Guest Blog

Who Votes Matters

Nov 18, 2011 | ,

Written by Jehad Aliweiwi & Leo Zuniga, Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office.

Who runs and gets elected is an important indicator of inclusion in our society. And while the just published DiverseCity Counts 4 report, The Diversity Gap: The Electoral Under-Representation of Visible Minorities, identifies actions that might help visible minorities bridge the supply side, there may be further opportunities on the demand side.

Who votes might be just as important.

Professor Myer Siemiatycki’s report finds that while visible minorities make up 40% of the population in the Greater Toronto Area, at all levels of government their elected representation stands at 11%. Provincially the number is 26%, while at the local level, only 7% of all city councillors in the GTA are visible minorities.

It is at the local level where the greatest barriers to representation lie. Perhaps redefining the voter base is one tool for removing that barrier.

Expanding municipal voting rights

I Vote Toronto logoFor several years, advocates have been calling for a local vote for permanent residents at the municipal level in Toronto. In any given City of Toronto election, for example, 200,000 permanent residents are excluded. These city residents, having attained permanent residency status, have long planned to make Canada their home, and indeed, within ten years, close to 90% of them will be Canadian citizens.

Efforts to expand municipal voting rights have new life now that a legal front has been opened by Scott Bernstein, a U.S. born lawyer claiming that the section of the Vancouver City Charter that bars non-citizens from voting is unconstitutional. As Bernstein and Ontario advocates argue, they are excluded from having a political voice with the order of government that provides direct service to them and their families.

The municipal franchise has a unique history when compared with the provincial and federal levels. It evolved from land ownership, and here the argument of taxation being accompanied by representation can be most easily made. It makes sense to look at whether the franchise should evolve with changing times in what is one of the world’s most global regions.

To expand the franchise would level a playing field in relation to local government. While nonresident property owners can vote in municipal elections, permanent residents are excluded. And while nonresident property owners (including those who are not parents) can vote in school board elections, non-citizen parents cannot elect their school board trustee.

Municipal government is, according to Professor Siemiatycki, the government that should be closest to the people. The people in our city region are increasingly born outside of Canada. To make the local level truly representative of those people that make up our communities, these Canadians in the making might require a say at the ballot box.

We can emulate other successes in the U.S. and Ireland. And this change may very well be one way to close the diversity gap.

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