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Province says only Canadians can vote in civic elections, despite Calgary city council motion

Calgary City Council voted Tuesday to ask the province to explore allowing permanent residents to vote in civic elections, saying it wants to open up the conversation provincially.

On Tuesday, Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott put forward a notice of motion to ask Alberta Municipalities to work toward that aim. The motion passed 9-6, with councillors Dan McLean, Jennifer Wyness, Sean Chu, Sonya Sharp, Andre Chabot and Peter Demong voting against it.

Walcott told the council Tuesday that he moved the motion because he wants permanent residents to be engaged in their communities. He said the motion doesn’t mean the council is allowing non-citizens to vote but rather opens up the debate at the provincial level.

The motion will not carry immediate effect on civic elections, he said.

“For a long time people have said the ability to vote is an incentive for citizenship, but I would argue that being engaged in community is the incentive for citizenship,” he said. “Purely we are looking to engage more people on a local level.”

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Walcott also said permanent residents are currently being taxed without representation, and the change, if passed, will enable them to contribute fully.

“There are taxpayers who aren’t able to participate in the local elections … When you can get someone to engage in democracy at an early age or the earliest point possible, they end up becoming more civically engaged for the rest of their lives,” he said. “But the significant part of this whole argument has always been honouring the diversity of our local communities in a way that is reflective of the values we uphold here.”

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Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said permanent residents are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the motion is just opening up a conversation to challenge the status quo.

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“There was a time when women couldn’t vote, and it took someone challenging the status quo,” she said. “This is asking for a conversation, and if we’re afraid to have a conversation about how things will change, that is more worrisome for me than any outcome.”

Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot said while the province is allowed to amend the Local Authorities Elections Act to allow permanent residents to vote, the move will also allow permanent residents to run for office.

“I don’t know if we should go that far when the Canadian government actually doesn’t support that through the Canadian Charter. When they do, I’m happy to support it. At this point, I think it’s an exercise in futility when the minister has already expressed his opinion on it,” he told council on Tuesday.

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Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver shot down Walcott’s idea in an emailed statement on Wednesday and said only Canadian citizens can vote in civic elections. Alberta will not be changing this requirement, he said.

“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms the right of every Canadian citizen to vote and to run as a candidate. This right extends to voters in municipal, provincial and federal elections,” the statement read. “Protecting our democracy is of the utmost importance. Our provincial election legislation, like the Local Authorities Elections Act, has also been clear since its inception that voting is a right of Canadian citizens.”

Premier Danielle Smith said in a social media post on Wednesday that only Canadian citizens should be able to vote in federal, provincial and municipal elections.

“In my mind, only Canadian citizens should be able to vote in federal, provincial and municipal elections,” the post read. “Although we welcome people from around the world to work and live in Alberta, in order to vote, one must commit to Canadian citizenship. That’s how it works.”

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