There is a campaign afoot in Toronto to secure voting rights for permanent residents in municipal elections, but this initiative is both supported and opposed by prominent opinion makers. It is certainly beyond belief that anyone would argue in favour of undue restriction on the right to vote at the municipal and/or provincial or federal levels of government, given the much discussed and alarming development called the “democratic deficit”. Throughout the liberal capitalist democracies in the West, politicians, political scientists and others are worried about the falling participation rates in elections and the citizens’ concerns that these political systems are unresponsive to the needs and priorities of the people, especially for members of the working class or lower-income voters.
I am in strong agreement with providing permanent residents of Canada with the right to vote in municipal elections. In the city of Toronto, it is quite reasonable to assert that racialized residents do not experience full participation in the political governance of this level of government. Racialized residents make up 47 per cent of the people in Toronto but are only 7 per cent of the councillors. There are no racialized women politicians at City Hall.
It is quite possible that this gross political under-representation of racialized residents accounts for the fact the current politicians have not prioritized employment equity throughout the job classifications of the city’s workforce. Further, the absence of a City of Toronto mandatory requirement that contractors, who bid on public infrastructure projects present employment equity plans as a condition for contract work, may have something to do with the Whiteness and gender (mostly men) of the councillors. By opening up municipal voting to permanent residents, the City of Toronto may start to live up to its much celebrated motto, Diversity Our Strength.
However, allowing permanent residents to vote in municipal elections is necessary, but not sufficient to significantly increase participation in the local government elections and racial and gender diversity of the elected officials. We also need a proportional representation electoral system and the introduction of political parties into municipal politics. We may as well go for the whole hog (apologies to my vegetarian/vegan friends and fellow residents) while we are at it.