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Reframing the debate over expat voting

New data shows expat voting has had very little effect on past federal elections—but is still of great importance


 
(Chris Young/CP)

(Chris Young/CP)

In a 2-1 ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned a decision that would allow 1.4 million Canadians who have been studying, working and living abroad the right to vote.

The two justices that voted to upheld federal voting restrictions base their entire ruling on a new argument put forward by the federal government about the social contract. They argue that the social contract is a citizen’s right to elect a Member of Parliament to represent them and their obligation to obey the laws that are enacted.

Permitting non-resident Canadians the right to vote, “would allow them to participate in making laws that affect Canadian residents on a daily basis, but have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives. This would erode the social contract and undermine the legitimacy of the laws,” argued Chief Justice George Strathy for the majority, joined by Justice David Brown.

Both justices rely heavily on a new argument of a highly theoretical nature as valid grounds for taking away the fundamental right of citizens to vote. It is interesting to note that both justices were appointed to the Court of Appeal in 2013 and 2014 respectively by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

“I do not agree that the number of laws a Canadian citizen is subjected to can be tied to the preservation of the social contract,” argued dissenting judge, John Laskin, who was appointed by prime minister Jean Chretien’s government in 1994. “Non-residents have the same obligation to obey the laws that affect them as do residents. Non-residents pay Canadian income tax on their Canadian income, and property tax on any real property they may own in Canada.”

The so-called “social contract argument” is not mentioned in the application where the judge ruled that the voting ban is unconstitutional, nor in the stay motion which was heard last year. In fact, this argument has nothing to do with why Parliament extended and restricted voting rights for Canadians abroad.

We analyzed parliamentary debates, committee reports and members’ statements and found that in discussions on enfranchising Canadians residing abroad, parliamentarians expressed discomfort not knowing the exact number of Canadians abroad, how connected they are to Canada, or whether the elections will be decided by people who have been away for 25 years or more.

The paranoia over the idea that expatriates have differing loyalties or that the expatriate votes will somehow completely change the tide of an election in any given year is not backed by evidence.

Expatriates who are allowed to vote do so abroad, and their votes are counted in the last riding in which they lived or the current home address of their partner, a relative, or a person with whom they would live with if they were in Canada.

We analyzed voter turnout of expatriates in the past five federal elections in Canada and found that expatriate voter turnout is very low:


Election Electors on the list Valid ballots
2000 19,230 7,446
2004 11,719 7,482
2006 15,083 8,918
2008 11,561 7,704
2011 10,733 6,069

Voter turnout among Canadians abroad has also decreased over time. While these data may establish that a very small percentage of Canadians abroad vote, this does not mean they should be denied the right to vote. There are other problems that likely contribute to the low turnout such as the fact that Canadian parties do not outreach to expats and that voting abroad is a difficult process.

In 2008, their votes could have impacted only two ridings. These are Kitchener-Waterloo and Vancouver South. And in 2011, their vote could have only impacted one riding; Nipissing- Timiskaming. These ridings had tight races between the Conservatives and Liberals with conservative candidates winning in two of them.

 

Expat chart

Expatriate votes are spread over many ridings, increasing in urban ridings such as Ottawa Centre, Ottawa Vanier, Trinity Spadina and Vancouver Centre. In prior elections, their ability to influence the outcome of Canadian elections has been minimal, but with over 2.9 million Canadians abroad they are a significant constituency that should not be dismissed and ignored. With polls suggesting a tight three-way race in the general election on October 19, expatriates might have made a difference in closely contested ridings.

It is impossible to know how Canadians abroad vote because Elections Canada lumps their votes with prisoners and military members who use special ballots. We analyzed the special ballot data of 308 ridings from the 2008 and 2011 federal elections and found that in 2008 and 2011, Conservative candidates received more of it than any other party. The Liberals took the second largest share of the special ballot vote in both elections and actually came up a bit in 2011. While the votes of expats, prisoners and military members lumped together show strong support for conservative candidates, it is possible that the expats among them vote differently.

