Colby Cosh: The Supreme Court faces the emo drama of expatriate voting

Good if somewhat disjointed commentary:

On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hold a hearing in Frank vs. Canada, a test case on the voting rights (in federal elections) of expatriate Canadian citizens. Everybody agrees that they definitely have some. The Charter is unambiguous about assigning such a right to all Canadian citizens. The question is whether this is a right that can be temporarily withdrawn, as the law now does, from a Canadian who has been apart from Canada for some time and is outside the reach of its law and institutions.

Lower courts have already offered conflicting answers, so it is hard to be sure what the Supreme Court will do. But emotional framing is bound to weigh a great deal in the final argument. In the court of origin, the government made an argument that letting long-term expatriates vote was unfair to the poor wretches who are trapped in Canada and who have no choice but to live with its government.

This was a sort of “dilution of voting power” argument, but it had the effect of sounding like the legal arguments that used to be made against prisoner voting — arguments that were ultimately thrown out. The Supreme Court approved inmate voting in 2002; having been asked “Hang on, you’re going to let a convicted rapist have the same voice in government as his victim?”, it returned what is now the accepted answer. “Yes, that’s the nature of a right. Like it or not, rapists have ’em too.”

This involves us in some logical awkwardness, because convicts have plenty of other rights whose free exercise we forbid after due process of law. But on the other hand, prisoners are definitely stuck with the Canadian state, and with its exclusive privilege of retaliatory violence, in an even more obvious sense than free residents are. It would thus be a bit weird to make Canada’s determination to count convict votes part of an argument, by extrapolation, for expatriate voting.

Weird or not, that’s what the originating judge did. He saw these as analogous questions of personal dignity. We don’t want to devalue or question the Canadian-ness of people who have been away for many years, but who feel Canadian and insist on being Canadian.

The majority on the Ontario Court of Appeal panel that next heard Frank vs. Canada cleared its throat and said, as it were, “Whoa, let’s start over.” Those judges chose a guiding metaphor that had not been used in the original contest: the philosophically notorious “social contract.” Resident citizens have duties and obligations that expatriates don’t: obvious ones include taxes and compulsory jury service (how would expatriates like to be reeled back in for that?), but there is also the big, obvious one of “being subject to Canadian law,” the vast obsidian bulk of which applies only on Canadian soil. Moreover, we exclude non-resident citizens from social entitlements like public health insurance.

But there is nothing in the text of the Charter that requires or urges a “social contract” framing of core democratic rights. The appeal court was, as I see it, trying to find a way of dressing common sense in legal language — asking, in effect, “Hang on: we’re really going to let U.S. taxpayers with Canadian passports vote in Canadian elections?” We have seen what often happens to such “Hang on …” arguments at the Supreme level.

Until recently, no one had considered letting expatriate citizens vote as a matter of right. The whole issue cropped up because Canadian law had, from the First World War on, to devise obviously desirable provisions for voting by Canadians who are abroad in uniform and in the foreign service. Citizens who are away from Canada just because there is more money or opportunity or sunshine somewhere else are not in the same position as those who are actual living tendrils of the Canadian state. But since the law makes a distinction between mere economic expats and offshore agents of Canada, the expats have an opportunity to denounce the distinction and wriggle through the hole.

For some reason, everyone recognizes that the “expatriates have a right to express Canadian identity” argument does not quite work for provinces. A Quebecer living in B.C. is likely to have a meaningful, even essential personal connection to Quebec, but there exists no legal concept of Quebec citizenship, or at least none recognized by the federal government.

I wonder, though, whether the resident citizen’s right to vote in federal elections could be logically severed from mere geographic accident, if we are going to adopt that view of things. Shouldn’t I be allowed to vote for a member of parliament in my hometown, although I no longer know much of its concerns and circumstances in detail, and almost never visit? Bon Accord, Alta., did form my character! And I suppose I care about it! From a polite distance!

Some Canadian citizens might be able to claim a right to cast a vote in many places with which they have some prior connection — maybe even an ancestral one. The opportunities for tactical voting would be hilarious. On what grounds could this kind of frenzy be ruled out, in logic, if the emotional principles of disfranchised expatriates are admitted by the law?

