'A chance to voice my concerns': permanent residents eager for voting rights

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'A chance to voice my concerns': permanent residents eager for voting rights

If Reem Adbel Samad could vote tomorrow, she'd be the first at the booth.

The Moncton-based research analyst moved to the province from her native Lebanon in 2010 and became a permanent resident three years later.

Now also raising a child in Moncton, she welcomes the recommendation by the New Brunswick Commission on Electoral Reform to grant voting rights to permanent residents — people who live and work in Canada without a visa but who have not lived in the country long enough to get citizenship or have not sought it.

Moncton is home now and she's not felt engaged in Lebanese politics in a long time, she said.

"I am living here now, I feel like my input and say would make more sense here," she said, adding that she feels a duty to contribute to her son's future. He was born a Canadian citizen.

"It will give me a chance to voice my concerns, to have a say one way or another."

Feeling connected

Permanent residents get most of the social benefits that citizens receive, including health-care coverage, but they cannot vote, run for political office or hold jobs that need a high-level security clearance. 

The electoral reform commission proposed wider voting rights as part of a report on eliminating barriers that some under-represented groups face to entering politics.

Once an individual has established roots in the province "he or she is more likely to stay here for an extended period," the report said.

Abdel Samad agreed that it would boost immigration and make people feel more connected to their community.

Already, most immigrants she knows are engaged in politics, she said.

"Sometimes we have little chats and discussions, and you can always feel how eager they are and interested to be able to contribute," she said.

"I find that when you have that much of an interest to be involved, it's definitely a healthy sign, it speaks to how much potential the society can have in the future."

Contribute to society

She added that permanent residents can contribute to their communities and local politics because of their various backgrounds and experiences.

Having worked in Dubai's health system in the past, Abdel Samad said she's keen on health policies and environmental health.

But she also doesn't expect the province to grant voting rights to newcomers right away.

"You wouldn't expect you will give it to someone who just entered the province," she said. "They don't have the knowledge or the exposure to the political environment yet."

Announcement coming

Letters in support of granting voting rights to permanent residents were sent to the provincial government by several organizations and municipalities in the past, including the cities of Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Victor Boudreau told CBC the electoral reform commission made 23 recommendations geared toward improving democracy in New Brunswick.

The government is considering these and "should be in a better position to make an announcement in the coming weeks," he said.