- It appears to be a simple adjustment. A law that would give permanent residents of the province the ability to vote in municipal elections contains only one sentence.
- The white paper on municipal reform released last year stated a promise to consult with stakeholders on voting rights, with recommendations due in 2024.
On paper, it appears to be a straightforward change. There is only one sentence in a law that would provide permanent inhabitants of the province the right to vote in municipal elections.
According to Local Government Deputy Minister Ryan Donaghy, that simplicity is deceiving.
“This is a Canadian first that will be widely monitored.” He told the standing committee on law modifications on Friday that “these other considerations need to be given time to evaluate and get it properly.”
Other considerations include whether permanent residents can compete for municipal seats, how long someone must remain in the province before being entitled to vote, and how Elections New Brunswick will compile a list of eligible permanent residents.
Elections New Brunswick would also have to update its poll worker training and, most likely, its software. There isn’t enough time to figure it out, with sections of the province going to the polls this autumn to pick new mayors and councils for more than 70 new and combined local organizations.
“Elections NB warns us that if this passes, it will be impossible to reverse all of that in time for the election in the fall,” Donaghy added.
According to the department, waiting is the preferable option. It has already started looking at some of these difficulties.
A commitment to confer with stakeholders on voting rights was expressed in the white paper on municipal reform released last year, with recommendations due in 2024. That would give Elections New Brunswick enough time to prepare for the changes before the next provincial and local govt election in 2026.
For Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson, who introduced the bill and described it as “the government’s will,” the timing is a source of aggravation. Chiasson introduced the draught in December 2020, requesting unanimous assent to accelerate the law in time for the 2021 local government elections. After that attempt failed, the bill was debated again in the spring of 2021, when the government decided to refer it to the law amendments committee for additional consideration.
Chiasson pointed out that since the elections take place this autumn, it will have been nearly two years since he initially submitted the legislation, which is around the period the department advised for the amendments to be implemented.
PC MLA Jeff Carr, a former local government minister, stated that the administration supports the reform in principle, even if it cannot be implemented immediately.
“In our thinking, we’re all progressive enough to embrace what Mr. Chiasson has proposed,” he remarked. “I believe there is a way to find things out, but not in time for this election.” There is simply no way.
“I’m not sure I could choose a date in the future other than 2026 as a fitting date.”
The proposal is not new in and of itself. Permanent residents must be allowed to vote in municipal and provincial elections, according to the Commission on Electoral Reform. It also proposed lowering the voting age to 16 years old.
Premier Brian Gallant said that the question of lower the voting age would be put to the vote in the 2020 municipal elections but that he would not go so far as to extend voting rights to permanent residents because doing so would require changing the constitution at the provincial level.
Municipal elections, which are solely the responsibility of provincial governments, would not require such a change.
The New Brunswick Multicultural Council and certain local organizations have backed the extension of voting rights to permanent residents. The change has been suggested to increase newcomer retention and immigration to the province.
The committee took an in-camera decision on whether or not to move forward with the bill, which will be announced on the legislature’s floor next week.
Source: Global News
Get Canada and New Brunswick News’s top News, Market news, and other worldwide news only on New Brunswick Tribune.