Poll shows Vancouverites mixed on giving vote to ‘permanent residents’

Interesting divergence. The other interesting aspect is that giving the right to vote to PRs as proposed has no minimum residency period (the administrative complexity of implementation would not be simple). (Note: the residency requirement is three years out of five, not two, as reported in the article).

I suspect that most recent Permanent Residents have more immediate needs than municipal voting rights that may explain the difference.

A majority of the residents polled in the cosmopolitan City of Vancouver appear to support giving permanent residents the right to vote in a civic election — but many immigrants are not so sure.

A new opinion poll conducted by Research Co. found 57 per cent of those questioned in the City of Vancouver either “strongly” or “moderately” favour giving the city’s permanent residents the right to vote in a municipal election.

The Canadian government defines a permanent resident as “someone who has been given permanent resident status by immigrating to Canada, but is not a Canadian citizen. Permanent residents are citizens of other countries.”

In a city of 630,000 that has one of the highest portions of foreign-born residents in the world, a sample of Vancouver’s 262,000 immigrants found only 48 per cent ready to give permanent residents the vote in October’s municipal election.

“The level of support for the change is higher among Vancouverites who were born in Canada than among those who acquired citizenship after immigrating from another country,” said Mario Canseco, the president of Research Co.

The company conducted the survey in response to Vancouver City council passing an early April motion by Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer, seconded by Mayor Gregor Robertson, calling on the B.C. government to “make the necessary changes” to make it the first city in Canada to allow permanent residents to vote.

The Research Co. poll revealed partisan political fault lines over whether roughly 60,000 permanent residents of the city should be able to vote. People who voted for the Non-Partisan Association’s mayoral candidate in 2014, Kirk LaPointe, were 14 percentage points less likely than those who backed Robertson to want to make it possible.

While Canseco found a slim majority of Vancouverites think it makes sense to give the vote to permanent residents “who may contribute to the city by working, living and paying taxes,” he determined the strongest pockets of support were among residents aged 18 to 34 (68 per cent), those who live in the East Side of Vancouver (62 per cent), women (58 per cent) and people of East Asian origin (60 per cent).

On the other hand, the Research Co. survey revealed 49 per cent of City of Vancouver residents expressed concern that allowing permanent residents to vote “sets a dangerous precedent, as foreigners who have not sworn allegiance to Canada would have a say in the formation of governments.”

The issue of civic voting rights arises against the backdrop of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals raising immigration levels and last October bringing in Bill C-6, which makes it easier for permanent residents to become citizens. They now need to spend only two years out of five physically present in Canada before being eligible for citizenship (compared to the previous requirement of four years out of six).

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussein also made it possible last year for permanent residents to spend a portion of the two years they are supposed to be physically present in Canada in a foreign land — either for work, to attend school or for family reasons.

Even though it is rare around the world for non-citizens to vote for any elected representatives, some of those who maintain it is a good thing argue that, since many non-permanent residents pay taxes, they have a right to determine how taxes are spent.

Proponents also say it’s better to offer the vote at a municipal level, since local politicians have no control over issues of national security and foreign policy.

On the other hand, the few dozen countries around the world that welcome immigrants normally require newcomers to prove in multiple ways they have a “meaningful connection” to their new homeland before granting the privilege to vote.

Since permanent residents in Canada are already free to engage in political activity, opponents of giving them a civic vote argue it’s relatively quick to become a citizen and people should wait for the privilege while learning an official language and the political complexities of their potential new homeland.

The 2016 Census shows the City of Vancouver contains 325,000 people who are non-immigrants and 262,000 “immigrants” (which includes those who are permanent residents).

Fifty-two per cent of the residents of the City of Vancouver are people of colour, (including 167,000 ethnic Chinese, 37,000 South Asians and 36,000 Filipinos). People of  European descent total 297,000 and Aboriginals 14,000.

According to the 2016 Census seven per cent of the residents of the city speak neither English nor French.