The five-year limitation, as opposed to some other limit, is overly drastic and Canada’s provision is not comparable with similar democracies around the world. Justice Strathy called the five-year limit “reasonable and minimally impairing,” but as we shall see, Canada is actually an outlier in this regard.

Americans living outside of the country have the right to vote no matter how long they have been abroad providing they pay taxes. The right to vote expires in the United Kingdom after 15 years abroad. To put this into perspective, this is three times longer than what Canada permits even though Canada is part of the Commonwealth.

Australian citizens abroad are allowed to vote so long as they intend to return to Australia within six years. After six years, citizens can renew their status by making an annual declaration of their intention to return “at some point” thereby voting for an indefinite period. In New Zealand, there is a three-year limit but the clock restarts every time citizens visit the country. Moreover, New Zealand extends the right to vote to non-citizen residents from other Commonwealth countries.

The United Kingdom extends similar voting rights to citizens of Commonwealth countries and citizens of the Republic of Ireland. The five-year limit in Canada is an arbitrary number and is unnecessarily onerous. On the surface, it is a year less generous than Australia, but Australians can renew their status by expressing a mere intent to return to the country “at some point” in the future. Canadians, on the other hand, need to resume residency to regain their right to vote abroad.

The right to vote is a fundamental right of citizenship that is protected by the Charter and does not depend on place of residence. The five-year limitation does not conform to the 21st-century demands of globalization. While there is currently an NDP-sponsored bill to repeal the provision that limits voting rights for Canadians abroad as unconstitutional, it is possible that the unconvincing judgment of two Ontario appellate judges could be overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada—but, alas, not in time to restore democratic rights to the close to a million and a half Canadians living abroad for the fall election.

Peter H. Russell is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and a constitutional expert at the University of Toronto.

Semra Sevi is a masters graduate of Political Science at the University of Toronto.


 

Reframing the debate over expat voting

  1. I suspect this law was aimed at folks who were not born in Canada, have not lived in Canada, and don’t come to Canada unless they need free health care. True, it impacts Canadians who were born here but now reside outside the country, but I think the main effort was to stop folks like the 15,000 Lebanese Canadians (on paper) who hold Canadian citizenship, but don’t recognize Canada until they have to be evacuated, or need a new heart valve.

    Long overdue.

    Now…if we could find some way to prevent non-resident Canadians (who have never lived here) from accessing our health care…….

    • “…or need a new heart valve.” Uh, nope. Health care in Canada requires six months residence in a particular province—you can’t just “pop by” for the health care.

      • Angus,

        you also need residency to get Canadian citizenship; but you are no doubt aware there are a lot of fraudulent “Canadians” out there who have bought their citizenship. Very popular in some “Immigration lawyers” circles in Quebec.

        If you can fraudulently claim (and be believed) that you have been living in Canada for years, when in fact you have been living in Lebenon, then it is not much of a stretch to fruadulently claim you have been living in Napanee for six months.

        After all…there was one address in Toronto, where apparently 1800 palestinians were sharing one house. (Palestine House). Sure must have been crowded.

        On another note though…..isn’t it strange that the wait list for surgery is longer than the residency requirement.

        • At this rate we’ll have to ban members of the Conservative Party of Canada from voting. Their database was used to commit electoral fraud, and one of their members has been convicted of willfully preventing or endeavoring to prevent an elector from voting in an election, an offence under the Canada Elections Act. If one thousand cases of POTENTIAL election frauds can erase the right to vote of more than a million Canadians, shouldn’t an ACTUAL case of fraud erase the right to vote of those who could possibly be or have been involved in a fraud?

          Sounds ludicrous to me, but if you say so…

          • Loraine,

            Stealing data from a data base is also a crime against the owner of the database. If someone stole your car and robbed a bank…would you be responsible for the crime? The guy who was responsible was also caught, charged, and found guilty. That’s how it works.

            As for barring folks who support a political party you disagree with……..they don’t do that in Canada; but your idea is popular, so there are others’ who do think as you think. They are currently running the countries of North Korea, China, Russia, and many other third world backwaters and shittholes.