Source: Colby Cosh: The Supreme Court faces the emo drama of expatriate voting

The Supreme Court is set to decide whether long-term Canadian expats can vote

Will be interesting to see how they rule (for my previous piece on why I oppose unlimited voting rights, see What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options and Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights, the latter written with Rob Vineberg):

Canada’s top court is set to grapple with whether long-term expats should be allowed to vote, an issue that loomed large in the last federal election in which Justin Trudeau and his Liberals took office.

Civil liberties groups, which argue current rules barring the expats from voting are unconstitutional, and Quebec, which supports the federal government’s defence of the restrictions, are among interveners in the closely watched case the Supreme Court of Canada is scheduled to hear on Wednesday.

Canadians lose the right to vote after living abroad for more than five years under rules on the books since 1993. However, it was only under the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper that Elections Canada began enforcing the laws.

Two Canadians living and working in the United States launched the case after being denied the right to vote in the 2011 election. They argue that citizenship, not residency, is the key requisite for voting.

“One way or the other, this is going to get decided and either Canadians will be enfranchised or Canadians will be disenfranchised,” Jamie Duong, one of the appellants, said from Ithaca, N.Y.

Duong and Gill Frank, an academic in Princeton, N.J., initially won their case before Ontario Superior Court in 2014 but the government appealed. In a split decision in 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled the restrictions do indeed infringe on the rights of citizens. However, the majority found the violation democratically justified because the rules preserve the “social contract” between voters and lawmakers.

In its Supreme Court filing, the government takes issue with the characterization that long-term expats were “disenfranchised” by the rules enforced under Harper. With few exceptions, no Canadians living abroad were allowed to vote before the 1993 law changes, the government says.

“The impugned provisions enfranchised non-resident citizens by allowing them to vote for the first time in Canadian history, for as long as they met the definition of being temporarily resident outside Canada,” the government states.

In their factum, Duong and Frank argue they maintain a “deep and abiding” connection to Canada even though, like many citizens in a globalized world, they have left the country for employment or educational reasons.

“There is no pressing and substantial objective to justify the legislation,” the pair argue. “Five years is an arbitrary marker, which is not rationally linked to a citizen’s connection to Canada, nor to being subject to Canadian laws.”

Another intervener, the Canadian Expat Association, said the rules have “devalued” the citizenship of those abroad.

“For expats whose identity is deeply Canadian, this expressive harm to their dignity and personhood is demeaning and harmful,” the association says.

In rebuttal, the federal government argues Parliament made a reasonable policy choice in enacting rules designed to maintain the fairness of the electoral system. Canadians living in Canada, the government maintains, are more affected by laws their elected officials enact than are expats.

During the last election, actor Donald Sutherland, Canadian business groups abroad and other expats rallied against Harper and the voting ban. The campaigning Liberals promised a review and in November 2016, the Trudeau government introduced legislation to enable Canadians abroad to vote. However, little has happened since.

Duong said expats — estimates are that more than one million of them are unable to vote — will be keeping a close eye to see what the Supreme Court decides.

“The Canadian expat community that has been supporting us and supporting the fight has been fantastic,” Duong said. “We’ve raised closed to $18,000 from 220 people around the world…that has been helping to cover court expenses.”

Source: The Supreme Court is set to decide whether long-term Canadian expats can vote

Every Canadian should have the right to vote — even those living abroad (pro-expat opinion piece by Ivo Entchev)

Port du hijab: première demande d’accommodement raisonnable adressée au DGEQ | Le Devoir

And so the cases and eventual challenges begin:

Le directeur général des élections du Québec (DGEQ) a reçu une demande d’accommodement raisonnable pour contourner un règlement jugé discriminatoire par certains partis politiques, a appris Le Devoir. Il s’agit d’une femme portant le hijab qui, souhaitant se présenter aux prochaines élections provinciales, a demandé une dérogation lui permettant de joindre à son dossier de candidature une photo d’elle avec son voile, ce qui est actuellement interdit par le DGEQ.

« C’est la première demande d’accommodement raisonnable qu’on a eue à ce sujet », a confirmé Stéphanie Isabelle, porte-parole du DGEQ. Elle reconnaît toutefois avoir déjà reçu des commentaires et critiques incitant à modifier le règlement.

