Immigrants and refugees who've lived in the city for six months but do not hold Canadian citizenship should have the right to vote in future civic elections, mayoral challenger Kaj Hasselriis said yesterday, as nominations for this year's election closed.
Under current election rules, the civic vote is open only to Winnipeggers 18 or older who've lived in the city for six months and hold Canadian citizenship.
Hasselriis wants city council to lobby the province to strike the last requirement to allow an estimated 10,000 adult immigrants and refugees who use city services to have a say in the way they're delivered.
"Someone who moves here from Halifax or Whitehorse can live here for six months and vote, so why not someone who moves here from another country?" asked Hasselriis at a press conference, flanked by immigrants from Colombia, Germany, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
"We should be enfranchising as many people as possible who contribute to our society. It's very important we do it in Winnipeg first. We can be groundbreakers."
Right now, there are no Canadian cities that allow non-citizens to vote, though U.S. cities such as Chicago and Washington are debating the issue, Hasselriis said.
University of Manitoba law professor Debra Parkes, who came up with the vote-extension idea, said on paper, there is no legal obstacle at any level of government.
Any changes to voter eligibility in the city must be approved by the province, which sets the rules for voting in all Manitoba municipalities. Electoral changes typically take years to wind their way through council and legislature.
But a provincial government spokesman threw cold water on the notion of allowing non-citizens to vote, noting Manitoba follows the same citizenship rules as every other province.
Jair Pino, a Colombian immigrant who's lived in Winnipeg for four years, said his lack of a say in civic affairs is frustrating.
"When you live in a democracy, you expect to have the right to vote," said the émigré from Cali.
Hasselriis, a former activist, said he will campaign in favour of extending the civic vote to non-citizens even if he is not elected mayor on Oct. 25.
Incumbent Mayor Sam Katz was unavailable for comment, while mayoral challenger Marianne Cerilli declined to comment.