The Research Co. poll surveyed 400 adults in the City of Vancouver and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Source: Poll shows Vancouverites mixed on giving vote to ‘permanent residents’

Expatriate Voting: National and Municipal

Rob Vineberg and I did a further refinement of our arguments against unlimited voting rights for Canadian expatriates in the Vancouver Sun:

With the Supreme Court of Canada hearing the challenge to the current five-year limit on expatriate voting rights, advocates for expansion continue to date their case.

One common feature to such advocacy: a reliance on anecdotes and assertions, completely bereft of any serious effort to assess available data on the strength of connection to Canada.

Common arguments emphasize connections to Canada, a recent example being that of Frédéric Mégret of McGill University. Long-term expatriates “may decide to come back” but is this for family reasons or to access Canadian medicare? They “are, in fact, affected by the laws and policies of Canada” but this is largely limited given that they don’t access or are affected by government services and policies that apply to residents. “Many expatriates, even though they do not reside in Canada, do a considerable amount for Canada, directly or indirectly” but is silent that equally “many” do not. And in a theoretical sense, citizenship can be defined by “how committed one is to its ideals, how ready to give back and to invest in its political life?,” in a practical sense governments can only use crude proxy measures to assess the degree of connection to Canada.

So what do these proxy measures tell us? If we take the Asia Pacific Foundation’s estimate of the number of expatriates, and adjust by voting age and citizenship, we arrive at a baseline of just under two million. Looking at government data, we know that the number of expatriates holding valid Canadian passports is approximately 630,000 adult Canadians who have lived abroad for five years or more. We also know that the number of non-resident Canadian tax returns, a deeper measure of connection, was about 112,000 in 2015 (the last year for which information is available). And while hard to assess the potential interest of long-term Canadian expatriates in voting, the data for those who qualify under the current rules suggest there is not widespread demand (about 16,000 in the 2015 election) although this number may be depressed by the difficulty in meeting current registration requirements. These more formal indicators, albeit imperfect, suggest a smaller number of connected expatriates than some of the arguments would suggest.

An argument for unlimited voting rights means that any citizen who left Canada as a baby or small child would have unlimited voting rights. As such, the proposal disconnects voting from any experience of living in Canada, being subject to Canadian laws, accessing Canadian public services or paying Canadian taxes and thus devalues the votes of Canadians who do reside in Canada and are subject to these day-to-day realities of Canadian life.

Moreover, first generation Canadians born abroad, entitled to citizenship, would similarly be able to vote, irrespective of whether they had ever set foot in Canada.

The government has understandably chosen to await the Supreme Court decision on whether the current five-year limit is constitutional. However, it signalled its intent in Bill C-33, tabled more than a year ago, to support unlimited voting rights for expatriates. This is more generous than the practices of the UK, the USA, Australia and New Zealand, all of which impose significant conditions in order to qualify to vote abroad. While France, Italy and Portugal all allow expatriates to vote, they have established overseas constituencies in their legislatures. This prevents the will of the domestic electorate being changed by expatriate voting. In our view, residency matters.

While one can argue for a minimum of three years (as required to obtain citizenship), five years as in the current electoral rules, or some other number, citizenship is not just a theoretical construct of connection and commitment: it needs to include some measure of physical presence. The longer one has lived in Canada, the longer one should have the right to vote if living abroad. For example, if one has lived in Canada for 25 years or more, the right to vote abroad could be permanent while shorter periods of residence in Canada could entitle people to a shorter period of voting as an expatriate.

However the Supreme Court may rule on expatriate voting, the government will have to decide whether it continues to favour unlimited voting rights for expatriates or take a more measured approach to providing expanded voting rights for expatriates without the unintended consequence of diminishing the value the votes cast by Canadians resident in Canada.

Source: Andrew Griffith and Robert Vineberg: What should the voting rights of Canadian expatriates be? 

The related but distinct issue of municipal voting rights for Permanent Residents was subject to this cautionary editorial in the Vancouver Sun. In my opinion, enthusiasm for municipal voting rights is misplaced given that Canadian citizenship, which provides the full panoply of national, provincial and municipal voting rights, is to be preferred than partial rights.

