Every once in a while, an idea pops up that needs to be popped right back down.

Such is the idea that permanent residents of Canada be allowed to vote in municipal elections in the NWT.

That masterstroke of political thinking comes from Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson.

Now normally, what Yellowknife MLAs are thinking – at least those not in cabinet – doesn’t really concern us much. However, Johnson has written Hay River town council seeking a motion of support to two amendments to the Local Authorities Election Act that he intends to propose in the Legislative Assembly in June.

One amendment would allow online and telephone voting by municipalities, which is not that big of a deal.

However, the other amendment – the aforementioned voting rights for permanent residents – is most assuredly a big deal.

There was a lot of doubt on town council about the concept when it was discussed on Feb. 24, but members agreed to get more information from Johnson on his idea.

We wouldn’t have even asked for information. We would have rejected the idea out of hand, and suggested that a letter opposing voting rights for permanent residents be written to all MLAs.

Of course, we don’t have anything against permanent residents.

It’s just that they are not Canadian citizens. And only Canadian citizens have – and should have – the right to vote in this country.

Societies change and what were once considered untouchable rules often evolve with the times.

However, there should be some absolute core values that never change.

We believe that Canadians – and no one else – should elect their governments. That is such an obvious core value it is amazing that we even have to say it.

Not even service clubs – say the Rotary Club of Hay River Sunrise – would allow non-members to vote on club business. For Canadian governments, members of the voting club are Canadian citizens.

Permanent residents may live in Canada, but they probably wouldn’t call themselves Canadian just by the simple fact of residing in the country. By their very status, they are citizens of other countries.

We believe in inclusiveness as much as the next person. However, providing the vote to permanent residents would be inclusiveness gone a little bit nutty.

We don’t know why the Yellowknife North MLA is suggesting giving the right to vote in municipal elections to permanent residents. To be quite honest, we don’t really care about his reasoning.

There is absolutely nothing he can say that would make us believe it is a good idea.

Despite what some people might believe, we take the right to vote very seriously. (We say that because we upset a lot of people before the last federal election when we wrote that we were not going to vote because none of the party leaders deserved our support. But that’s another story.)

The right to vote is a precious and hard-won right. And in Canada, the right to vote belongs to Canadians.

Of course, there is one way that permanent residents can gain the right to vote in Canada without having to change territorial legislation, and more importantly not mess with voting rights.

They can become Canadian citizens.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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  1. Johnson is, first, trying to increase voter engagement in Yellowknife, where turnouts in municipal and territorial elections are often so low as to cast doubt on the legitimacy of those elected to make decisions. Voter turnout and engagement is generally less of a problem outside the capital, and that issue can and has been handled in the past by elected officials taking care to fully consult with constituents on decisions.

    He’s also, however, hoping to provide some small incentive for additional people to move to and remain in the NWT. The NWT population has been stagnant or declining for several years, and the GNWT’s federal formula financing is at least partly dependent on the number of people living here. More people mean more money for the GNWT – which is right now suffering from very tight finances with few resources of its own. The City of Yellowknife is also very concerned about a weak economy as the diamond mines wind down, and they are anxious to attract as many people as they can.

    However, it is controversial to apply this kind of measure either throughout the NWT or just in Yk, quite apart from the rights issue Paul raises. Either way, communities outside Yk and Indigenous people in Yk could see their political clout decreased, if the measure has the desired effect of drawing more non-Indigenous residents to Yellowknife.

    Personally, although I respect Mr. Johnson’s views, I think this measure is premature at best. Reconciliation means more than just saying nice things about each other. The NWT is overdue for serious consideration of how to permanently guarantee Indigenous peoples a voice in decision-making at all levels of government, regardless of their numbers in the population.

  2. You might want to rethink your headline, Paul. Voting is not “privilege” for citizens. It’s a fundamental right. How would you feel if a government had the power to suspend your access to the ballot box?