especially in regards to politics.

As a permanent resident myself, the news about Montreal intending to grant voting rights to non-citizens appealed to me. It takes me back to the local elections last year, where ballots were sent through mail.

We got one, but we are not allowed to even write on it. I felt like we were excluded for having a say with our local leaders. We live, work, and pay taxes year after year, but we do not have the right to make sure that our contributions are in good hands.

It makes one disillusioned with how cities are being governed by their local and provincial governments.

The possible change in Montreal gives a glimpse of a new era waiting to happen. It is not that immigrants are greedy, but it is more of the social acceptance, inclusivity, and the better representation of various groups in this country.

It is having the opportunity to be heard through casting a vote.

Imagine the big chunk of votes lost in local elections. Hundreds of thousands of permanent residents, including those who would be qualified voters, comprise a significant percentage of Montreal’s population, and about 21.5 per cent of the total Canadian population with roughly eight million permanent residents are living across different provinces, based on the 2019 statistics. With the continuous rise of the country’s immigration rate than any other in the world, granting voting rights could entice and attract immigrants to stay and contribute to Canada’s demographic and workforce.

Opposing views also present valid arguments as to why permanent residents should not get the right to vote. Aside from those who say the issue needs further studies and consideration, some believe voting rights should be granted for “guaranteed” citizens.

Councillor Brian Willows from Hay River in the Northwest Territories believes that the right to vote can become a motivation for permanent residents to ensure citizenship.

With this in consideration, a good approach would be to grant permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections only, and Canadian citizens in all municipal, provincial, and federal elections. Another suggestion is that permanent residents could be allowed to vote if they lived in Canada for 18 to 24 months instead of Montreal’s proposition of “at least 12 months.”

Other provinces, such as New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories, are making a move towards letting permanent residents vote in municipal elections, but we cannot expect it to be within reach just yet.