Parties should target the millions of voters outside Canada

Never supported expatriate voting for those with minimal to no connection to Canada which the current law allows.

Tax, passport and other data indicates that the number with strong connections to Canada is much lower and the 2.8 estimate is from an Asia Pacific Foundation study that included those under 18 and Permanent Residents (not just citizens).

Experience from other countries indicates a relatively small portion of expatriates vote given their greater connection to country of residence or other factors: less than 10 percent with the exception of France):

It’s estimated that 2.8 million Canadians live outside the country, yet Elections Canada expects as few as 34,000 expatriates will vote in Canada’s 44th general election on Sept. 20.

As polls tighten, and political parties try to expand their support, Canadians like me who live abroad are another source of voters Liberals can tap in order to secure a majority mandate — or the Conservatives can use to pull off an upset win. They just need to mobilize us, which the pandemic has actually made easier.

Despite attempts by former prime minister Stephen Harper to restrict the voting rights of Canadians who’ve lived abroad for more than five years, now, any adult who’s lived in Canada at some point in his or her life is eligible. Whether they agree with them or not, these are the rules the parties should consider as they strategize.

To maximize their chances of forming government, political parties spend campaigns energizing their supporters, or enticing undecided ones, to cast a ballot for their candidates.

Traditionally, they can count on about 60 per cent of eligible Canadians to vote. In the last election, 67 per cent of electors, or about 18 million Canadians, cast a ballot.

But despite efforts by political parties, in the past five elections, voter turnout has never exceeded 70 per cent. This leaves parties with limited ways to increase their bases.

But one way is to add voters. According to Nik Nanos of Nanos Research, the Liberals were denied a majority in the last election after losing 13 ridings by a total of 22,599 votes.

Canadians living abroad must register or request a special ballot to vote, mail it in, and vote where they last lived. Elections Canada is expecting a surge in these types of votes from inside the country, given the reluctance to vote in person during a pandemic.

This has changed the way political parties are campaigning. Large rallies and other traditional activities have been modified to meet public-health restrictions, which vary in degree across the country.

Much of the campaign is online, and this makes social media, organic and paid, more important. Digital tactics, which include encouraging mail-in ballots, make it easier for political parties to reach Canadians outside the country, who’d normally be left out.

Parties assign regional campaign chairs to groups of provinces and territories. Meanwhile, the estimated 2.8 million Canadians living abroad exceed the populations of nine Canadian provinces and territories, although it’s unlikely that campaign resources have been dedicated to engaging these millions of expats.

In contrast, Democrats Abroad, for example, actively supports voter registration, while keeping Americans who live abroad informed of key programs and policies.

Canadians live all over the world, but by analyzing past voting habits, we know where to target them.

In the 2019 election, most special ballots were requested from the U.S. and the U.K., and many fewer from China, Hong Kong, Australia, and Germany.

While we might not know how Canadians abroad vote, we know that millions of them have the right to vote and never have.

In a tightening race — and in an online campaign driving mail-in ballots — this is an opportunity for parties to gain voters. With some small changes in messaging targeted at key overseas locations, it could make all the difference.

Max Stern is a former employee of the Liberal Party of Canada, and a graduate student and communications consultant living in Brooklyn, New York.

Source: Parties should target the millions of voters outside Canada

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.

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