Can Immigrants Vote in Canada?

This is a question you must have asked. So, in an attempt to get an answer, you used your favorite search engine. Typing your exact question, you stumbled across this article. Therefore, you are now reading this article in front of a computer.

These may seem like boring details to mention. But, it tells many people (and probably yourself) a lot about your country’s type of government. You could do all of the things above freely. And, you can seek any information you need. You live in a democracy.

Besides recognizing the rights of citizens, governments become democratic for one reason. They allow citizens to vote.

Voting is probably not a very new idea for you. In fact, you may have participated in the elections of your country in the past. You understand that to vote is your way of contributing to your society.

You also understand this. Exercising your right to vote is your way of being heard by your government. It allows you (and other citizens) to have some control over what happens to your community and your country as a whole.

This is a right. And, you have it in your home country. But, will you have this same right to vote upon arriving in Canada? Good question!

Voting in Canada

The structure of the Canadian government is composed of three levels.

  • The federal tier is the national government.
  • The provincial or territorial level refers to the level of governance for each province.
  • Finally, the governance of cities and municipalities is at the local level of government.

During elections, Canadian citizens aged 18 and over are eligible to vote for officials in all three levels of the government.

Interestingly, Canada is one of a handful of countries that allow imprisoned people to cast their ballots. You heard it right! Prisoners could vote in federal elections regardless of their sentences.

Canadian citizens elect the members of parliament. A candidate wins a seat in the Canadian parliament by being elected by the highest number of people for a specific position. This makes it a little different from just winning via the popular vote.

For Federal elections, there are no residence requirements. Provinces may have residence requirements; you must have been a resident for a certain number of months before casting a vote. Read below for information about voting in provincial elections in Canada.

Voting in Provincial Elections in Canada

Voters need to be at least 18 years of age on the day of the election.  They also need to have lived in the province for at least 6 months before the day of the election.

The Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon require voters to live in the region for a year before election day. In New Brunswick, a voter just needs to reside in the province for 40 days before election day to be able to vote. Ontario has the most relaxed rules on residence. As soon as a voter moves here, he or she is immediately eligible to cast his or her ballot in the province.

According to Forbes, for the past 4 years until 2019, the number of immigrants and permanent residents had been increasing steadily. At the time of writing, there were 341,000 permanent residents in Canada that came to Canada in 2019. This also means, possibly, at least 341,000  additional taxpayers.

And, every year, Canada has as many as 341,000 permanent residents.

These 341,000 (and rising) people contribute to the prosperity and security of Canada. So, they should be allowed to participate in the political affairs of the country, correct?

To accurately answer this question, it might be helpful to clarify what is meant by the word “immigrant”.

Image Credit: VisaPlace.com

Who is an Immigrant?

So, how do we tell if someone is an immigrant? Statistics Canada defines an immigrant as a foreign-born resident of Canada. In other words, immigrants live (permanently or for a long period of time) and work in Canada, but are born overseas.

By definition, temporary workers on temporary permits are not immigrants. Nor are students who are in the country on their student visas.

Now, how does knowing this answer the question about voting? It is important to consider some legal issues. According to Canadian law, the right to participate in local, provincial and federal elections is reserved for Canadian citizens.

As you may already know, you can become a citizen by being a permanent resident first. Permanent residents become eligible for citizenship after a period of time and procedure.

Hence, there is a clear legal difference between a citizen and an immigrant. Citizens can vote. But, immigrants cannot. Even if the immigrants are “landed”.

What is a Landed Immigrant?

“Landed” immigration status is an older term for what we refer to today as permanent residency status. Simply put, a landed immigrant is what we now call a permanent resident.

Permanent residents live in one of the 10 provinces of Canada. They are born overseas and may access privileges such as health care, travel, banking, and study. They are also allowed to have employment.

They may also be refugees. Through Government programs for refugees, refugees could become permanent residents, and eventually, Canadian citizens.

Permanent residents, according to Canadian immigration law, share the same responsibilities as Canadian citizens such as paying taxes and following laws. They also share many of the citizens’ rights with some exceptions. One of the exceptions is voting or running for office.

Can “Landed Immigrants” Vote in Canada?

Now that the terms “immigrant” and “landed immigrant” have been clarified, we now have an answer to the question.

And, unfortunately, the answer is no. Only citizens could vote.

Before becoming one of the most culturally diverse countries today, Canada had a history of prohibiting Asian immigrants from voting.

