The worst argument ever made against letting permanent residents vote in municipal elections

The idea of letting permanent residents vote in Toronto’s municipal elections has been kicking around for almost a decade. The logic is that if you live here and pay taxes, why should your citizenship determine whether you get a say in how your neighbourhood is run? After all, voting in Ontario’s municipal elections is already open to non-resident citizens at least 18 years of age who merely rent or own property in a city, or are the spouse of someone who does. So why shouldn’t a city’s actual residents get to cast ballots?

Toronto City Council endorsed the concept in 2013 and doubled down on it last fall, when they asked the Ontario government to look into giving permanent residents the right to vote in provincial elections as well. 

The provincial government, however, didn’t include this change in its recent bill to update the Municipal Elections Act. So when the bill was considered by the legislature’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, the NDP’s Percy Hatfield put forward a motion to add it in. To no one’s serious surprise, the Liberal-controlled committee voted it down.

But the brief discussion did result in a gloriously ludicrous argument against permanent-resident voting from Liberal MPP Ann Hoggarth (Barrie). From the unofficial transcript of the May 19 meeting:

Ms. Ann Hoggarth: I just want to chime in here. I think the people who now have the right to vote in municipal elections have worked very hard to become Canadian citizens in order to do that. The other side of it is that if you allowed it to be someone who owned a house or owned property, that would mean Donald Trump would be able to vote in our municipal elections and I have great difficulty with someone who just owns property for a business and who is a citizen of another country voting in our elections, no matter what level it is. Thank you.

When the PCs’ Ernie Hardeman (Oxford) tried to point out the absurdity of the statement, Hoggarth’s party-mate Laura Albanese (York South–Weston) jumped to her defence:

Mr. Ernie Hardeman: I just wanted to clarify that Mr. Trump couldn’t vote here because corporations can’t vote in Ontario. The reason I say that is because that comes into it, regardless of if he’s not a Canadian and doesn’t reside here, and—

Mrs. Laura Albanese: He has an apartment downtown.

Ms. Ann Hoggarth: He has an apartment and pays taxes.

Mr. Ernie Hardeman: —just owning property as a corporation wouldn’t allow him to vote.

A few things:

1) Donald Trump is not a permanent resident of Canada under the meaning of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. He is not a permanent resident of Canada under any possible understanding of the term. He is not a temporary resident, occasional resident, or semi-regular visitor. He does not live in Toronto. He does not spend time in Toronto. As far as we know, he has not set foot in the city since a brief appearance for the local Trump tower’s 2012 ribbon-cutting, and has no immediate or distant plans to return.

2) Donald Trump does not own the Trump Toronto. He is not in any way responsible for the Trump Toronto. This has been confirmed in court. The Trump Toronto is, like most Trump properties, an independent development that licences the name and contracts the Trump Organization for its hotel management services. And that will likely end soon, as the company behind the building has been fighting to sever the relationship, and has now put the whole damn thing up for sale.

3) Even if Donald Trump did own the Trump Toronto, through the Trump Organization or some kind of holding company, that would not matter in the slightest because, as Hardeman points out, corporations can’t vote.

4) And even if Trump were a permanent resident of Canada and did own a penthouse in Toronto, letting him vote would arguably be no more perverse than the status quo, under which a Canadian citizen who lives in Halifax and whose wife rents an office in Toronto could cast a ballot for councillor and mayor.

5) Besides, it’s hard to imagine what would change by giving Trump a vote, given we apparently already have politicians who deploy reality-divorced fear-mongering in an attempt to make a case against extending rights to immigrants.

UPDATE (6/1/2016, 2:20 pm): In an interview with NOW, Albanese explains that she believes extending municipal voting rights to permanent residents is an “important issue and that it merits conversation and consultation,” but she didn’t feel comfortable approving the change on the spot.

As for Trump having an apartment in downtown Toronto, she says it’s a “rumour” she has heard. “So obviously we know that he doesn’t live here permanently, [and] I wouldn’t know how frequently he would use it, but I know he has property here.”

But, she adds, “Don’t take me as a well-founded source.” | @goldsbie

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