Renewed calls to let immigrants vote

Landed immigrants work and pay taxes here and rely on municipal services as much as other Haligonians. And if incumbent mayoral candidate Mike Savage has his way, they’ll be voting in the 2024 municipal election.

During last week’s mayoral forum, Savage returned to the idea of allowing permanent residents to vote. He first introduced this idea to the HRM Council in 2014. Most Councillors supported the idea but extending the vote is ultimately up to the provincial government. Savage wants Halifax to champion the idea.

“We have people that come to the city, who are employed, who own businesses, whose kids are in school, and they access our health care system,” he says. “They are citizens of every regard except they can’t vote in municipal elections… We need the province to allow us to do that.”

Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) CEO Jennifer Watts supported this idea when she was a Councillor (2008–2016). She believes that allowing landed immigrants to vote will bring needed new perspectives to government.

“It would be an amazing and significant recognition to people who are immigrants…to be able to have a vote in an election at the municipal level where there are things that directly impact them, their families and their extended community,” Watts says. “We see many permanent residents contribute to their workplace but also they’re volunteers with commitments, providing tremendous engagement, support, and contribution to our community, and have very valuable insight into what makes our communities strong, vibrant, and welcoming for everyone.”

With low voter turnouts in municipal elections, advocates hope adding more potential voters could bolster engagement. As permanent residents wait to do their democratic duty, ISANS is helping them prepare and understand the electoral process.

During federal elections, the organization’s language services team hosts mock elections where immigrants learn how to vote, including going over how to go to the booth, explaining ballots, and discussing the process’s secrecy. ISANS officials believe giving this opportunity to immigrants will instill more confidence in them to want to continue a long-term engagement by exercising their right to vote.

Watts believes the change would make Nova Scotia a more attractive place to settle permanently. Currently, many immigrants only stay in the city briefly, before moving west to larger cities.

“I think that would send a very strong message to immigrants when they are making decisions on where they want to live and settle in Canada,” she says. “When they hear that this community has made this type of commitment to have people voting in municipal elections…saying ‘we really value your opinions… You have a voice that will help us grow, that will help us be a better place, and one of the ways you can do that is by exercising your right to vote in the municipal election.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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