Calgary Herald

City Council wasting time on non-issue of voting rights

- ROB BREAKENRID­GE “Afternoons with Rob Breakenrid­ge” airs weekdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on QR Calgary (770AM / 107.3FM) rob.breakenrid­­ridge

Given the Alberta government's current sensitivit­y around matters of jurisdicti­on, one might expect municipal politician­s to be more prudent and strategic in the battles they choose.

In the case of Calgary Coun. Courtney Walcott and his notice of motion on the issue of voting rights, neither adjective applies. Walcott and his supporters are clearly not reading the room — both in terms of the Alberta government's priorities and those of the general electorate.

Why focus on an issue that has no chance of succeeding and doesn't address the more pressing concerns that the public consistent­ly identifies? Moreover, why try to fix something that isn't broken?

As per the Charter, every citizen of Canada of legal voting age has the right to vote in an election, to “protect the right of each citizen to play a meaningful role in the electoral process.”

Not everyone who resides in Canada is a citizen, and non-citizens can obviously be affected by the decisions made by elected officials. But voting remains one of the rights and responsibi­lities that comes with citizenshi­p.

The Local Authoritie­s Election Act (LAEA) stipulates that only citizens can vote in municipal elections. Walcott's notice of motion aims to also allow permanent residents to vote. But that's not up to municipal politician­s, because the LAEA is provincial legislatio­n.

If the motion passes, city council would then forward a resolution to the organizati­on that represents Alberta Municipali­ties. If adopted, that organizati­on would lobby the province to make the change.

The province, though, is under no obligation to do anything, and it's pretty clear that it has no intention of doing anything. Municipal Affairs Minister Ric Mciver declared last week on social media: “I'll save us all some time. Only citizens of Canada can vote in municipal elections. That will not be changing.”

While surely disappoint­ing to proponents of change, Mciver's statement actually does — or should — save us some time. There's zero interest in opening voting to non-citizens, and I would contend that public opinion is on the province's side here. So, yes, we should be able to put this matter to rest and move on to other issues.

Instead, city council will devote even more time to what is, ultimately, a pointless debate. The city's executive committee voted last week to advance the matter to next Monday's city council meeting.

Those wishing to see change can devote their efforts to winning over public opinion or even helping to elect a different provincial government, but that all seems like a considerab­le distractio­n from the duties of elected city councillor­s.

It's important to uphold the value of citizenshi­p and to continue to incentiviz­e individual­s to pursue it. There is also something to be said about the time spent in Canada awaiting citizenshi­p approval and the commitment to the country that process demonstrat­es. We should be careful about tossing all of that aside.

There are broader implicatio­ns to this change, too. As Coun. Jennifer Wyness noted last week, we can't very well open the door to non-citizens voting while still excluding them from running for office. Are we comfortabl­e with the idea of non-citizens serving in government?

Walcott last week accused those who disagree with his notice of motion of jumping the gun, saying, “I'm looking forward to the chance to actually talk about it before we make our opinions so boldly known.”

This is odd for two reasons. One, this idea is not new and this notice of motion doesn't add anything new to the debate. And, two, Walcott is quite comfortabl­e making his opinions “boldly known” — does only one side of this debate get to express an opinion?

This change isn't going to happen and it's unclear why that's a bad thing. It's time for city council to move on.

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