Open local vote rights to residents

When we market Toronto abroad and invite the world to our city, we always showcase our diversity. The theme of the 2015 Pan Am games is centred on capturing the diversity of the city.

A natural progression of a multicultural society like Toronto is the recent move by city council to extend voting rights to new immigrants who live in our city. This step is a no-brainer. Some immigrants have lived in Toronto their entire adult lives without becoming Canadian citizens. New immigrants nevertheless live and work in our communities, pay taxes, volunteer and contribute to their respective communities in countless ways. They often have children in our schools but they have little to no say in their children’s’ education at the ballot box.

Local government is the closest form of government to the people.  This is why I believe that municipal government should take on the role of teacher to immigrants when it comes to electoral participation.

City council also recently voted in support of a ranked ballot system for its own elections. This system would allow voters to rank candidates as first, second and third choices. would be. Those rankings would be counted, with last place choices cyclically dropped, until a victorious candidate emerges with at least half the vote. Machines would tabulate the ballots without the voter ever having to return to the ballot box. This system has already been adopted in some political parties in Canada when choosing a leader.

It has also been adopted in some European countries. The system is considered more democratic by some than our existing first-past-the-post-system.

If this system were to be implemented, then we would require some educational material for the electorate.Voting rights for new immigrants and the ranked ballot system, if implemented, would apply only to the city’s mayoralty and councillor races. It is my hope that if we make such changes to municipal voting, that we will also include school board elections. Many new immigrant families have multiple children in schools across the city and they, too, should have a voice at the ballot box.

Of course, I expect some readers to disagree with me and to take an opposing stance. I welcome such disagreement and I also encourage such readers to look at this as a coming together—as unity—rather than simply accepting the status quo. History routinely shows that the status quo is often divisive; it does not necessarily bring people together.

It seems to me that one of the questions that has not been addressed in these debates is whether a new immigrant should be allowed to run for public office at the level of local government. On this question, I remain open-minded but I continue to support allowing only Canadian citizens having the right to run for public office at all levels of government. In my view, immigrant voting rights is a first step in the right direction. The upshot is that it may very well lead to the acquisition of citizenship and, in turn, the right to run for public office.

Both proposals are being forwarded to Queen’s Park for its stamp of approval. It is my hope that the voice of the people—the elected officials at Toronto city hall—is respected and that these proposals will be approved.

I look forward to these changes, and I commend both Dave Meslin and Desmond Cole for their efforts which are excellent examples of citizens effecting change within their local government.