If this group gets its way, this will be the last N.L. municipal election closed to permanent residents

·3 min read
Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador is working with the province to amend the Municipalities Act. (CBC - image credit)
Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador is working with the province to amend the Municipalities Act. (CBC - image credit)
CBC
CBC

Municipal elections are underway Tuesday across Newfoundland and Labrador, where voters are going to the polls after a provincial election last winter and a federal election last week.

Permanent residents who do not yet have Canadian citizenship, though, will again have to watch from the sidelines, even if they have been living in the country for many years and pay taxes to the government.

However, change could be in the air at the municipal level in the future.

Craig Pollett, CEO of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show changes are something his organization has been discussing for a couple of years, after hearing from the Citizens' Assembly for Stronger Elections Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Since then we've been working on a path toward getting the Municipal Elections Act, which is the critical one in this case, amended," Pollett said.

In 2020 the City of St. John's put together a separate group that reviewed CASE-NL's recommendations. The group recommended the city work with MNL on bringing the issue to the provincial government.

City council unanimously voted in favour of that motion in March 2020.

Pollett said MNL has since been working with the provincial government to make amendments to the Municipalities Act.

CBC
CBC

"It's pretty much done now, and we're expecting a new, sort of main piece of legislation we're hoping to come out in the spring," said Pollett.

"What we had said three or four years ago to the province when we first started this process of reviewing the main legislation was when these are done, our priority for the next one would be the Municipal Elections Act."

A push for change

There are a number of items MNL want to have included when re-envisioning the Elections Act, Pollett said.

Enfranchising permanent residents will be only one issue on the agenda, he said, but there's also an idea of changing the actual date of municipal elections to help enfranchise students, particularly in St. John's and Corner Brook.

Municipal elections are currently held at the end of September.

"Students coming to St. John's would not have enough residency time. It's at least 30 days' residency in a municipality before they're allowed to vote here," he said.

Voting by mail during the pandemic has also become an important aspect of the process. Pollett said mail-in voting needs to be made more robust in the Municipal Elections Act.

Further, Pollett said, there's an idea to look at the voting rights of summer residents — those who own summer or second homes in communities, and want to cast a vote in that community.

"So we didn't see the point of trying to pick off one of these at a time," he said. "There's several things that need to be done."

Pollett said it could take a year or more before the aforementioned ideas make it into legislation. He said the province would have to consult municipalities and other stakeholders who may have an opinion on what they want to see.

From there an agreement has to be made, followed by amendments or the rewrite. If the new legislation is drafted and adopted in the House of Assembly the changes are immediate, Pollett said.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, a spokesperson said the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs is undergoing a significant review of the 1999 Municipalities Act and a review of the Municipal Elections Act is also planned, with legislation on permanent residents part of the research.

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