On Monday, the city’s Executive Standing Committee met to get a report on electoral reform. When the city did the public consultation for the required-every-eight-years District Boundary Review, they heard about the things we citizens might want to change about our democracy. Based on our feedback, staff explored potential changes to lowering the voting age, changing to a ranked ballot, allowing permanent residents to vote, allowing new immigrants to vote and adding a protected seat for specific groups. Any of these potential changes would require the provincial government to make changes to municipal legislation. The requests would also have to come from council, so this committee was deciding which requests to send to council to then send to the province.
Of the four suggestions, only two were sent to council for action: Allowing permanent residents to vote, and adding a designated Mi’kmaw seat on council.
This was put on the floor as one motion by councillor Waye Mason. HIs motion added a permanent resident request and a designated Mi’kmaw seat, the latter being informed by feedback the city got while creating the city’s culture and heritage priority plan. At the request of councillor Paul Russell it was split into two separate motions. While everyone agreed in principle that permanent residents who pay property taxes should have a say in how they are governed, Russell did not think the same should be true for the Mi’kmaq (beyond their current geographic based representation, where their populations aren’t dense enough to be electorally significant, so they can be ignored).
Russell said that his experience on Halifax’s school boards 20 years ago showed that designated seats lead to the people in them being more vocal advocates for the population they represent. He said that councils should “consider very carefully what would happen if we have someone in that role who is more of an activist.”
Councillor Patty Cuttell pointed out that there was nothing stopping someone from being a vocal advocate and running for council right now.
For example, if someone was a right wing activist, they could run for municipal office using an organizing structure they built while seeking the nomination for a seat with the federal Conservative Party. And then they could use that power at the municipal level to try and re-enforce colonialism by attempting to quash any efforts at reconciliation no matter how minor or symbolic. Hypothetically, anyways.
The committee ultimately decided to send both requests—voting rights for permanent residents, and for a designated Mi’kmaw seat—to council. Councillors Russell and David Hendsbee were the lone votes against the latter.