Now that the election’s over, let’s talk about voting

This Op-Ed by Vancouver Foundation President Kevin McCort appeared in the Vancouver Sun on May 10th, 2017

How was it for you?

I don’t mean losing $50 in the office pool. Or celebrating/commiserating until dawn. Or waking up the next day to remember your candidate won or lost, against all expectations.

But the sheer satisfaction of voting. Being counted. Marking an X for democracy.

Having a voice in community feels right, doesn’t it? But 60,000 residents of Vancouver didn’t get that feeling, because they couldn’t vote. We think this matters when it comes to the 2018 municipal election.

Who are the people behind these lost votes?

They are your friends. Your neighbours. Your colleagues at work. They pay taxes to the city. They send their kids along with yours to the local school. And they take the same SkyTrain or bus as you to work everyday.

Permanent residents share the same responsibilities as citizens. They are immigrants who come to Canada as skilled workers, refugees, caregivers or are sponsored by family. To keep their residency status they must live here — and for a good chunk of time too.

But as Permanent Residents they can’t vote — even in municipal elections, when we decide how local government can make our communities more healthy, vibrant, and livable. At Vancouver Foundation, we believe this deserves a conversation.

The extension of voting rights has equalled progress in creating a more equitable society many times over. Pre-Confederation, only “property-owning” men could vote in Canada. Later this was extended to all men. Religion and race, nonetheless, often remained factors. At various times in various jurisdictions, Catholics, Jews, and Quakers were all denied the vote.

In B.C., residents of Chinese, Japanese and South Asian background won voting rights, only to lose them later (a situation that was not fully reversed until 1948). Most women did not win the right to vote in B.C. until 100 years ago. And perhaps most troubling of all, Indigenous communities did not fully win the right to vote, federally and provincially, until the 1960s.

So it’s important that we continue to ask: Who is still being left out?

In 2014, about 182,000 people voted in the City of Vancouver. But an estimated 60,000 Permanent Residents living here weren’t even given the chance. Those lost votes do more than disengage new residents from our communities. They represent a significant loss for a City that celebrates the benefits of inclusion, diversity, and multiculturalism everyday.

Whether it involves our parks, our classrooms, the state of our streets, or decisions about transit, it’s the loudest voices who often get heard. For Permanent Residents, having no voice at all can be more than disheartening. It means living every day with the same fiscal and social responsibilities as citizens — but without the ability to engage in the local issues and decision-making that shape all our lives.

We believe the responsibilities of permanent residency — finding work, paying taxes, sending kids to school, and getting involved in community — should count for something.

But it also stands for something.

Voting for city council or the school board inspires confidence and trust in a democratic system. It affords an equal opportunity to those who have chosen to make Vancouver their permanent home. It also ensures that local government is democratic and accountable to all its residents.

At Vancouver Foundation, we believe that all forms of civic engagement, including voting, are important.

We also believe in working alongside and learning from those most affected. In the coming months, our Fresh Voices Initiative, led by young immigrant and refugee leaders, will seek to start a conversation. Here are some of the things we’re asking: How do you create better pathways to civic engagement? How can you belong if you’re not included? What does it mean — and what does it take — to be “at home” in Vancouver?

We invite you to join the conversation on civic engagement and to learn more about the #LostVotesYVR campaign. As our city increasingly takes on global challenges, we need the commitment and energy of everyone who lives here to make a success of it. And we need our elected officials to be accountable to everyone who lives in the community they serve.

More than 45 countries have granted Permanent Residents some form of voting rights — including seven jurisdictions in the U.S. and 25 European Union countries. Here in Canada, 11 municipalities across the country are working toward extending local election voting rights to those with Permanent Resident status.

Let’s make Vancouver next on the list.

Did you know?

10 years after arriving in Canada, immigrants still face poverty rates twice as high as Canadian-born people. It takes 20 years for the poverty rates of immigrants to equalize with the poverty rates of persons born in Canada.

See more facts