Moreover, the arguments in favour of municipal voting rights are more valid in European countries with long residency period requirements compared to Canada’s three years:

About 250 years ago, colonists in New England rebelled against the Stamp Tax that Britain had imposed to recover the cost of defending the colonies during the Seven Years War. Their complaint was that the tax was illegal because they had no say in the matter. “No taxation without representation” not only became a popular bumper sticker, but ultimately led to the American Revolution.

Perhaps it was in the spirit of that principle that Vancouver city council this week unanimously passed a motion to ask the province to “make the necessary changes” to allow permanent residents to vote at the local level.

Vancouver has an estimated 60,000 permanent residents (based on 2011 statistics) — those who have gone through the immigration process but are not Canadian citizens. Permanent residents must live in Canada for two out five years to maintain their status. Although they work, own homes, pay taxes and are entitled to social benefits, including health care coverage and protection under Canadian law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they do not have the right to vote. The authors of that restriction had their reasons.

Coun. Andrea Reimer said extending the right to vote to permanent residents would advance Vancouver’s ability “to be a welcoming and inclusive city.” Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson added that “a local government … keen to do more engagement in our democracy is a good thing overall.” A few other municipalities, including Halifax and Toronto, have also asked their provincial governments to change the rules.

The argument that people who pay taxes should have the right to determine who is managing the money and implementing policies that affect them is compelling. Besides paying income, property and sales taxes, permanent residents are part of their communities, send their children to nearby schools, shop in local stores and put their garbage out for collection like everyone else. But if permanent residents are granted the right to vote in civic elections, why wouldn’t the same principles apply to federal and provincial elections? And if they do, what then is the value of citizenship? Is it nothing more than a passport and a guarantee against deportation?

Besides, the notion that permanent residents would rush out to exercise their newly acquired right to vote in civic elections might be wishful thinking. It seems more likely their voting patterns would mirror those of the population at large. Turnout for the last civic election in 2014 was 44 per cent, up from 34 per cent in the 2011 election. Engagement is not top of mind for a majority of Vancouver’s citizens.

Advocating for the vote for permanent residents is a feel-good initiative for city council, but the provincial government must consider the serious implications of such a move. Although many permanent residents have lived in Canada for a long time and know the ropes, many are newcomers, some from countries where social norms are quite different from Canada’s, particularly on matters of gender equality and free speech. Some may not appreciate the sanctity of the secret ballot or freedom from duress in casting a vote.

The provincial government should respond to the city’s request cautiously. Its deliberations will require all-party committee work and extensive debate, which probably cannot be completed on time to take effect before the October 20 civic election. Fortunately, Minister Robinson has not committed to having legislation in place before then. She should not rush the changes council has requested.

Source: Editorial: Take time to consider extending right to vote 

Action Canada: Barriers to Belonging Report and Municipal Voting

Attended the presentation of the Action Canada report 5 Feb (I had been one of the people consulted in its preparation)Citizenship and Selection).

Well attended, including the Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Arif Virani, who signalled the change and tone of the new government.

The one part of the report that I have a friendly disagreement with is the push for municipal voting.

The main arguments used – Permanent Residents use municipal services, pay taxes, live in the communities – apply also to provincial services (e.g., healthcare and education) and federal services (e.g., Service Canada and related employment programs). Comparisons with Europe are largely irrelevant given the barriers to or length to obtain citizenship in most European countries.

And I have never seen – readers to correct me – any convincing data or evidence on whether extending municipal voting to non-citizens will make a marked difference in voting participation or overall integration.

Recommendations as follows:

  1. Recognize and facilitate permanent immigration and citizenship acquisition as critical to nation building in selection, citizenship, settlement and integration policies. Avoid policies that risk leading to long-term residence without permanent status or citizenship.
  2. Factor the settlement and integration needs of immigrants into selection policy, alongside the long-term social and economic needs of the country.

Designing smarter services:

  1. Engage stakeholders to identify information gaps, design usable data formats, and create platforms for consolidating evidence on what works. Include, at a minimum, settlement service providers, and provincial and municipal governments.
  2. Create a $10M pay-for-success fund – about 1% of the total settlement and integration budget – focused on immigrant inclusion outcomes. This could be modeled on the UK DWP Innovation Fund.
  3. Expand eligibility criteria for settlement services.

