Nearly half a million B.C. residents can't vote. Here are some of their voices

·4 min read
Four B.C. residents who can't vote in the upcoming federal election shared their thoughts with CBC News on what they want to see from political leaders. From top left, going clockwise, Libris Simas Ferraz, Alivia Wang, Jose Manuel, and Rapunzel Cruz. (CBC News - image credit)
Four B.C. residents who can't vote in the upcoming federal election shared their thoughts with CBC News on what they want to see from political leaders. From top left, going clockwise, Libris Simas Ferraz, Alivia Wang, Jose Manuel, and Rapunzel Cruz. (CBC News - image credit)

As Canadians prepare to vote for the next federal government in one week's time, there are hundreds of thousands of British Columbians who won't have their voices heard, even though they consider this country home.

Only Canadian citizens can vote in Canadian elections, including municipal ones. More than 2.4 million residents of Canada are classified as "not Canadian citizens," according to the 2016 census.

With more than 1.5 million new immigrants arriving since then — but only around 300,000 new citizens — the numbers represent a significant number of tax-paying temporary and permanent residents who are unable to vote.

In B.C., the number of residents who are disenfranchised make up a bigger percentage of the population. More than 400,000 of the province's residents can't vote, and the 2016 census shows B.C. accounts for around 17 per cent of Canada's non-citizen population, only behind Ontario in absolute numbers.

CBC News spoke to four B.C. residents who can't vote in next week's federal election. Here's what they said about their priorities and hopes during this election period.

Number of citizens and non-citizens by province/territory

'Enjoy being a part of this'

"My social [studies] teacher ... I think, a month after Jack Layton passed away, she did a talk on Jack Layton, the NDP, and then broadly what Canadian politics is. That left quite a strong impression on me," said Alivia Wang, who has lived in Victoria since 2014 and works in higher education.

Wang is from China, and initially moved to Canada to do her undergraduate studies. She stayed to get her master's degree, and is now applying for permanent residency.

"I enjoy being a part of this, even though I can't really be a part of this," she said. "But I still really want to see how the system works."

Number of incoming international students in B.C. by year

More than 460,000 international students have entered B.C. since 2015. While there are no clear statistics for how many permanent residents or citizens were once international students, Wang says it is a "regular story" in her experience.

"There's often a sense of being not ignored, but treated as lower in priority, because we're international students or workers," she said.

Submitted by Alivia Wang
Submitted by Alivia Wang

"I understand that, again, voting is a right for citizens, but we're still here. We are still part of the Canadian society."

Wang is paying attention to federal parties' plans for immigration, and how they plan to increase the number of permanent residents.

Status for all

Permanent residency and the obstacles in the immigration system were a primary concern for the four people we spoke to for this article.

Under Canada's immigration system, permanent residents must have lived in Canada for at least 730 days in a five-year span before they can apply. Critics of the system say that permanent residents enjoy far more benefits than temporary workers and undocumented immigrants, and are calling for a single-tier status for all immigrants.

Submitted by Rapunzel Cruz
Submitted by Rapunzel Cruz

Rapunzel Cruz has worked as a nanny and support worker in Vancouver since 2018, but she was trained as a nurse in the Philippines. She has been waiting for months for her permanent residency application to be approved so she can invite her family here.

She says Canada's current immigration system exposes foreign workers to abuse and exploitation, and she wants more from political leaders beyond "pathways and pilot [programs]" to become permanent residents.

"The temporary foreign worker helps a lot here in Canada, especially the caregivers, because the Canadians cannot work if we are not there helping them," she said.

"For our democracy to work for all of us, most of the vulnerable among us should be able to have their voices heard."

Number of citizens and non-citizens by region

Climate change also a big concern

There is no accurate count of how many permanent residents there are in B.C. Though there have been multiple calls to extend the vote to them, none of the federal parties have committed to doing so despite municipalities requesting the change.

Libris Simas Ferraz has seen five elections — provincial and federal — in his 13 years living in Victoria. He says everyone should be paying attention to politics, whether or not they can vote.

"All of the other issues that affect everyone in B.C. are affecting me as well," he said.

"It would be really good if I could have a say in choosing which approach to the climate crisis we're going to take."

Simas Ferraz applied for his citizenship late last year, and anticipates more than a year's wait for it to be approved despite considering Canada home for more than a decade.

Submitted by Jose Manuel
Submitted by Jose Manuel

Climate change is also a major concern for Jose Manuel, a psychology student from Mexico who works as a part-time cleaner in Burnaby.

"For immigrants, the way they [political leaders] see us is more like an instrumental value instead of an intrinsic value," he said. "We're a means to an end."

"I do believe that changes should be made more in a structural way. But where do I have my say? Who's going to listen to me right now?"

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