L’article 6 du Règlement sur la déclaration de candidature mentionne en effet que la photographie jointe au dossier doit donner « une vue de face complète du candidat à partir des épaules, tête découverte », ce qui empêche toute personne portant un turban, un voile ou même un bandana, de se présenter. Cet article a été vivement contesté auprès du DGEQ par divers partis politiques, dont Québec solidaire et le Parti vert, qui souhaiteraient présenter les candidats de leur choix, sans entrave pour une question de couvre-chef.

Le Devoir avait révélé il y a deux semaines qu’en 2014, le DGEQ avait refusé la candidature de Fatimata Sow, qui se présentait pour le Parti vert dans La Pinière, parce qu’elle avait fourni une photo d’elle coiffée d’un hijab. Craignant les répercussions négatives sur sa candidature, l’aspirante candidate n’avait pas voulu rendre son histoire publique à l’époque et avait renoncé à se présenter.

Modification possible

N’hésitant pas à parler de « discrimination systémique », le chef du Parti vert, Alex Tyrrell, a multiplié les démarches, notamment auprès de la ministre Kathleen Weil, anciennement à l’Immigration et récemment aux Institutions démocratiques. Celle-ci a récemment déclaré que le pouvoir de modifier le règlement appartenait au DGEQ actuel, Pierre Reid, qui a confirmé qu’il était en train de revoir ce règlement dans son ensemble. « Depuis l’automne, en prévision des prochaines élections, on est en révision de notre matériel électoral et ça inclut le formulaire de déclaration de candidature », a réitéré au Devoir Stéphanie Isabelle.

Seul le Québec possède une telle obligation. L’exigence de fournir une photo « tête découverte » n’existe pas aux niveaux fédéral et municipal, une preuve étant l’élection du député et chef du Nouveau Parti démocratique, Jagmeet Singh. Elle n’existe pas non plus pour obtenir une carte d’assurance maladie du Québec, un permis de conduire ou un passeport, où la loi interdit d’être photographié avec un couvre-chef, sauf si celui-ci est porté tous les jours pour des raisons religieuses ou médicales.

Des partis peu bavards

C’est d’ailleurs ce qu’a fait valoir la future candidate en soumettant sa demande d’accommodement au DGEQ au début du mois de décembre. Elle préférerait toutefois que le règlement soit modifié au lieu de bénéficier d’un accommodement, qui n’a généralement pas bonne presse.

Interrogé sur la procédure à suivre lorsqu’une demande d’accommodement est soumise, le DGEQ a dit qu’il n’y a pas de « procédure prévue pour le moment dans la loi électorale ». Une modification au règlement servirait à régler le problème, mais elle devra être approuvée par l’Assemblée nationale et suivre les étapes, jusqu’à la publication dans la Gazette officielle.

Après plusieurs jours de sollicitation, les principaux partis politiques se sont montrés très avares de commentaires. Le Parti québécois a dit qu’il discutera peut-être de la question à son prochain caucus à la fin de janvier, tandis que le Parti libéral du Québec s’est contenté de dire qu’il se conformera à la Loi électorale et aux règlements du DGEQ. La Coalition avenir Québec n’a pas souhaité faire de commentaires.

via Port du hijab: première demande d’accommodement raisonnable adressée au DGEQ | Le Devoir

Swing ridings with high visible minority populations will tilt 2019 federal election, says politicos

Based on my riding analysis. Interesting comments by MPs. For the complete riding list see C16 – Visible Minority – Ridings:

Some 41 “swing” ridings with visible minority populations of 50 per cent or more, including five constituencies in the Greater Toronto Area that have 80 per cent or more visible minorities, will be key battlegrounds for all major parties in the 2019 election, say politicos.

“These ridings will elect the next government,” said rookie Conservative MP Bob Saroya (Markham-Unionville, Ont.) in an interview with The Hill Times. “These are the swing ridings.”

Based on the 2016 census data, recently released by Statistics Canada, and a list compiled by author and multiculturalism expert Andrew Griffith, 27 of the 41 ridings are located in Ontario, nine in British Columbia, two each in Alberta and Quebec, and one in Manitoba.

