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Andrea Reimer is the councillor championing the idea to allow permanent residents to vote in city elections.The Globe and Mail

Vancouver wants to allow permanent residents to vote in city elections − something that is permitted in dozens of countries but has yet to find acceptance in Canada.

City councillors voted unanimously this week to study whether to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, which would require legislative changes at the provincial level.

Andrea Reimer, the councillor who is championing the idea, said current voting requirements exclude a large subsection of the city’s population.

“There are tens of thousands of people in this city who have no ability to participate in an election,” she said. “Yet many of the permanent residents I’ve met exemplify active citizenship. These are people I feel could contribute greatly.”

No other Canadian city allows permanent residents to vote in local elections, although almost a dozen other city councils − including in Toronto and Hamilton − have passed similar motions.

There are about 60,000 permanent residents in Vancouver and about 360,000 in Toronto.

About 40 countries now allow such residents to vote in local elections, while New Zealand permits any immigrant who has been in the country for more than a year to vote even in national elections.

About a dozen cities in the United States, mostly in Maryland, allow non-citizens to vote in local elections.

Ms. Reimer said the public response she’s heard has been positive, but she acknowledges it’s unlikely such a change could happen before the municipal election scheduled for October. She said the provincial government would likely want to take a careful look at the idea first.

“It’s the kind of thing you would want to take some time to reflect on,” she said.

Communities Minister Selina Robinson has said only that the NDP government is “open to ideas that encourage people to engage in the democratic process.”

Ryerson University politics professor Myer Siemiatycki said the move to allow immigrants who haven’t achieved full citizenship yet to vote is one that is slowly gaining traction in Canada and around the world.

The idea started getting popular in Canada during the years of the federal Conservative government because the costs and complications to gaining citizenship increased significantly then, Prof. Siemiatycki said.

“The fact that more and more people were being excluded [from voting] played in to that,” he said.

Prof. Siemiatycki said that cities have typically allowed anyone who owns property and pays taxes in the city to vote, even if they don’t live there, so it makes no sense to exclude immigrants. “This would be an appropriate, 21st-century extension of democracy.”

Chris Friesen, the settlement-services director with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., said he believes extending voting rights to permanent residents would help integrate new immigrants.

“This is a powerful message: ’If you come to this city, we’re going to give you an opportunity to actively participate in a place you’re building your life in.’ ”

Justin Long, a Vancouver software developer who is a permanent resident after several years in the country, was skeptical. He was among many users who joined a sometimes heated social-media debate about the proposal.

“If we allow non-citizens to vote, you’re allowing people to vote who may not know our local laws and who might be susceptible to bad information,” Mr. Long, who came to Canada from the United States to attend university, said in an interview.

Daniella Fergusson, an urban planner who is a dual British and U.S. citizen, supported the idea.

“I’m someone who’s really passionate about the city,” Ms. Fergusson, who is also a volunteer member of the city’s planning commission, said in an interview. “It’s a little bit frustrating not to be able to cast my vote.”

Ms. Fergusson said she wants to retain her U.S. citizenship in order to be able to visit her father without worries about complications.

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