An idea to allow permanent residents of Canada to vote in municipal elections has received a cool reception at Hay River town council.
On Feb. 24, council discussed an email from Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, who is seeking a motion of support for a bill he plans to introduce during the June session of the Legislative Assembly.
The bill would make two amendments to the Local Authorities Election Act. Along with extending voting rights, it would allow local authorities to use online or telephone voting.
While the idea of online and telephone voting does not appear to be controversial, the same cannot be said about allowing permanent residents to vote in municipal elections.
Coun. Steve Anderson recalled his own experience as a permanent resident who became a Canadian citizen.
“When I came to Canada, I was a permanent resident and then I became a citizen three years later,” he said. “And that really gave me the option to vote. I was really proud to become a citizen so that I could vote.”
Anderson said he would lean towards leaving the voting rights as they are, meaning a person has to be a citizen to vote.
Coun. Linda Duford said she would hesitate before supporting the MLA’s idea.
“I think you need to become a citizen of Canada to vote,” she said.
Coun. Brian Willows said the request from the MLA raises a number of questions.
“I really don’t understand the intent,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s altruism or whether it’s political opportunism in the case of Yellowknife. I don’t know how this would affect or wouldn’t affect Hay River. I have no idea how many permanent residents we do or don’t have.”
Willows added he is not necessarily in favour of “monkeying around” with voting rights.
“I mean these are rights that are guaranteed to citizens of this country,” he said. “So I guess until I were to get some more answers to those various questions as to what the intent of all this is, I think it’s probably best to just put it off until we can have some more discussion and maybe get some more detail.”
Coun. Keith Dohey also questioned what prompted the idea from Johnson.
“That’s not to say that I’m necessarily dead set against it. It’s just that I think there are pros and cons,” said Dohey. “As a general rule, I feel like if you’re paying taxes in a municipality, you should probably have a say in who’s representing you.”
The councillor said the request for a motion of support needs more discussion.
Mayor Kandis Jameson suggested councillors forward their questions to her and she would send them to Johnson.