Toronto Explores Municipal Voting for Non-Citizens

February 20th, 2013

Last month, Toronto City Council re-opened a discussion on the issue of municipal voting by non-citizens, joining cities like Dublin and Oslo where all residents have the right to cast their ballot at the local level and are actively encouraged to vote.

Indeed, Dublin’s city framework for integration makes voting rights the key to immigrant empowerment. In Oslo, non-citizens who have resided legally in Norway for three years have the right to vote in local elections, and Oslo’s City Hall has been used for citizenship ceremonies since the revision and expansion of the Citizen Act in 2006.

This is Toronto’s second attempt to bring non-citizen voting rights to public attention. A local councillor brought the surprise motion to give all permanent residents (according to the federal government) the right to vote in the 2014 municipal elections to the city council’s Community Development and Recreation Committee. The session included a panel presentation and the tabling of three new reports: the Toronto Newcomer Strategy, Undocumented Workers in Toronto, and Federal Changes in Immigration Legislation and Policy.

Extending voter rights is not a new idea. Fifteen European Union countries, such as Belgium, Denmark, Spain and the UK, permit EU and third-country nationals to vote in local or regional elections. New Zealand gives legal immigrants full voting rights in local and national elections after one year of residency.

Myer Siemiatycki, contributor to the Cities of Migration report,  Practice to Policy: Lessons from Local Leadership on Immigrant Integration (full report, pdf) , believes voting rights is critical to building an inclusive society:

“What exactly does Toronto (one of the world’s great immigrant cities) gain by preventing hundreds of thousands of immigrant residents from voting on municipal election day? We certainly know what is lost. A few years back, while visiting Toronto, Dublin’s Mayor Michael Conaghan was asked how immigrants there feel about being able to vote in that city’s elections before they become citizens of Ireland. He replied: “They like the idea of being asked for their vote. They feel a part of the city, and I think that’s important…I suppose they feel they’re not being dismissed.””

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