Among the 41, there are five GTA-area ridings with visible minority populations greater than 80 per cent: Scarborough North (92.2 per cent), Brampton East (90.6 per cent), Markham-Thornhill (84.8 per cent), Markham-Unionville (84.6 per cent), and Scarborough-Agincourt (80.6 per cent). And there are 12 ridings in Ontario and British Columbia combined where visible minorities comprise between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the population.

via Swing ridings with high visible minority populations will tilt 2019 federal election, says politicos – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

For racialized communities, electoral reform is about more than voting | Toronto Star

While Avvy gets the numbers wrong – there are 47 visible minority MPs, not 46  (14 percent), close to the 15 percent of visible minorities who are also Canadian citizens and who can vote, her broader point on the need for better representation would benefit for more attention to the declining naturalization rate, and how that disproportionately affects visible minorities, and hence participation in elections (see Citizenship Applications: Third Quarter Continues to Show Decline).

Moreover, while it is legitimate to criticize the specific choices of which  visible minorities made it into Cabinet (four Canadian Sikhs, one Afghan Canadian), a broader look at senior political positions (parliamentary secretaries etc) and Senate appointments presents a more nuanced picture (see my Government appointments and diversity).

My focus is more on the declining naturalization rate given the longer term impact on social inclusion/cohesion and representation:

When the 46 so-called “visible-minority” MPs were elected to the Canadian Parliament in the 2015 election, some media called it a “watershed” moment in our history and a victory for Canada’s multiculturalism. In reality, out of a total of 338 seats, the politicians from different communities of colour represent just over 13 per cent of Parliament, while about 19 per cent of Canada’s population is made up of people of colour, with the largest three groups being South Asian, Chinese and black, who together made up 61 per cent of all communities of colour. When Trudeau named his cabinet, one that he described as looking like Canada, not one Chinese or black made it to his short list.

Today, tens of thousands permanent residents of Canada are denied the right to vote because of the strict naturalization law, not to mention the 200,000 or immigrants with precarious status who have lived and worked in Canada for years, in some cases decades, without ever given a chance to regularize their status.

As Canadians ponder which electoral system will be best for our democracy, considerations should be given for the following two questions:

  • Which electoral system will be best able to engage the marginalized communities, including racialized communities and new Canadians, in order to ensure their full participation in the democratic process.
  • Regardless of which system is chosen, what can we do to make our political bodies more fully reflect the makeup of Canada?

On both questions, the special committee report fell short. While the Report did make some passing references to the need to increase representation of “visible minorities,” no specific recommendation — or an attempt to come up with one — was made to address this issue.

This is in contrast with the committee’s treatment of some of the other under-represented groups, or groups that are not as engaged in the political process as they should, such as indigenous peoples, students, youth, people with disabilities, and women, where there were specific sections in the report devoted to analyzing how to increase their democratic purification, and in the case of indigenous people and women, their political representation. But even then, the committee did not offer any concrete solutions for these critical challenges.

The government has since been hosting its own online consultation to gather public opinion. Apart from offering no public education or information about the electoral reform process or the various possible options, the questions posted on Mydemocracy.ca are replete with false dichotomy.

Canadians are asked a number of “either-or” questions, as if the choices presented are mutually exclusive. One question assumes, for instance, a system that requires greater collaboration among parties would be less accountable. Another asks Canadians to choose between improving representation of under-represented groups and greater political accountability.

While there is no perfect system, there is no reason why we cannot aspire to design a system that is inclusive, accountable, and above all, responsive to all Canadians.

Source: For racialized communities, electoral reform is about more than voting | Toronto Star

C-33 Election Act Amendments: Expatriate Voting, Minister Monsef’s Rationale for No Restrictions

Given my opposition to the proposed indefinite expansion of voting rights to Canadian expatriates who had lived at any time, no matter how short in Canada, I was curious to listen to Minister Monsef explain the government’s rationale for proposing an approach at PROC (Procedure and House Affairs Committee).

Monsef spent more time on the proposed indefinite granting of voting rights to Canadians who have lived once in Canada than the other provisions in the Bill.

