By TOM GODFREY
Thousands of non-citizens living in Toronto will not be allowed to vote in October’s municipal elections and may have to wait four more years, some Toronto councillors warn.
City Council have been trying for almost a year to force the Ontario government to amend laws to allow to vote as many as 300,000 permanent residents, who have been living and paying taxes in Toronto for years but have not taken out citizenship.
Only Canadian citizens are allowed to vote in municipal, provincial and federal elections.
“It is a shame,” said Councillor Anthony Perruzza. “These are good people who pay taxes and are not allowed to have a say because they need to be citizens.”
Perruzza is chair of a Community Development and Recreation Committee that last week heard recommendations to create a Toronto Newcomer Strategy, which includes the voting issue and other initiatives.
The meeting was adjourned until next month.
Perruzza said in his Ward 8 riding of York West there are many immigrants who have been in Canada for decades but have never sworn the Oath.
“These people have lived here for years and have not taken out citizenship for whatever reasons,” he told Share last week. “They are law-abiding people who should be given a chance to vote.”
Councillor Joe Mihevc helped to draft a request by the City in June 2013 to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to amend legislations to enable the non-citizens to vote.
“I feel optimistic because it is a proposal whose time has come,” Mihevc told Share. “It is entry-level voting for many people to get involved in the community.”
Mihevc said the decision will affect up to 300,000 people who have resettled here from across the world.
“This is a great strategy for new immigrants to become part of the community,” he said. “It is a way of saying that you are invited into our community.”
He said permanent residents are allowed to vote in Chicago, San Francisco and other U.S. cities.
The strategy will enable Toronto to become a signatory of an Integrating Cities Charter; host a Newcomer Day and Fair; an immigrant anti-rumour campaign and provide annual updates.
“This is all about inclusion and making people feel welcomed and it gives them empowerment,” Mihevc said. “Newcomers are good for the city and good for the economy.”
He said most newcomers work hard, pay taxes and later sponsor their families here.
May Nazar, an aide to Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro, told Share the government reviews the Municipal Elections Act after every municipal election, and requests will not be considered again before the next vote in 2018.
City officials said the province can give Toronto stand-alone rights to add permanent residents to its voting registry, or grant the rights to other municipalities if they make a request.
This year Canada will accept between 240,000 and 265,000 permanent residents and up to 100,000 of them may eventually settle in the Toronto area.
More than 60 per cent of all immigrants to Canada settle in Toronto, where one of every second person is born outside the country.