Provincial elections could undergo a dramatic change if a referendum on proportional representation passes next fall. (Black Press files)

‘Wait and see’: Abbotsford Council to revisit voting by permanent residents later

Non-citizen permanent residents can’t currently vote in municipal elections

A discussion about voting by non-citizen permanent residents in local elections will be left for another day, Abbotsford council decided this week.

Earlier this year, staff had been asked to bring the topic to council for discussion about allowing permanent residents to vote after the city received a letter from an interest group.

Permanent residents are people who have the right to stay in Canada in perpetuity, pay taxes and can access a variety of social services, but who have not yet gained citizenship and the political rights that come with being a citizen.

Mayor Henry Braun said he was initially surprised to learn that such residents can’t vote in municipal elections.

It turns out, though, that provincial law requires a person to be a citizen to vote in elections, including those to choose mayors and councillors. That also means cities themselves can’t give permanent residents the right to vote; only the province can do so.

Over the past year, several other municipalities have raised the issue and passed resolutions calling on the province to make such a change. The upcoming conference of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, at which local politicians from around the province gather, is set to discuss the topic and will vote on a resolution.

Because that meeting will take place later this week, council agreed with staff’s recommendations to set the issue aside until after the meeting.

“Given UBCM has a resolution dealing with this, there’s not much point in dealing with this because we need to know what happens at UBCM,” Braun said.

Coun. Ross Siemens agreed, adding that he could see arguments for and against the idea.

“I’m kind of a bit torn,” he said. “It is taxation without representation, but the flip side of that is why not become a citizen … I could be persuaded either way.”

Staff reported to council that the city has more than 35,000 permanent residents – nearly one-quarter of its total population. But that figure was drawn from census statistics on the number of residents who were not born in Canada and overstates the number of permanent residents reported in the 2016 census. After The News suggested the number was likely much lower, the city corrected the figure. The census shows 13,310 non-citizens live in Abbotsford. It’s unclear how many of them were permanent residents at the time of the census and how many held another residency status.

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