Toronto councillors have revived the debate on giving non-citizens the vote in local elections, saying permanent residents who pay for city services deserve a say in city politics.
“We are a city of immigrants, and it’s not enough just to have it as a motto. We have to start acting that way,” said Davenport Councillor Ana Bailao, who called Thursday, Jan. 31, at a meeting of the community development and recreation committee for a report on the issue.
“Currently there is taxation without representation in this city,” said Josh Matlow of St. Paul’s, adding tongue in cheek he’s heard from a “persecuted” group in his midtown ward he said is interested in the municipal vote, Americans who are living in Toronto.
At the urging of York Centre Councillor Maria Augimeri, the committee directed staff to investigate whether it is possible to have permanent residents take part in Toronto’s 2014 election.
Bailao said she didn’t think that could happen, and Beaches-East York Councillor Janet Davis noted a campaign to extend the franchise to non-citizens failed during the last term of council, facing roadblocks such as a provincial government, which must approve the change and “just was not interested.”
David Miller, the city’s former mayor, and an advocacy group, I Vote Toronto, had supported giving permanent residents the vote.
“It worries me that we might lose a straight-up vote on this” at the current Toronto Council, Davis told the committee, but said it was important to raise the issue again.
All mayoral candidates should be asked for their views on it during the 2014 campaign, she added.
It’s thought at least 200,000 adult newcomers in Toronto could get the vote.
In 2009, Myer Siemiatycki, a Ryerson University professor, estimated 15.4 per cent of the city’s 2006 population fell into this category and warned neighbourhoods where 30 per cent or more adults are recent immigrants suffer from a resulting “lack of political voice.”
Voting by permanent residents is allowed in some U.S. cities and municipalities of some European countries, though minimum residency periods are required.
Compared with Canada, countries which offer non-citizen voting are ones where citizenship has been harder to get, but getting Canadian citizenship is becoming more difficult, said Audrey Macklin, a University of Toronto law professor.
The report is expect at the committee’s May meeting.
Councillors also received Toronto’s Newcomer Strategy, and were told the city has formed a “Newcomer Leadership Table” to monitor settlement and service delivery for immigrants in Toronto. More on the strategy and projects that proceeded it is at www.toronto.ca/newcomer