This proposed approach undermines the value and meaningfulness of Canadian citizenship and does not appear as a specific commitment  in Minister Monsef’s mandate letter unlike the other provisions of C-33.

However, and arguably, it fits philosophically, within “repeal the elements of the Fair Elections Act which makes it harder for Canadians to vote” (the five year limit on expatriate voting dates from 1993 under the Chrétien government but was only enforced by the Harper government).

Her main arguments, similar to those made by advocates, were that ongoing globalization meant more Canadians, particularly youth, were living and working abroad, sharing Canadian values and bringing Canadian ways of doing things to the world, along with bringing the world back to Canada.

The right to vote was a fundamental right as “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” but noted that the current case before the Supreme Court will still be heard.

The Minister stated that she had received many emails from expatriate Canadians who pay attention to what is happening in Canada and who want to participate in elections.

The government believes it is neither right nor fair to limit the vote to expatriates who have spent five years or less abroad. Granting the right to vote to the “over one million” Canadians abroad was only fair.

There was no real questioning on this provision by Committee members.

Bizarrely, she raised the issue about extending voting rights to the children of Canadians who had never lived in Canada, as an area that should be discussed in Committee.

It is hard to tell whether the floating of voting rights for Canadian citizens who have never lived in Canada is serious or is a trial balloon. In either case, it should be shot down, as it makes a complete mockery of our democratic system and citizenship to have such an extreme disconnect between residency and voting.

Nor should this trial balloon detract from the substantive issues regarding granting indefinite voting rights without any requirements, either time limits, declarations, or visits to Canada.

In terms of those plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, either the Australian or New Zealand approach (declarations or visits) would address their concerns given their personal and active connection to Canada. But opening this to all, many if not most to not have this ongoing connection, is a mistake.

Sigh …

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

Bill C-33: Electoral Reforms – Expatriate voting provision

While the Liberal government did commit to relax the restrictions on expatriate voting, this was, unless I missed it, phrased in general terms, leaving options open in terms of how they met their commitment.

Bill C-33 essentially removes any and all restrictions, save for the person having lived in Canada at one time, providing indefinite voting rights.

The extreme example would be someone born in Canada who left as a baby and has not been back since, but could still vote on issues that affect Canadians residing in Canada.

Hard to understand why the government did not choose other models that allow expatriate voting with reasonable restrictions:

  • Australia: six-year limit, renewable with a declaration;
  • New Zealand, three-year limit with the clock restarting upon a visit to New Zealand;
  • UK, 15-year limit; or,
  • US, no limitation but requires filing of tax returns.

The government did, however, cite France as an example where no limits apply.

Hard to justify as I have argued earlier (and will continue to do so) – What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options.

This provision deserves a rough ride in the House and Senate.

Language of the Bill:

(f) remove two limitations on voting by non-resident electors: the requirement that they have been residing outside Canada for less than five consecutive years, and the requirement that they intend to return to Canada to resume residence in the future; and …

The most detailed reporting I have seen to date is from Le Devoir:

Le gouvernement Trudeau souhaite en outre permettre à tout expatrié citoyen canadien de conserver son droit de vote à vie. Depuis 1993, un Canadien vivant à l’étranger perdait le droit de vote après cinq ans d’absence. Et il devait déclarer son intention de revenir au pays. Avant cette date, les Canadiens perdaient carrément leur droit lorsqu’ils quittaient le Canada.

Mais les libéraux proposent qu’à l’avenir, tout citoyen canadien né ou ayant vécu au Canada puisse continuer de voter depuis l’étranger. La limite de cinq ans était « relativement arbitraire », selon la ministre Monsef. Ottawa estime qu’un million de personnes pourraient désormais voter en en faisant la demande auprès du fédéral.

Le gouvernement britannique prévoit de déposer un projet de loi pour prolonger à vie le droit de vote de ses expatriés. Les Britanniques perdent présentement ce droit après 15 ans d’absence. Les Américains conservent leur droit de vote à vie. La France permet à ses citoyens de voter, qu’ils aient habité ou non l’Hexagone.

Élections Canada procédera en revanche à un nettoyage de sa liste d’électeurs, qui comptait à peu près 40 000 non-citoyens en date du dernier dénombrement en 1997.

