A Green motion urging the province to extend voting rights to permanent residents has received unanimous support in the P.E.I. Legislature.
All members present for the vote on Thursday were in favour, with all members speaking to the motion giving their support to extend voting rights to permanent residents for municipal and school board elections.
Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker introduced the motion earlier this month, and it was discussed at committee this week.
"I always like to think of Prince Edward Island as being the conscience of this country, in some respects, if we choose to be," he said.
"I really think that this is an opportunity. This motion represents an opportunity for us … to be the trendsetters, to be the ones who are pioneers."
Other jurisdictions in Canada are looking, or have looked, at similar calls to action. Nova Scotia has debated the issue at length in the last decade and, most recently, New Brunswick is considering it for the future.
Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly supported the motion, giving an impassioned speech about his family's experience and how making the legislative changes would create a more welcoming political environment on P.E.I.
"This is where it happens … let's change the act, let's look at those things because it's not right. Thousands of people can't vote because we've made decisions in here, let's change it," he said.
"The people that we're talking about should be elected. The people who can't run and can't vote would probably make our best elected officials."
'We want to lead the country'
McNeilly's father, he said, was one of 12 children and the first who came to Canada from Trinidad. He became a doctor and worked for 35 years in New Brunswick.
"He helped give back like nobody I've ever seen," McNeilly said.
"There was no greater day that my dad talked about than the day he got his citizenship. He would have been a way better elected official than me … he made me realize that people were more important than himself."
Speaking about his dad in the legislature and reflecting on his family's history, McNeilly said his father is the type of elected official he wanted to see in his community, but at that time "he couldn't do it because he was a first generation Canadian."
Having permanent residents involved in the voting process and being elected themselves will lead to a better future, he added.
"That's how we bring people here, that's how we make a community. We come in and we say 'Hey, you know what? We're going to take away the barriers around voting' … because we want to lead the country."
"We have to take a look at motions like this seriously, because that's how we improve our culture."
'We could foster a new sense of civic engagement'
Several other members spoke to the motion, including Steve Howard who seconded it.
"The experience and wisdom that comes with varied perspectives can't be understated," he said. "Our elected leaders, they form the base of our democracy and the voters put them in place. Having voters who are reflective of everyone is important to have decisions made, to the benefit of everyone."
Communities Minister Jamie Fox said politicians need to broaden the scope of people they talk to and hear from, and called on members present in the legislature to do more to speak to young people and newcomers in their communities.
He committed to taking the conversation to his department as well as Elections P.E.I. to see what needs to be done.
"We need to engage our youth, we need to engage our newcomers, we need to engage our people [new] to the province and have decided to call this place home," he said.
"We could foster a new sense of civic involvement."