An interesting controversy is brewing in Toronto at the moment. Actually it's been simmering away for more than three years: Mayor David Miller pledged during his campaign that he would seek the local franchise for an estimated more than a quarter-million permanent residents (formerly known as landed immigrants) living in the city. They should, he said, have the right to take part in city council and school board elections. He reiterated his pledge this past Wednesday.
Quite an impressive campaign in favour has arisen. My instincts are to support it, especially after reading this snide editorial comment by--predictably--the National Post. Some pros and cons may be found here. I think the "no taxation without representation" argument trumps a lot of others. But there are more.
What does it mean to be a citizen? Is it a mere formality, a certificate issued to people who have met the minimum residency requirement--and then beetle off to live in another country? (An estimated 2.7 million Canadians live abroad at the moment, a truly astounding figure.) Or does it mean participation--in our neighbourhoods, our communities, and our country?
What does such participation entail, though? The apathy of the Canadian electorate is notorious. And immigrant voting patterns are a complex matter; for example, foreign-born members of visible minorities participate to a greater degree than Canadian-born members. What does that tell us about the real, as opposed to the formal, matter of citizenship?
To me, being able to vote for those who run your city and those who oversee your child's education makes perfect sense. In fact the original meaning of the word "citizen" was simply "an inhabitant of a city." The objections to extending the vote strike me as facile and dogmatic. Citizenship is a form of recognition that one is a fully-fledged member of the community. What better way to become so than getting civically involved?
Think of this as an apprenticeship, a kind of citizenship training. Won't it help to make better citizens in the long run? I can see no harm whatever in the proposal, and the possibility, at least, of much good. Comments, as always, are welcome.