Building Bridges to Employment

  1. Engage employers to develop demand-driven employment solutions.
  2. Work with small and medium-sized enterprise business support programs, accelerators, incubators and innovation hubs to create entrepreneurship training, mentorship, loan and venture capital programs targeted to recent immigrants.

Strengthening Political Engagement


  1. Amend provincial and territorial legislation to remove barriers to non-citizens voting in municipal elections, including school board elections.


  1. Remove barriers to non-citizens becoming members of municipal governance bodies.
  2. Publish an annual report card on the extent to which municipal governance bodies reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities should spearhead this initiative, alongside leading municipalities.

View Report


Let non-citizens vote in municipal elections: Editorial | Toronto Star

I don’t agree with The Star’s position.

Citizenship take-up should be encouraged and municipal voting for non-citizens may result in less incentive to become citizens. I have never seen any convincing evidence that municipal voting for Permanent Residents will significantly increase voter participation and visible minority representation.

The revisions to the Citizenship Act along with previous changes, making it harder for some visible minorities to become citizens, and with an overall decline in citizenship uptake, do however weaken the case against allowing non-citizen municipal voting:

Toronto Mayor John Tory doesn’t want people who aren’t Canadian citizens to vote in municipal elections. It’s a reasonable stand, but he should change his mind.

We did.

In 2005 the Star was firmly opposed to giving non-citizens the right to cast a municipal ballot, arguing that this was a well-intentioned proposal that would unfortunately dilute the privilege of citizenship.

Tory expressed similar sentiments this past week at a Ryerson City Building Institute forum organized to explore ways of bridging urban divides. Giving non-citizens the vote was suggested as a way to open up the democratic process and help more visible minority candidates win elected office.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie and Ajax Mayor Steve Parish welcomed the idea. But the Star’s David Rider reports that Tory expressed reservations, including doubt that this change could actually boost the diversity of municipal councils.

As far as getting more minority people elected, the reform is at least worth a try. Not much else has worked so far. But even beyond that, change is a matter of fairness. On this ground alone, the right to vote in municipal elections should be extended to all permanent residents — citizens and non-citizens alike.

It’s estimated that more than a quarter-million newcomers live, work and play in Toronto. They volunteer in support of local causes, send their children to local schools, pay local taxes, and support local businesses. Yet they’re barred from the ballot box, denying them a say in how this city is run, because they’re not Canadian citizens.

At least 40 other countries allow non-citizens to vote at the municipal level, and it’s time Toronto did too. The province would need to amend the Municipal Elections Act to bring this about and it would be a big help if Toronto’s mayor were a firm advocate of change.

Citizenship would remain a privilege associated with voting in federal and provincial elections. This would still be something special. It makes sense to set a lower requirement for voting at the municipal level, where the issues aren’t national security or foreign policy concerns but more mundane matters such as garbage collection, water bills, transit fares and whether the Gardiner Expressway is torn down.

Non-citizens have become a vital component of Canada’s largest city, helping to make it one of the most diverse places in the world. These people should no longer be written off on Election Day.

Let non-citizens vote in municipal elections: Editorial | Toronto Star.

Meet Toronto’s disenfranchised non-citizens

Further to my post on the declining number of immigrants taking up citizenship (Ottawa hiking citizenship fees for second time in a year | various), Myer Siemiatycki and Ratna Omidvar on how it plays out in Toronto and the links to poverty and precariousness:

Imagine a city the size of Halifax and then superimpose it onto the map of Toronto. Now imagine a wall surrounding that city state — a wall that divides its residents from the rest of the metropolis.

That’s perhaps the best way to think of the roughly 380,000 residents who live in Toronto who are without Canadian citizenship, says Myer Siemiatycki, professor of politics and the founding director of Ryerson University’s graduate program in immigration and settlement studies. And that number, from the 2006 Census, could be even higher today.

