Latin community questions mayoral hopefuls about non-citizens’ voting rights

Karla Valenzuela went to a mayoral debate Wednesday night even though she can’t vote.

Her status as a permanent resident doesn’t give her a say in the upcoming municipal election. But she wanted to check out Toronto’s mayoral hopefuls anyway.

Valenzuela sat among other residents of the Latin American community at York Woods Public Library to hear the mayoral candidates discuss how they would deal with the issue of extending voting rights to permanent residents.

For Valenzuela, giving people a chance to share in the voting experience should be the easiest gesture Toronto offers.

“I think it’s very important for permanent residents to be given the right to vote,” she said. “They’re (the city) taking the money from them, so that’s the least they can do. We live here and everything that has to do with the city involves us as well.”

But candidate Rocco Rossi says the issue is not about permanent residents voting. Rather, it is about getting citizenship established earlier.

Rossi said there is no real hardship endured by a resident who can’t vote. Asking them to wait for citizenship is an appropriate request, he said.

If elected, Rossi will work to speed up the citizenship process instead.

Fay Gordon disagrees with Rossi. She has had Canadian citizenship for 33 years but says there was a lot going on politically that concerned her when she was just a permanent resident.

“At that time there were a lot of issues going on with a conservative politician who said all immigrants should go home,” Gordon said. “Everybody was worried that they couldn’t vote … they just couldn’t vote.”

She said immigrants do endure emotional hardship immigrants when they know there is nothing they can do about policies affecting the place they now call home.

Joe Pantalone and George Smitherman agree that extending this privilege to permanent residents who are contributing members of society is the right thing to do.

“It’s not a revolutionary idea: It happens in Sweden, it happens in the Netherlands,” Pantalone said. “If they pay taxes, and they do, what’s wrong with them having a say in the local schools, the local playground, local library, local street, local issues?” Rob Ford on the other hand, says the right to vote cannot be handed out unless the right to run for a political seat follows. He says having one right but not the other is not fair to anyone.

“I have no problem if people want to vote as long as their able to run also,” Ford said. “Right now we don’t have a level playing field so therefore I cannot support permanent residents voting.”

But it’s up to the province to address the issue, Ford said.