            You could move there to see your ideology in action.

          • So the Conservatives were the victims of theft and chose not to report it to the police? Victims of a crime that involved the personal information of Canadians for which they are responsible?

            If I put up a sign that said : please take my car, gave lessons to some criminal on how to drive my car, gave them the key, and left the doors unlocked, I would not be surprised if I were held responsible for any accident involving my car, but you are right, I would not report it to the police!

          • James: Even the judge acknowledged it was unlikely Sona acted alone. But he was a good little party loyalist and took the fall all on his own. I’m sure there’s some kind of reward for him down the road from the back room boys.

          • Lorraine wrote:
            “So the Conservatives were the victims of theft and chose not to report it to the police? Victims of a crime that involved the personal information of Canadians for which they are responsible?”

            Lorraine…….clearly you didn’t follow the story. The Conservatives did assist in the investigation, and the reason they didn’t report it to the police is plainly clear….they didn’t know about it until well after the fact. when they became aware, they took action and canned the main suspect.

            You go on:

            ” If I put up a sign that said : please take my car, gave lessons to some criminal on how to drive my car, gave them the key, and left the doors unlocked, I would not be surprised if I were held responsible for any accident involving my car, but you are right, I would not report it to the police!”

            Loraine, just because you WANT to believe the Conservative Party is guilty of something….doesn’t mean they ARE guilty of something. Your special brand of Harper derangement syndrome is well known; and frankly, quite predictable. You must be an over-paid public servant….or a beneficiary of the welfare system.

    • If that was the aim of the law than it is not on target and reaches too wide. Badly written law, as usual.

  2. This is just another way of removing the vote from Canadian citizens…. meantime Canadians are working abroad in engineering,medicine.,teaching and so on.

    Once a Canadian,always a Canadian.

    • Emily, clearly your reading comprehension has not improved.

      If you were born in Canada…to Canadian citizens, you will remain Canadian.

      If you received your citizenship while still living in some third world backwater and have never set foot in the country…….I don’t care if you have the right to vote. I would prefer you are also stripped of your Canadian citizenship.

      And Emily, you do recall that someone who obtained their citizenship fraudulently, or acted in a criminal manner once in Canada….it can (and should) be stripped from you.

      • And if I lived and worked abroad for 10 or 20 years I should still be a Canadian citizen with voting rights.

        Nobody gets citizenship without setting foot in Canada…..and there is no house with 1800 Palestinians……what the hell have you been drinking?

        Is this what they’re telling you in those money-raising letters from Con HQ?

        • Emily,

          If you were born in Canada to Canadian parents…you won’t lose your citizenship, and as the judge wrote, it isn’t fair to Canadians living in Canada for your to help make laws that do not affect you.

          As for your other comments:

          http://www.mississauga.com/news-story/3150264-fraud-probe-centres-on-palestine-house/

          Or this one:

          http://www.mississauga.com/news-story/3128204-fraud-suspects-linked-to-mississauga-address-to-lose-citizenship/

          Pleae note, that this is just for a short span of time. This has been going on for years, and not just at this one address. there are thousands; perhaps tens of thousands of “Canadians” who have never been to Canada. Granted, they did pay a lot of money to Canadian Lawyers who are looking to make a quick buck.

        • Emily,

          If you were born in Canada to Canadian parents…you won’t lose your citizenship, and as the judge wrote, it isn’t fair to Canadians living in Canada for your to help make laws that do not affect you.

          As for your other comments:

          http://www.mississauga.com/news-story/3150264-fraud-probe-centres-on-palestine-house/

          Or this one:

          Pleae note, that this is just for a short span of time. This has been going on for years, and not just at this one address. there are thousands; perhaps tens of thousands of “Canadians” who have never been to Canada. Granted, they did pay a lot of money to Canadian Lawyers who are looking to make a quick buck.

          • Why would Canadian laws no longer affect you? You may still hold property in Canada, and may still have to pay property taxes in Canada. You may return one day, and wish to declare sums on which you will pay taxes.