In the years prior to 1947, Asians in the country could not participate in elections. It was only after 1947 that the Canadian parliament allowed Chinese Canadians and Japanese Canadians to vote. Immigrants of “Hindu” (used to refer to people from India regardless of their sect) background were given the same rights that year too. Living in Canada for as long as they have, they became citizens.

Opinions For Allowing Immigrants to Vote

The issue of allowing immigrants to vote has been the subject of much discussion for a number of years.

Some believe that non-citizens should be allowed to vote. As mentioned earlier, many permanent residents are workers and contribute to Canada. This makes them vital parts of Canadian society today. For their contributions, many think it is only fair to extend the right to vote to permanent residents without citizenship.

Many also feel the one-sidedness of the restriction. A person could be working and paying taxes but has no idea about how the money is spent.

Thought of this way, it does seem unfair. That is why this restriction on voting is deemed by some to be “unfair taxation”. It is unfair, lacking the benefit of being represented. 

Due to the increasing number of immigrants, Canada’s population is increasingly becoming more diverse. An increasing proportion of the population is being made up of immigrants.

This means that over time, immigrants might make up a large segment of Canada’s population. What if they were allowed to vote? Then, the votes would represent more of the country. Not just a small percentage of it. This is the view of some people.

Image Credit: fasken.com

Allowing immigrants to vote is allowing immigrants to participate in their communities more actively. Election Canada has an observation that supports this. After earning citizenship, the majority of immigrants participated in elections. This, to some, proves the willingness of foreign-born residents to vote and contribute in this way. Allowing immigrants to vote can make permanent residents feel more involved in the Canadian communities they are in.

For these reasons, the supporters of the non-citizen vote think that permanent residents should be eligible to vote.

Opinions Against the Non-Citizen Vote

However, there are others who disagree. For other people, only citizens should have the right to vote. Based on discussions from 2009 until the current day, this view could be narrowed down to three reasons.

The first reason seems to be related to status. Just like being a regular licensed driver in any province, it takes a long time to be a citizen in Canada. It actually takes as long as 4 years. This is a long time to wait. It is a long time between being a resident and being a citizen eligible to vote.

With this in mind, many view voting as the grand prize of citizenship. Indeed, if residents could vote, then what is the difference? How would the rights of a full-fledged citizen be different from the rights of a landed resident?

The issue of national security is also a consideration. Some people believe that non-citizen voting could pose a threat to Canada’s national security.

This is assumed. A non-citizen or permanent resident clearly does not have Canadian citizenship. He or she could still be a citizen elsewhere. Hence, this could give control of the government to foreigners. And, many Canadian citizens do not condone this.

Lastly, some people see the time between permanent residence and citizenship as an adjustment period. Immigrants are likely to have limited knowledge about the politics and leadership of Canada. The waiting time could be a chance for new residents to learn more about the politicians, the type of government, and the issues in Canada. This would help new residents in choosing who to elect.

As one columnist put it, “why should immigrants be able to vote if they will not stay long enough to become citizens?”

 So, granting citizenship to a newly-arrived immigrant is removing this opportunity to make more informed political decisions.

Meeting Halfway

As seen earlier, there are people with radical positions on the issues of immigration and voting. On the other hand, other people believe that there could be compromises.

These people acknowledge the difference between voting locally and voting federally. For these people, a halfway measure is possible after understanding this. The government could allow immigrants to vote. But, immigrants must only vote locally.

This means that they can only elect officials in their municipalities. They would still be prohibited from taking part in federal and provincial elections. So, under this scheme, immigrants could vote. Just not for officials at the provincial and federal levels of government.

This plan has one more benefit according to some. Again, the immigrant population in Canada is on the rise, as we speak. Allowing local voting for immigrants would allow more participation in elections.

Participating in local elections could serve as a “hands-on” practice for immigrants. This activity could let them try the process of voting in Canada prior to doing it on a larger scale after earning citizenship.

This idea has been in discussion for a long time since 2009. But, whether it happens or not has yet to be seen.

Right now, landed immigrants or permanent residents are still not eligible to vote in Canada.

Image Credit: nationalobserver.com

Can New Citizens Vote in Canada?

Now that we have established that immigrants cannot vote, what about newly-awarded citizens?

New citizens, because of their status, are eligible to vote. Generally, the minimum age for voting is 18 years of age on the day of the election. So, for instance, as a citizen, you are allowed to vote on the election day if you turned 18 the day before that.

As a new citizen, you may also want to take note of the residency requirements of your province. Once again, to reiterate, almost all provinces will require you to live there for at least 6 months before the day of the election.

