Yellowknife city councillors have formally endorsed MLA Rylund Johnson’s proposal for permanent residents to be given the power to vote in NWT municipal elections.
Johnson, the MLA for Yellowknife North, intends to introduce a bill this summer that – if passed – would enfranchise permanent residents in municipal elections across the territory.
The bill would also let communities decide if they want to use internet or telephone voting, or other technological advances.
Right now, the territory’s Local Authorities Elections Act doesn’t give individual NWT communities power over those things and doesn’t let permanent residents vote.
Johnson first raised his proposal with local councils last month.
Yellowknife formalized its support on Monday, passing a motion to endorse Johnson’s bill. Only Councillor Stacie Smith voted against the endorsement.
Smith noted some people felt permanent residents should be allowed to vote as they pay taxes and contribute to society, while the process of becoming a Canadian citizen “takes too long.”
Instead of allowing permanent residents to vote, Smith said the focus should be on “looking at why the process [of earning citizenship] takes so long.”
“I am opposed to this. These things have a ripple effect, in my opinion,” said Smith.
“It starts slowly floating up to your larger governments and it’s going to start changing our constitution, the way Canada acts.”
‘Fuller members of this community’
Other councillors, however, lined up to support the extension of voting rights to permanent residents.
“I think it’s been a long time coming,” said Councillor Steve Payne. “It’s a big night and I’m very happy to be a part of it.”
“I don’t think it takes anybody’s privileges away,” said Councillor Niels Konge. “I think allowing people … the option to support certain political stances at a municipal level really gets them engaged in our neighbourhood.
“That’s what we want. We want people in Yellowknife to be engaged, informed, to know what’s going on. I’m wholeheartedly behind this.”
Councillors Julian Morse and Cynthia Mufandaedza also spoke in support.
Councillor Shauna Morgan said: “The problem with saying [the citizenship process] needs to be fixed first is we don’t really have any control over immigration and citizenship processes – and I don’t have a great deal of hope that if the Yellowknife City Council tells the federal government to do something, anything would change.
“What we can do is make a decision within our own community to fully include people to fully participate in the things community members do.
“It doesn’t take away from the rights of Canadian citizens or the constitution. It just allows more people to become fuller members of this community, which I think is important, just, and about time.”
Johnson’s proposal met a frostier reception in Hay River last month, where town councillors largely opposed the idea of letting permanent residents vote. (Johnson’s bill, if passed, would let each community choose whether or not to do so.)
“I’m not necessarily in favour of monkeying around with voting rights,” said Councillor Brian Willows at the time.
“These are rights that are guaranteed to citizens of this country.”
Johnson now hopes to have his private member’s bill introduced in time for a vote in the legislature in June.
Correction: March 10, 2020 – 11:47 MT. This article initially stated that Rylund Johnson’s bill seeks to give communities the option of enfranchising permanent residents. In fact, Johnson subsequently said, his bill will seek to definitively enfranchise permanent residents in local elections across the territory rather than give communities the option. This article has been amended accordingly.