The City of Victoria’s motion for permanent residents to gain the right to vote in municipal elections is picking up speed.
The motion was approved at the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities meeting on Saturday and will now be brought forward to the Union of B.C. Municipalities at the meeting this fall.
If passed, it will be presented to the province.
Those who have immigrated to Canada but haven’t yet become Canadian citizens are considered to have permanent resident status. The process of obtaining citizenship can take up to 10 years and currently residents have no voting rights during that time.
A 2016 census of the Capital Regional District shows 7,885 immigrants arrived in Greater Victoria between 2011 and 2016 – with 2,570 choosing to live in Victoria.
Victoria Coun. Sharmarke Dubow has been an avid advocate for the motion, spending a number of years in Canada as a permanent resident himself.
“Immigrants are all across the political spectrum — they participate in every aspect of civic life and yet are excluded from voting for the very people who make those decisions,” he said. “It just makes sense to allow permanent residents to vote in municipal elections and engage them earlier.”
Originally fleeing the war in Somalia at eight-years-old, Dubow wouldn’t call Canada home until 2012, and even then, it was another five years before he was a full Canadian citizen.
“The application for citizenship is very complex. It is a very lengthy process,” Dubow said. “So people will lose [the chance to vote in] at least one election or two elections.”
Dubow said allowing permanent residents to vote will increase civic engagement and sense of community.
“They live here, they work here, they volunteer, they raise their kids and pay taxes,” he said. “They are valuable members of our city but despite their contributions, they are left without a voice.”
We should allow Permanent Residents to vote in the municipal elections and change the rules for them. This is not a threat or weakening the national citizenship. It would promote participation and engagement. They would participate, vote, and follow municipal issues. 3/5 #yyjpoli
— Sharmarke Dubow (@deardubow) April 11, 2019
And allowing new residents to vote would promote participation and engagement, Dubow said, so they will be more inclined to vote in provincial and federal elections after obtaining full Canadian citizenship.
The motion, brought forward to the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities on the weekend, says there are at least 11 other Canadian municipalities working toward extending local election voting rights to permanent residents, including Vancouver.
When the motion was discussed by Victoria council in February, Coun. Geoff Young was the only vote against it – and was the loudest voice of opposition in the chambers.
“Why are our requirements less restrictive than other forms of government?” he asked at the time, explaining his concerns with permanent residents’ understanding of English and commitment to Canada.
But the motion still passed seven-to-one and was taken to the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities, where it was again supported.
And Dubow said Saturday’s vote shows political pressure is mounting.
“These are people who live here and have families here and they are contributing every day to our communities,” he said. “Hopefully this will start a movement … it will send a strong signal to the government.”