‘I Vote Toronto’ seeks a wider voice in civic elections

The project manager for a new campaign that would give all permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections says it will take the community’s help for it to pass.

Toronto boasts over 200,000 permanent residents. Should the province allow (it) the city would be the first in Canada to allow non Canadians residing in Toronto the right to vote in an election.

Desmond Cole, project manager for the I Vote Toronto campaign at the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, says that a community grassroots movement is needed to reach the Ontario government. Cole says that the campaign wants newcomer agencies to come on board.

“This is not an expensive process. The province will only look at it if it comes from the community,” Cole said.

“There are literally hundreds of newcomers serving agencies in Toronto,” he said. And we’re trying to mobilize all of them to get on board with this campaign, to talk to their local members of provincial parliament and city councillors… (About) 90 per cent of the people who live in Thorncliffe were not born in Canada.”

Coun. Janet Davis (Beaches-East York), a supporter of the campaign, says that all permanent residents need to have a say.

“It’s important that those residents have a voice in how the city is run and how their local representative is representing their interests,” Davis said.

The Ontario government has the authority to extend municipal voting rights to permanent residents. It would require amending the Municipal Elections Act.

Davis says that all residents have an interest in building the city and making it better and that voting is a way to do that. She says that the ability to vote would foster a sense of belonging.

“It’s important they don’t feel marginalized and alienated,” she said. “We’ve seen in European countries large blocks of the immigrant communities who become alienated from broader the community. We can’t let that happen here in Toronto.”

Proponents of I Vote Toronto say the City would only extend voting rights to landed immigrants and only in municipal elections.

Davis says that the City of Toronto is one of few to allow permanent residents to work on the Toronto Board of Education and other city agencies.

In September, the Maytree Foundation gave a grant to the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office to start I vote Toronto.

Cole said his group launched the campaign because Mayor David Miller’s

re-election gave the movement momentum.

“When he was talking about this, in the lead-up to the last election, a lot of the media started talking about it and a lot of the people in the community started talking about it,” he said.