By Doug Hallett
Mayor Karen Farbridge wants Guelph city council to push for permanent residents to be allowed to vote in municipal elections.
Farbridge said that she plans to bring forward a memo to council’s governance committee seeking council’s consideration of the matter. She wants Guelph to join Toronto, which last year voted to ask the province to amend legislation to permit voting by permanent residents in municipal elections in Ontario.
Permanent resident status is a federal designation granted to legal immigrants who have not yet become citizens.
It could increase the number of people voting in civic elections, and that’s a factor, “but I am primarily driven by the principles of fairness and inclusivity,” Farbridge said in an email to the Tribune on Wednesday.
In an entry on her city hall blog Tuesday, Farbridge made a case for permanent residents voting in civic elections, along with citizens.
“Immigrants raise families and send their children to schools. Immigrants work for local businesses and own businesses. Immigrants contribute to community life in many ways,” she wrote.
“And they pay municipal and education property taxes and user fees. So why can’t they vote in the municipal election?”
However, Farbridge conceded public opinion is divided on whether non-citizens should be allowed to vote. “The argument against allowing permanent residents to vote is founded on the belief that they should become a Canadian citizen first,” she wrote.
Kitchener is also looking at the issue after a report commissioned by the city suggested Kitchener join the Toronto-led initiative, as a way of boosting the number of people who vote in Kitchener’s civic elections.
If the province agrees to the request, the change could not occur until the 2018 municipal election, Farbridge said, in order to allow time for public education and the required changes to legislation.
Asked if she thinks permanent residents should also be able to vote in provincial and federal elections, Farbridge told the Tribune she’s focusing on her own level of government.
“Voting in the federal and provincial elections may have different considerations and is for those levels of government to contemplate,” she said in the email sent Wednesday in response to a Tribune query. “I am focusing on the level of government in which I work.”
In her blog entry, Farbridge said she is “proud of the way our community embraces diversity.”
She cited the local Multicultural Festival as well as the work done by the Local Immigration Partnership in helping newcomers settle into Guelph and integrate into the workforce. Also, “when there is an act of intolerance in our community, we are quick to speak out,” she said.
“These are just some of the ways our community embraces and celebrates diversity,” Farbridge said. “We recognize that inclusivity makes us a healthier and more prosperous city.”
By Doug Hallett