Are you Canadian enough to vote? – Mark Kersten

Another one of the series of arguments allowing for unlimited voting rights for Canadian expatriates, including having MPs representing overseas constituencies:

Rather than pursuing inward, regressive policies, the government could think creatively. Instead of constructing barriers to democratic participation, what a progressive government could, and should, do is to create a handful of members of Parliament to directly represent Canadians who live abroad. France and Italy already have parliamentarians who represent their respective diasporas. Why not have MPs on Parliament Hill to represent the unique interests and diversity of Canadians living abroad? Surely that could only enrich our democracy.

The arguments of many proponents of extending voting rights to expats have relied on the view that it is unfair to strip voting rights from any tax-paying Canadians living abroad. The assumption is that if you’re contributing money to federal tax coffers, you should be allowed to vote. This may be intuitively persuasive, but there is a danger in taking this argument to its logical extreme. If it were, homeless citizens or some retirees could lose the vote. Paying more taxes surely doesn’t make you “citizen plus,” a better citizen than others. Canadian citizenship, as spelled out in the Charter, is not transactional. We don’t have to buy it.

Still, it is inescapable that the prohibition on long-term Canadian expats to vote in federal elections creates a bifurcated form of citizenship. All Canadian citizens are equal, but if only those living in Canada are allowed to vote, then some are more equal than others.

And while the advocates are all too quick to trot out anecdotes of Canadian expatriates who are connected to Canada in a meaningful way, one could equally draw up a list of those who are not, and likely also find some evidence to buttress the claim that most are not. The tiny number of Canadian expatriates who vote under the current 5-year limit (see Reframing the debate over expat voting: Russell and Sevi, Globe editorial) is illustrative.

Are you Canadian enough to vote? – The Globe and Mail.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to Are you Canadian enough to vote? – Mark Kersten

  1. Victoria says:

    Interesting that none of the articles I’ve read here (though perhaps I missed it) talk about how the expatriate vote could influence domestics politics.

    I have written about the tax problems that Americans abroad are experiencing and their (our) efforts to be heard in the US. where we have a vote but unsatisfactory representation. One of the two major US political parties took a look at the US expats’ grievances, saw lots of discontent (and a leadership vacuum) and moved in. A lot of US local races are very close and importances races have been won only after all the ballots from overseas were counted. So those votes matter. Now the other party is on the defensive and scrambling to catch up. I dont’ want to overstate the importance of those expat votes but it is becoming clear over the past month that both parties are willing to fight for them – to spend money, to fund lawsuits, to invest time and money in campaigns to woo the expats for the next presidential election. And all over an issue that I doubt that 99% of the Americans in the US care about.

    Here was a population abroad that had the vote and used it sparingly until something united them (essentially against their own government) and then one major party took their side and put their concerns on the political agenda, thus forcing the other major party (alas in the US there are only two) to react. And all this adds up to an impact on domestic politics. Big or small impact? The scary thing is that no one really knows. No one has ever bothered to poll American voters abroad or tried to learn anything about their political leanings. A wild card thrown into an already tense, often bitter, and highly partisan political landscape.

    It’s been fascinating to watch as a spectateur engagé 🙂

  2. Andrew says:

    People usually get more engaged when it affects them personally! But will be interesting to see net effect on expatriate voting in US in 2016.

    My sense of Canadian data is that the number of voters is so tiny, and that there is no over-riding issue like FATCA affecting them, that there will be little or no impact in the Oct 19 federal election this year.

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