By Ryan Job – Projector Politics columnist
If you can vote in the federal election on Oct. 21, it’s because you’re a Canadian citizen. Not a citizen? No vote.
This is outdated. Permanent residents should be at the polls, too.
In North America, voting without citizenship is practically unheard of. But places like Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Belgium, Iceland, Finland, Ireland, and South Korea — some of the most successful countries on Earth — have all given the vote to non-citizens. It’s a heck of a precedent.
Think about it: By definition, permanent residents have chosen to live here permanently. Their children go to Canadian schools, but they don’t get a say in their education through school board elections. They pay income, sales, and property taxes to governments they don’t elect. They’ll be affected by government decisions long-term, but they have no political say.
And it’s not always as simple as waiting for citizenship. Many countries severely restrict dual citizenship or disallow it completely. This leaves people disenfranchised if they don’t want to renounce the citizenship of their birth.
In countries where non-citizens can vote, the requirements vary, and so do the elections they can vote in.
People living in the Netherlands can vote in municipal elections after five years; in Finland, that’s two years. The most generous policy belongs to New Zealand, where anyone can vote in any election — even national ones — after just one year.
The only country mentioned above that requires permanent residency to vote is South Korea. The rest allow any resident to vote within a matter of years.
In other words, allowing permanent residents to vote isn’t so radical.
Some opponents say it’s a matter of incentive. Why would an immigrant who already has the vote want to become a Canadian citizen?
For one, the non-citizen vote could be limited to municipal elections. This way, people get a say on essential local issues — transit, schools, garbage collection, and emergency services — but would still need to naturalize to participate fully.
Citizenship also has many benefits beyond the vote. It turns living and working in Canada from a privilege into a right — one that no one can take away. It ensures children of citizens have the same status as their parents, no matter where they’re born. Canada’s passport is also tied for the sixth most powerful in the world, according to the Henley Passport Index.
Giving people a say in their communities isn’t going to keep them from becoming Canadian.
By and large, permanent residents already love Canada. Many will live here for the rest of their lives. They contribute to their communities and to government coffers. Government decisions affect them just as much as they do the rest of us. Not all of them can become citizens, but they all deserve a say.
Permanent residents should be able to vote: