Bin Lin has to wait for eight years to cast her first vote in aToronto municipal election.
The 25-year-old landed in Canada as a permanent resident in 2006. Last July, she filed her application for citizenship, but will not get approved before April 2011. Therefore, she cannot vote municipally until the 2014 election.
“If I have a vote, I will try to learn more about the candidates and follow the election news,” Lin said.
Lin’s situation is not rare. According to Canada Statistics, the 2006 census counted 380,135 non-Canadian citizen residents in Toronto. They represent over 15 per cent of the city’s 2.5 million population. In other words, approximately one in seven Torontonians is not eligible to vote on Oct. 25. Myer Siemiatycki is a professor in the department of politics and publics administration at Ryerson University
“There are so many people who stay in this city, contribute to the city, don’t have a way of directly influencing this city through their votes,” he said.
Siemiatycki is a long-time advocator of extending voting rights to non-citizens at the municipal level. In his opinion, being a citizen should not determine whether people have a vote in the civic election. He said the election is about services immediately and directly related to where people live rather than about their loyalty to the country.
Among the five front-running Toronto mayoral candidates, Sarah Thomson and Joe Pantalone have openly supported extending voting right to non-citizens.
“I think the newcomers are keenly interested (in participating in our political life,)” said Pantalone, who is a immigrant from Italy. “The problem they have is that our society is not making it easier for them.”
He considers voting as an engagement and involvement process, by which people take root in Toronto and become integrated into the community.
In some of the city’s 140 neighbourhoods, non-citizens share as much as 30 per cent of the population. Those people cannot have a say in the matters of their local parks, public libraries and swimming pools.
Lin said that she’d like to see a candidate who will create more jobs and make preferential policies for immigrants. However, not every newcomer has the enthusiasm that Lin has.
“It’s just a game for the wealthy,” said Liyun Xu, a 27-year-old human sources worker who became a citizen three years ago. “My single vote cannot make any difference. Why bother?”
In recent civic elections, the voter turnout remained low, about 41 per cent in 2006. Siemiatycki suggested in a city such as Toronto, where half of the population was born outside Canada, the government should acknowledge these people and engage them in the political process at an early stage.
“We are arbitrarily excluding too many people from having the earlier opportunity to become familiar with our political system and fully participate,” he said. “And the municipal level is where we should begin (to change that).”