The North Bay City Council voted last night 8-2 in support of the right of permanent residents to vote in municipal and school board elections.
Letters will be sent to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, the appropriate ministries and Leader of the Opposition to request a change in provincial legislation. The move follows a similar motion by the City of Toronto, and other southern Ontario municipalities are examining the issue as well.
The vote was not an overnight sensation. It was the result of two years of work that culminated with a council presentation and six-minute video presentation that you can see here:[youtube height=”315″ width=”560″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il3hZVr53uw[/youtube]
The video and council presentation was broadcast live to the community on Cogeco TV. Produced by Canadore College student Chris Robinson for course credit, the video features well-known North Bay residents speaking passionately about the issue.
Throughout the evening, which I found rewarding, Mayor Al McDonald and Councillor Mike Anthony, who moved the motion, had very favourable comments about the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and its partnership with the city.
It was the end of a journey that began with a discussion led by Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) Executive Director Debbie Douglas at one of our OCASI board meetings two years ago.
While I am thrilled with the vote by North Bay City Council, I realize it doesn’t end there.
She spoke about the recent vote in favour by Toronto City Council and mentioned the work of Desmond Cole, who led the charge. On my drive back to North Bay after that OCASI meeting in Toronto, I thought, “Why not North Bay?”
We have a supportive mayor and I thought there would be enough council members that could be persuaded to support the initiative. Douglas got me in touch with Cole and he offered support and guidance the rest of the way.
While I am thrilled with the vote by North Bay City Council, I realize it doesn’t end there. The provincial government has to change the legislation to allow permanent residents to vote in municipal and school board elections. Municipalities do not have that power, as they are creatures of the province.
While North Bay is the first Northern Ontario municipality to support the initiative, there is support in a number of southern Ontario cities. Outside of Ontario, the City of Halifax passed a similar motion.
The movement is growing and is landing in the laps of provincial governments.
Preventing Voting is ‘Not Right’
The need for change is, in part, being fuelled by recent federal government changes that create barriers to Canadian citizenship. Increasing application fees from $400 to $630, increasing the residence requirements from three of the last four years to four of the last six and the processing backlog all add years to the process.
Changes to the citizenship test have made it harder to pass, with pass rates dropping from 83 per cent in 2011 to 73 per cent in 2012. Two of our staff members gave the test to a North Bay service club and half the members failed.
Opponents say that Canada offers dual citizenship, and so it does, but more than 50 countries do not, including two top source countries, China and India. That is a barrier for someone who, for example, needs to return to his/her source country to take care of a dying or sick relative for an extended period.
Preventing [permanent residents] from voting, as retired Nipissing University professor Bill Plumstead says in the video, is not moral, is not ethical, and is not right.
Opponents say that the change dilutes the value of Canadian citizenship. Our video points out that it strengthens the value, by providing a first step toward inclusion at the local level.
Permanent residents pay taxes, own homes, own businesses and employ people and have their children in school, but have no say on how their local taxes are spent. Enabling permanent residents to vote municipally, as a first step toward Canadian citizenship and full voting rights, is the smart thing to do to help newcomers integrate in to the community.
Preventing them from voting, as retired Nipissing University professor Bill Plumstead says in the video, is not moral, is not ethical, and is not right.
For more information go to http://cityvote.ca and get your municipality on board with this growing movement.
Don Curry is the Executive Director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, Co-Chair of the North Bay Newcomer Network Local Immigration Partnership Initiative and Northern region board member for OCASI. He is also a board member of Pathways to Prosperity, a national immigration research organization.