Trudeau government proposes major changes to elections law: Expatriate voting rights

Very limited media attention to this proposed change in Bill C-76 (identical to Bill C-33) compared to other aspects.

And interesting that the government has chosen to press ahead with this when the current five-year limit is before the Supreme Court (see my earlier post Expatriate Voting: National and Municipal):

And the Liberals also would repeal statutes that make Canadian citizens ineligible to vote if they reside outside the country for five consecutive years.

Brison said that change would “restore voting rights to more than one million Canadian citizens living abroad.”

The wording in the backgrounder:

For Canadians living abroad, this includes:

  • Removing the requirement that non-resident electors must have been residing outside Canada for fewer than five consecutive years; and,

  • Removing the requirement that non-resident electors intend to return to Canada to resume residence in the future.

via Trudeau government proposes major changes to elections law | CBC News

C-33 – Canada’s former chief electoral officers eager for successor, laud proposed electoral legislative changes

Interesting that the provision to extent non-resident voting rights not raised as an issue, again suggesting lesser priority:

Canada’s former chief electoral officers Marc Mayrand and Jean-Pierre Kingsley are lauding changes proposed in new legislation, including moving the elections commissioner back under the authority of Elections Canada and removing restrictions on who can apply for the job of commissioner.

But they also say there are other issues to be addressed, and with only an acting chief electoral officer in place since Mr. Mayrand stepped down at the end of December, both say they’re eager to see a new permanent chief electoral officer of Canada named.

“I don’t think it’s desirable to have too long of an interim in those positions [officers of Parliament]. I think these positions require people who have a firm ground and can make the difficult decision that they have to make from time to time,” Mr. Mayrand told The Hill Times in an interview last week. “There are other bills that I understand are coming forward and it’s important to have somebody in the position [of chief electoral officer] who can steer the organization.”

Having given notice of his plans to retire in June, Mr. Mayrand, who officially exited the role on Dec. 28, said, “It seems to be a long process, to say the least.”

The Liberal government will select its nominee to become the next chief electoral officer “in a manner consistent with the merit-based appointments process,” which the government has put in place, John O’Leary, communications director to Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould (Burlington, Ont.), said in an email.

That process involves advertising for open positions on a government appointments website, among other things.

“I haven’t seen any advertisement for the position,” said Mr. Mayrand in a telephone interview last week with The Hill Times. He said from his experience, once a candidate has been identified, the process “unfolds very quickly.” However, finding the right candidate can be “hard to do,” he noted, given the knowledge and skills required for the job.

Since Mr. Mayrand retired on Dec. 28, deputy chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault has been the acting chief electoral officer.

Former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley held the job for 17 years until Feb. 17, 2007 and was succeeded by Mr. Mayrand days later on Feb. 21 after the House of Commons unanimously approved his appointment.

“I am disappointed because there is no reason why the government did not initiate staffing action immediately when Mr. Mayrand announced that he was retiring [in June]. … At that very time, they should have set the ball in motion, and we would have a chief electoral officer as I speak. Acting appointments in the officers of Parliament positions is a very bad process,” said Mr. Kingsley.

The Liberal government is currently faced with a backlog of hundreds of unfilled appointments.

Mr. O’Leary said finding a new chief electoral officer “is a priority for Minister Gould, and we will have more to say about this in due course.”

Paul Thomas, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Manitoba, said he thinks there’s a “very small community of professionals” in Canada with the expertise needed for the job of chief electoral officer.

“Election law is not the simple, straightforward thing of the past,” he said.

Prof. Thomas noted the next federal election in 2019 is “not that far away now, and it would be better if we had a permanent CEO with all the status and authority and confidence of the government and Parliament presiding over the administration of that election.”

Source: Canada’s former chief electoral officers eager for successor, laud proposed electoral legislative changes – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights – Bill C-33 critique

Rob Vineberg, former regional director general for the Prairies and the North at CIC (now IRCC) and I penned this op-ed against the proposed indefinite extension of expat voting rights in C-33 (we will be submitting a brief once the Bill goes to Committee).
This has generating the most comments of any of my articles, virtually all from Canadian expats who disagree with us on Twitter. Useful input as we finalize our brief to the Commons committee that will study the Bill (PROC).
As behind a paywall, full text below:

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould is in charge of shepherding Bill C-33, currently at second reading, through the House.  The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

 By ANDREW GRIFFITH, ROBERT VINEBERG

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 12:00 AM

In responding to the Supreme Court challenge of the five-year limit of voting rights, the government has proposed in Bill C-33 to extend voting rights indefinitely to Canadians living abroad, no matter how short their residence in Canada.

This is more generous than the standard comparator countries of Australia and New Zealand, which require a formal renewable declaration or visits (six and three years respectively), the United Kingdom, which has a 15-year limit, and the United States, which requires filing of taxes.

In essence, any citizen who left Canada as a baby or small child would have unlimited voting rights. As such, the proposal disconnects voting from any experience living in Canada, being subject to Canadian laws, accessing Canadian public services, as well as paying Canadian taxes, and thus devalues the votes of Canadians who do reside in Canada and are subject to these day-to-day realities of Canadian life.