Some estimates suggest the number could be even higher if you include undocumented migrants, whose exact numbers are unknown. Some are foreign temporary workers; some are here on two-year work permits; some are live-in caregivers; many are permanent residents; others are refugee claimants. Some may one day achieve status or citizenship; others will remain underground eking out a living, always looking over their shoulder, perhaps not even able to speak English.

Critics say it’s a lost opportunity for them and for Toronto.

A deep divide separates non-citizens from most of the city’s residents, says Siemiatycki. They work here; pay property taxes; use the TTC. Their children go to school here; some use recreational facilities, community centres and libraries. But they are detached, disengaged, without a voice or a vote. Some are able to get only precarious or low-paying work. Many stay under the radar by working for cash and not paying taxes. Others live in constant fear of being deported. They pay for health care out of pocket.

“Imagine if you did not have papers,” says Ratna Omidvar, executive director of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. “Imagine if you could only work for cash. Imagine if you were always in fear that someone would come and get you. Imagine you’re paying a premium for rent … of course they’re disengaged. They can’t not be disengaged.”

Meet Toronto’s disenfranchised non-citizens | Toronto Star.

Permanent Resident Voting: A Movement on the Rise – But does it make sense?

I am not a fan of allowing Permanent Residents to vote although I understand the rationale of supporters.

We have enough problems encouraging citizens to vote and it remains to be seen whether Permanent Residents would have significantly greater interest in voting.

More significantly, there are relatively few differences between citizens and Permanent Residents in terms of rights, social programs and other benefits (and responsibilities) and to a certain extent, if Permanent Residents can vote, this may reduce the incentive to become citizens.

Of course, in the context of the new citizenship act making citizenship harder to acquire, this may increase pressure to allow municipal voting. The old argument about Canadian citizenship being relatively easy to acquire in a relatively short period of time applies less and less:

Finally, we must connect with and support groups who are currently engaging other critical advocacy for newcomers. Earlier this year, the city of Hamilton proclaimed itself a sanctuary city – in other words, the city committed to ensure that every resident, regardless of immigration status, has access to city services. It is no coincidence that a similar proclamation in Toronto preceded the successful motion on permanent resident voting. City Vote must situate itself within the broader movement to ensure newcomers have equal rights and opportunities in Canada.

Thankfully, the campaign has a history of strong partnerships within this larger newcomer-serving community. Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, a multi-service community hub in central Toronto, incubated the campaign in 2008 and helped it grow. Maytree has been supporting policy development and hosting forums on the issue since 2007. Groups as large as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and as small as warden Woods Community Centre have offered their time, energy and support. The foundation for growth is solid and diverse.

Permanent Resident Voting: A Movement on the Rise.

Higher immigrant population means lower municipal voter turnout: Study

Interesting analysis of municipal voting and immigrants and minorities in Toronto:

Siemiatycki said the top 10 wards in 2010 had average voter turnout at 56.8 per cent, with 36.3 per cent of their population being immigrants and 27.3 per cent being minorities.

In contrast, the bottom 10 had a turnout of just 44.6 per cent, with an average of 63 per cent and 62.7 per cent of their population being immigrants and minorities.

Siemiatycki attributed the low turnouts in wards with high immigrant and minority concentration to the nature of municipal elections, which are not guided by a party system like the provincial and federal elections.

“Municipal elections are confusing and it’s hard to wrap your head around because candidates have no open party affiliations. It’s more difficult for voters to identify with the candidates and what they stand for,” he explained.

“There is also the incumbent advantage in local elections. There are fewer immigrants and visible minorities elected municipally. People are less likely to vote if they are less likely to see themselves in the candidates.”

Higher immigrant population means lower municipal voter turnout: Study | Toronto Star.

A fast-food lesson: Voting should be by residency, not citizenship

I disagree. With citizenship relatively easy and quick to get in Canada (under 5 years), no reason to provide municipal voting rights as most other countries with municipal voting rights have longer citizenship eligibility periods (and arguably use this to reduce pressure for a more facilitative citizenship acquisition process).

A fast-food lesson: Voting should be by residency, not citizenship – The Globe and Mail.