Grace Lin is a mother of two children who has lived in Ontario for 13 years. Her daughter is now studying at the University of Waterloo, and her son is 15 years old now.
Every election season, her voting-age family members can exercise their voting rights, but the 46-year-old permanent resident can’t.
“At first, I felt that it totally made no sense to me,” Lin said. “I mean, why? I pay taxes but I have no right to vote.
“But slowly, I found that I am fine with it, even though I knew there was room for improvement, as many European countries allow non-citizen residents to vote.”
Lin, who was based in Scarborough but recently moved to Midland, Ont., said the reason she didn’t choose to become a Canadian citizen is that her older parents still live in China. She said it is better for her to keep her Chinese passport because she needs to go back to China and take care of them every now and then.
Who can vote in Ontario?
The right to vote has been considered an indispensable part of engaging in politics in most countries. In 1982, suffrage became constitutionally protected in Canada. Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that this is the right of all citizens.
However, there are still limits on the non-citizen residents’ voting rights in Ontario. They are not allowed to vote either in a municipal election or a school board election, in a provincial election or a federal election.
In 2013, Toronto city councillors voted for extending permanent residents’ voting rights to engage in municipal elections, and Rob Ford, the late former mayor opposed the proposal. In the end, the result turned out in a 21-20 vote failed the motion.
In the first 10 months of 2021, Ontario embraced 154,005 new permanent residents, which accounts for almost 49.1 per cent of the total 313,880 new permanent residents in Canada.
This year, the 2022 Ontario general election campaign is in full swing in Toronto, a city with 2.7 million Torontonians. Among them, there are 728,410 non-citizen residents, according to Statistics Canada. This community, especially permanent residents, is still not eligible to vote in the election.
Can’t vote, but still engaged
Iris Chen, a third-year international student studying statistics at the University of Toronto Scarborough, says she is engaged in politics in spite of this limitation. (The reporter of this story is a student in the joint Journalism program between UTSC and Centennial College)
“For me, I am not a permanent resident or a citizen of Canada, but my aunt is a P.R. here,” Chen said in a phone interview. “I care about Canadian politics or this election just because I am kind of interested in it. Also, sometimes when I go to dinner at my aunt’s place, we will talk about it.”
One permanent resident said the conversation around allowing non-citizens to vote usually focuses on more local concerns rather than national issues.
“… Very often [it] has to do with questions about municipal local politics, including the school board,” Renan Levine, a professor in the political science department at the University of Toronto Scarborough said in a phone interview with Toronto Observer.
He said there are many parents who are non-citizen residents in Ontario, and their children are going to schools here. But, these families have no opportunity to voice their opinions and thoughts on education, which is provincially governed.
Levin said the perspectives and the demands from parents who are permanent residents for services like schools could promote more improvements in the future.
“If your kids go to those schools, shouldn’t you have an opportunity?” Levine said.