            The right to vote is guaranteed by the charter. Citizenship obtained illegally will be revoked, along with the right to vote. It is not because a few commit crimes that the entire Canadian citizenry’s right to vote should come under the axe.

          • Loraine…..you are daft and uncritical.

            The question is NOT whether someone who has lived outside of Canada is affected by Canadian laws. The debate is someone who has lived outside of Canada for an extended period having a say in laws that DO NOT AFFECT them personally now that they no longer live in Canada.

            As I wrote earlier, I think the law is aimed at “Canadians of Convenience” and there are tens of thousands of them.

          • You may be right James, so please provide me a link to the legal definition of Canadians of Convenience.

            Til then, one is a Canadian citizen or one is not.

          • Loraine wrote:
            “You may be right James, so please provide me a link to the legal definition of Canadians of Convenience.

            Til then, one is a Canadian citizen or one is not.”

            Lorraine, if you can’t comprehend the issue…then perhaps you shouldn’t be commenting on it. It just makes you look silly and shallow(er).

            There are many cases of people with Canadian citizenship, who have obtained if fradulently, or have simply bought it. I hope we find all of them and strip them of their citizenship.

            As for “Til then, one is a Canadian citizen or one is not.”

            I know you have difficulty grasping the technical details of most issues…but this one most assuredly is not.

            The entire reason for laws to strip citizenship of people who have not earned it is the discussion. The laws are meant to correct what you wrote above. Frankly, I think that people who have been given Canadian citizenship (when they were another nationality) and don’t live and pay taxes in Canada; and have no intention of returning, should be stripped of their Canadian citizenship.

        • Or this one:

          Emily,

          If you were born in Canada to Canadian parents…you won’t lose your citizenship, and as the judge wrote, it isn’t fair to Canadians living in Canada for your to help make laws that do not affect you.

          As for your other comments:

          http://www.mississauga.com/news-story/3150264-fraud-probe-centres-on-palestine-house/

          Or this one:

          http://www.mississauga.com/news-story/3128204-fraud-suspects-linked-to-mississauga-address-to-lose-citizenship/

          Please note, that this is just for a short span of time. This has been going on for years, and not just at this one address. there are thousands; perhaps tens of thousands of “Canadians” who have never been to Canada. Granted, they did pay a lot of money to Canadian Lawyers who are looking to make a quick buck.

          • Thanks for posting the link showing exactly what I was describing. People are using the weaknesses in the immigration system to fraudulently claim Canadian citizenship. This is just one story…there are many more. I could have posted the story about Chinese nationals coming to Canada to have their kids, and then using the childs citizenship as a means to bring the entire family over from China; complete with free health care and welfare.

            As for Israel…hmm……I’m not sure why you put that in there, but again, with you, it is always about Israel and Jews. Colour me surprised.

            Oh…and it IS widespread, and it is the norm. This is why the law was brought in, and I expect the main fear of the immigration industry is that they know this is just one step of many. Harper will eventually clean the mess up, and I hope he uses the Notwithstanding clause if required.

          • So, James… your solution to one problem (that of fraudulent citizenship) is to strip other, legitimate Canadians of their right to vote. That’s like throwing you in jail for a crime your neighbour committed, because you live on the same street.

            As for another of your claims: “If you were born in Canada to Canadian parents…you won’t lose your citizenship…” Not necessarily true. If your parents became Canadian citizens, and you have a claim through them to citizenship in another country – even if you haven’t actively sough to activate that claim – under changes introduced via Bill C-24, if you break certain laws you can have your Canadian citizenship taken away. Even though you may have never left Canada in your life.

            It would likely be a rarity – but not an impossibility. And so through C-24, the CPC have created two classes of citizenship.

          • No James, none of that is true…..sorry,

            You have no source for any of it, just your paranoia.

          • KeithBram wrote:
            “So, James… your solution to one problem (that of fraudulent citizenship) is to strip other, legitimate Canadians of their right to vote. That’s like throwing you in jail for a crime your neighbour committed, because you live on the same street.”