This is not the case in some provinces. One year is the required length of stay in the provinces of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon. For the province of New Brunswick, you only need to stay for a little more than a month (40 days) to be eligible to vote in the province. You can immediately vote in the province of Ontario.

With more and more citizens joining the Canadian population, the government has been looking into the number of voters each election day. Despite the promising turnout of new citizens, there were some who did not vote. And, Elections Canada has identified some possible barriers to voting.

According to Elections Canada, there were the problems non-voters encountered:

1. Failure to register

Based on a survey done in 2015, many new Canadian voters were unable to vote in the 2011 elections. About 8% of the new voters said that they were not on the voter’s list.

The voter’s list or electors list is a list of people who could vote on the day of the election. You can only vote if your name is on the list. You will need a voter’s information card. It is a card with information about the place, time, and ways you could vote. It is recommended to register for this in advance.

You could also register to vote on the day of the election.

2. Language barrier

Many new Canadians are not fluent enough in English or French to understand some of the instructions during the day of the election. In 2011, it was found that 9% of new Canadians mainly spoke in their native languages.

This may be something worth thinking about. But, you are reading this article. Thus, you are probably fluent enough in English for voting!

3. Scheduling constraints

According to the same survey, 35% of new Canadians were unable to vote due to their work schedule. Many also said that they were hesitant to ask their employers for a day off on election day. Poll days are held on weekdays. So, this is a common reason.

What is less known is that according to the Canada Elections Act, employers must provide employees three consecutive hours to vote. These hours are paid time off.

4. A lack of interest in politics

This is not a very common reason among new voters in Canada. Yet, let’s be honest. Not everyone is interested in how the country is run. In fact, you may even be more concerned about work, family, and hockey.

It is ok! We will not judge! Canada doesn’t either.

Nonetheless, here is something to think about.

By being able to vote, you will have a right not all people within Canada have. You will have the unique privilege to do your part to make your new community and country better.

Think about it.

Illegal Voting

Image Credit: CTV News

In the earlier parts of the article, we went over the requirements for electors. Meeting these requirements makes a citizen eligible to vote.

In 2019, social media made eligible voters nervous. There were reports of permanent residents receiving voter cards in the mail. Once again, a Canadian voter card allows citizens to vote on a certain day and place.

Because of its purpose, only citizens are entitled to receive this. However, somehow, permanent residents got these cards by post.

To reiterate, Canadian citizens 18 and over are eligible to vote and can receive voter cards. So, the idea or possibility that even non-citizens are receiving these could create problems.

Elections Canada is an independent agency that oversees and registers eligible voters in the country. It is responsible for carrying out elections in different parts of the country.

As it turns out, prior to the actual act of voting, a representative asks a voter to sign a declaration. This declaration states that the voter’s information and eligibility are authentic. It is important to note that no voter actually needs to provide proof of citizenship. There is trust in the honesty of voters.

So, a possibility is that a non-citizen might vote using the card. And, if he or she is not fluent in English, the immigrant might unknowingly vote illegally.  Illegal voting is a crime. Offenders will be fined $20,000. And, the court may also impose a sentence of up to two years in jail.

There is another possible problem. It might give immigrants a bad image. Assuming that people will break laws if allowed, citizens might think that immigrants want to vote illegally. This could lead to some conflict between citizens and immigrants.

Fortunately, Elections Canada has systems in place to check for ineligible ballots. It does this with a database containing a master list of eligible voters. As a result, due to the efforts of Elections Canada, there have been no reports of illegal voting or voter fraud all over the country. So, you could worry less about the problems that were mentioned earlier.

Conclusion

The laws in any country could change after some time. And, the laws in Canada are no exception. However, at the time of writing, the government’s answer to whether immigrants could vote is a definitive “no”.

But, If this changes, we will update the content of this article.

In the course of reading this article, you must have imagined the length of time it would take between your residency status and getting citizenship in Canada. Many new citizens take their right to vote very seriously. You might even share the same feelings about voting.

Nevertheless, besides knowing your ineligibility to vote in Canada, there is another thing you could take away from this article. On a positive note, think of the information here as a call to your citizenship application.

Upon your arrival, make it your goal to stay in this beautiful and accommodating country. Stay here for as long as you want. Stay for as long as you need to. Do this, and your application will be approved in time. After this, you will now be a Canadian citizen.

And, voting in Canada will be your right!  

Choose Canada Magazine

Each member of our team at Choose Canada Magazine has been in Canada for over five years, and has helped dozens of people worldwide find their life in Canada.

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