To date, the government has not articulated why it chose this unlimited approach, apart from resorting to the phrase “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” without acknowledging that this argument was made in the limited context of revocation of citizenship in cases of terrorism, and the need to treat Canadian-born and naturalized Canadians equally before the law.

Advocates of expanding voting rights over the current five years have argued that Canadians living abroad contribute to Canada and the world, and many retain an active connection with Canada, whether it is business, social, cultural, political, or academic. These Canadians’ global connections should be valued as an asset. The internet and social media make it easier for Canadians to remain in touch with Canada and Canadian issues. Non-resident Canadians pay income tax on their Canadian income and property tax on any property they may own in Canada. Their vote is unlikely to affect the overall electoral results.

This is argued using a general estimate of over one million expatriates, without any assessment of the degree of connection that expatriates have with Canada. However, using government data, we know that the number of expatriates holding valid Canadian passports is approximately 630,000 adult Canadians who have lived abroad for five years or more. We also know that the number of non-resident Canadian tax returns, a deeper measure of connection, was about 140,000 in 2013 (the last year for which information is available). And while hard to assess the potential interest of long-term Canadian expatriates in voting, the data for those who qualify under the current rules suggest there is not widespread demand.

While one of us (Griffith) believes in a more restrictive approach and one us (Vineberg) believes in a more flexible approach, we recognize the government is committed to expand voting rights. We see three main options:

  1. Double the current limit to 10 years: This would align with two parliaments as well as passport validity. While it would not address the concerns of all expatriates, it would expand voting rights.
  2. Provide unlimited voting rights to expatriates who have lived 25 years or more in Canada: This recognizes the long-term connection and experience with Canadian life as well as the concerns of expatriate seniors who have contributed to the Canada Pension Plan and receive CPP and Old Age Security benefits.
  3. Modify the proposed approach with a minimum residency requirement of three years: This ensures a minimal connection to Canada, aligned to citizenship requirements, with only a valid Canadian passport being acceptable evidence of citizenship. However, this modified version of the provision in Bill C-33 does not fundamentally change our objection to again essentially unlimited voting rights.

In the latter options, this should be combined with the creation of two overseas constituencies to recognize that expatriate interests are different from resident Canadians and address any concerns that the expatriate vote could influence the results in particular ridings.

Notwithstanding what approach is chosen, administrative simplicity based on the current Elections Canada process should be maintained. Elections Canada should also be required to conduct an evaluation of the impact of any such change following the next election.

The government does not appear to have thought through the implications and options regarding expanding voting rights and appears to have listened only to advocates for expansion rather than a broader range of Canadians. We favour a combination of the first two options and hope that parliamentary review of Bill C-33 will result in changes that respect a balance between expanded expatriate voting rights and the interests of resident Canadians.

Source: Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

What happened to Canada’s support of democratic rights in Hong Kong? [expatriate voting aspect] – David Mulroney

Good column by former colleague and former Ambassador to China David Mulroney on Hong Kong and support for democratic rights.

And appropriate put-down of the Government’s Bill C-33, and its provision to grant indefinite voting rights without any corresponding commitment and responsibility:

Mr. Patten was particularly scathing in his commentary about independence advocates, whose campaign, he said, “dilutes support for democracy.” This was interpreted as criticism of two lawmakers, supporters of independence, who have been forced to vacate their seats. The duo had refused to take the official oath of office, substituting wording that could be considered offensive to China. Their actions sparked legal intervention by China’s government even before Hong Kong’s own courts could consider the issue.

It’s hard to argue with Mr. Patten’s assessment. Pushing for Hong Kong’s independence is wildly unrealistic and, given China’s sensitivity and volatility, irresponsible. But it is also an understandable expression of local frustrations given how little effort has been devoted to exploring more moderate options for democratic governance. If Hong Kong’s leaders, and friends such as Britain and Canada, had remained true to the vision of one country, two systems, the city’s residents would today have at least some say in charting their future. Instead, they are condemned to a form of governance in which they are asked to take up the responsibilities of citizenship without the corresponding rights.

The reverse is true for that fortunate minority among Hong Kong’s seven million residents who also happen to be Canadian citizens. The recently-introduced Bill C-33, which amends the Canada Elections Act, would offer the right to vote to all Canadians residing overseas, as long as they have lived in Canada at some point. It eliminates a previous provision that restricted voting rights to expatriates who had been absent for fewer than five years. The bill is big news in Hong Kong, where a Canadian community of roughly 300,000 includes emigrants to Canada who have since returned, and Canadian-born expats lured by Hong Kong’s low-tax, business-friendly environment.

Passage of the bill will encourage much chest-thumping about Canada’s support for democracy, but it is hard not to see in this something slightly different. Ottawa is offering up one of the most important rights of citizenship, the right to vote in elections back home, without reference to any corresponding responsibilities. This is politically astute, but not particularly courageous. Real support for democracy requires more ambition and more honesty.

Britain, Canada and other democracies have not lived up to their 1997 commitments, failing to follow up with the training programs, institutional exchanges and official encouragement that could have assisted the gradual emergence of healthy democratic institutions in Hong Kong. And they neglected to hold China accountable for its own commitments.

Source: What happened to Canada’s support of democratic rights in Hong Kong? – The Globe and Mail