By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE
It would seem that Toronto Mayor David Miller does have some support in his quest to have landed immigrants given the vote in municipal elections. But, not as much as those who oppose him.
According to our online poll, and for some people with whom we have spoken, more people feel that only citizens should be allowed to vote in local elections, which is the position we took in last week’s editorial.
Miller’s position is that, with relatively low voter turnout in municipal elections – in which only citizens can vote – allowing the estimated thousands of Torontonians who are landed immigrants to cast ballots would increase voter turnout and more fairly reflect the makeup of the city.
One argument is that since all these people pay taxes, they should be able to share in the decision-making. Another is that this will be a sort of introduction to the political process and prepare them for further political involvement when they do become citizens – even encourage them to do so.
They also pay federal and provincial taxes – including the GST – but are not allowed to vote in those elections. It is their choice not to be able to share in the decision-making by not becoming citizens. And, who says if given the opportunity, they will vote anyway?
Why would someone who doesn’t even want to be a citizen want to vote? Citizenship says that one belongs.
Landed immigrants who qualify for citizenship but fail to apply for it are doing themselves and their children a huge disservice. In order to land a federal government job, one must be a Canadian citizen. Citizens also have access to Canadian consular services around the world and can vote in federal and provincial elections. If ever landed immigrants or their children run afoul of the law, the possibility strongly exists that they could be deported, even though they have lived most of their lives in this country. There are many heart-breaking stories of young adults being deported to countries they don’t know and with which they have little or no connection.
There obviously are good reasons why some people refuse to become Canadian citizens. One is articulated in a letter on this page by respected Toronto lawyer, Charles Roach. His is a position of conscience. He strongly believes that he cannot and should not have to swear allegiance to the Queen of England, her heirs and successors. That is a personal choice of principle for him and one with which no one should argue. He has spent a lifetime fighting to have the Constitution amended to allow people like himself to become citizens without having to swear allegiance to someone whom he does not recognize.
Why is Miller so keen on this issue? It is not as though he needs to shore up his support for the next election. So far, he has no serious competition that we are aware of.
In fact, at this point it is fair to say that most of the incumbent councillors will face no serious challenges come next election. That could change. We hope it does.
Does it mean that those who don’t vote don’t care? Or is it that they are satisfied – or fairly satisfied – with the way the city is being run?
There are two good reasons for voters to get worked up over an election. One is if we feel certain things we hold dear are being challenged, if our rights are being seriously eroded, if the government in power is seen to be supporting causes/issues/policies we deem to be detrimental to our well-being. The other, as we just saw in the United States with the election of President Barack Obama, is if those challenging for power present us with a dynamic new approach that is exciting and motivational.
That is not a reality in Canadian politics, at least not since Pierre Trudeau or even Brian Mulroney.
Another letter writer bemoans the fact that there are not enough visible minorities in government and suggests that allowing landed immigrants to vote could change that.
Maybe. But they will still need candidates who could inspire and engage them. We need good people to step up and throw their hats in the ring.
Without which, even giving the vote to landed immigrants would make little or no difference.