            Keith, clearly you have been taking the same “reading comprehension” refresher classes as EmilyOne. I have never said that the solution to fraudulent citizenship is stripping legitimate Canadians of the right to vote. I said I suspect that the law being discussed was AIMED AT fraudulent Canadians who should not have the right to vote. It was the courts who said the law was fair as Canadians who have the right to vote outside of the Country for extended periods of time should NOT have that right as their actions (voting intentions) impact those who still live in the country; and not them.
            If you are going to respond to my comments, at least take a moment to ensure that what you are responding to, is something I actually wrote.

            You also noted:
            “As for another of your claims: “If you were born in Canada to Canadian parents…you won’t lose your citizenship…” Not necessarily true”

            Actually, Keith, I have to give that one to you. I thought my intent was clear. I should have written, if your parents were born in Canada ……..and made it clear that they were always Canadian, and Canadian only.

            There are actual cases (one is recent) of someone born in Canada being deported. there is a guy who’s parents are origially from India, he was born here, but given his propensity towards crime and violence….he’s being sent back to the country of his parents even though he’s never been there and soesn’t speak the language. I’m not really concerned about his rights…..we have enough real Canadians with a criminal bent….if we find the opportunity to get rid of a few of them when we can……..go for it.

  3. Americans living outside of the country have the right to vote no matter how long they have been abroad providing they pay taxes

    And Americans are required to pay taxes if they’re living in the USA or not…. funny you didn’t mention that.

    The paranoia over the idea that expatriates have differing loyalties or that the expatriate votes will somehow completely change the tide of an election in any given year is not backed by evidence

    Could someone tell the good professor that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?

    With polls suggesting a tight three-way race in the general election on October 19, expatriates might have made a difference in closely contested ridings

    Which is exactly why they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Imagine having our election settled by a few thousand people who haven’t even been in the country for 20 years? Does that sound like “democracy” to you?

    Seems the only arguments that can be formed against this ruling are that
    1) 2 of the judges were appointed by a Conservative PM
    2) The secret hope that expats will somehow not vote Conservative.

    The fact that Liberals like Peter Russell are now trolling for foreign votes just shows how doomed the Liberal party is. Canadians living here won’t vote for them, so maybe we can get Canadians living elsewhere to vote for them? LOL

    • Yes, it sounds like democracy to me. Every vote counts.

      Why don’t you go make some robocalls?

    • Americans living abroad have to submit a tax form to the IRS annually but don’t necessarily pay taxes on income. There are thresholds and treaties allowing Americans living abroad to deduct taxes paid to foreign jurisdiction. Americans remain liable to pay taxes in U.S., but so do Canadians living abroad. You could own, inherit property in Canada, rent it and have to declare revenue and pay taxes. In such case a born Canadian would have just lost his right to vote. Canadians living abroad like Americans remain liable to pay taxes Canada, whether or not they do in fact pay taxes. The social contract remains as long as one is a Canadian citizen.

      Imagine having a few liberals decide on the results in one riding? Robocalls.

      Imagine a person named Brasky involved in citizenship fraud and a judicial decision removing the right to vote to all Braskys.

      • Loraine,

        YOu are aware that the Liberal party has also been found engaging in “robocalls” illegally correct?

        Or is it only a problem when the other side does it?

        • So let’s remove the right to vote of all Canadians unless they can prove that they are fulfilling their “obligation to obey the laws that are enacted”.

          • Loraine…..

            YOu once again show that you are creating stories or scenario’s from thin air. If you are going to respond to my comments, then please at least try to understand what I am writing. Responding to a shallow no-mind such as yourself grows tedious as you can’t get even the basics correct.

    • Could someone tell the good professor that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?

      Huh???

  4. Your chart is a little misleading. Elections Canada started enforcing the residency requirements for expats starting in 2007, meaning less of them could vote in 2011.

    In fact, the case that was just reversed in the Court of Appeal was brought by two people who were unable to vote in 2011 because of the restrictions.

    We do not know how many would have voted in 2011 if the rules were applied the same way in years previous to 2007.

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