Ottawa annule la réforme conservatrice

Source: Bill C-33: 7 Reforms to Increase Voter Participation and Electoral Integrity – Canada News Centre

Liberals To Expand Voting Rights For Canadian Expats

Sigh…

While we have to see whether the Government tables legislation prior to the Supreme Court ruling or after (preferable), and what exactly the legislation includes, my general critique still applies, What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options.

In my opinion, should the government proceed, some variant of the Australian or New Zealand approach that requires some action by expatriates to extend their right (e.g., declaration or periodic visit) would be preferred, rather than indefinitely extending voting rights as some advocates have argued:

The Liberal government is preparing to expand the voting rights of non-resident Canadians, The Huffington Post Canada has learned.

Canadians who have lived abroad for more than five years are essentially banned from casting a ballot right now. They cannot receive a special mail-in ballot, and although they can technically come to Canada vote in person, they have a near impossible task of proving residency here.

Two sources told HuffPost that Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef is looking at tabling legislation that would give expatriate Canadians the right to vote by special ballot no matter how long they have been away.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case in February involving two Canadians who live in the United States and want to vote. Jamie Duong and Gillian Frank first challenged the law in an Ontario court and won in 2014, placing an estimated 1.4 million Canadians back on the voter rolls, but the Conservative government successfully appealed the ruling before last year’s election.

maryam monsef
Maryam Monsef Minister of Democratic Institutions responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 2, 2016. 

In a statement last month, Monsef announced that the federal government had filed a memorandum of argument defending the current restrictions on non-resident Canadian citizens — a move that angered many expats who felt the Liberals were betraying their campaign commitment.

During the 2015 election, the party told the Canadian Expat Association: “We believe that all Canadians should have a right to vote, no matter where they live, and we are committed to ensuring this is the case.”

In her October statement, Monsef signalled that legislation would be introduced before the end of the year that would “meet the needs of highly mobile Canadian citizens who live in today’s increasingly interconnected world” but she did not elaborate.

Source: Liberals To Expand Voting Rights For Canadian Expats

Brampton council says no to electoral reform despite ethnic mismatch with residents | Toronto Star

The gap between representation at the municipal level and other levels of government has been an issue for some time (all federal MPs and provincial MPPs from Brampton are Indo Canadians, over reflecting their share of the population and the first-past-the-post system).

Ranked balloting may be part of the solution but there are likely other factors involved, including the lack of political parties at the municipal level:

On Wednesday — as a federal debate on the issue draws near and with new Ontario legislation that gives cities the option of ranked balloting — Brampton council voted 11-0 against the idea. Meanwhile, Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral method is being used by fewer and fewer democratic nations around the world because it’s recognized as a system that too often puts people in power despite their having little voter support.

“Each city councillor in Brampton has the support, on average, of less than 4 per cent of the city’s voters, yet they’re making decisions that affect the entire city,” says Pat McGrail, chair of Fair Vote Peel, who made a presentation to council Wednesday, advocating for a ranked ballot system whereby candidates would need the support of a majority to get elected.

Brampton councillors who responded to the Star said they voted against ranked balloting because voters might find the system too confusing. It works by allowing voters to rank at least three top candidates (cities can opt to allow more candidates to be ranked on each ballot). The candidate who receives the least first place votes is eliminated in each round and their votes are redistributed until one candidate has a majority.

But critics point to research that shows the current first-past-the-post system often leads to municipal councils that do not accurately reflect the ethnic diversity of cities. In Brampton close to 70 per cent of the city’s residents are visible minorities. Only one out of eleven members of city council is a visible minority.

“That’s not just a Brampton problem,” says Dave Meslin, an expert on the subject who is authoring a book on electoral reform and has helped with the federal government’s current public consultations on the issue being conducted in every riding across Canada. He says Canada is now alone in its use of first-past-the-post for every level of government. “The lack of diverse representation on municipal councils is a glaring problem across Ontario.”

He points to U.S. research that shows ranked balloting in cities has significantly improved representation that more accurately reflects the electorate. Vote splitting, where an incumbent can rely on a concentrated base of supporters, while a number of other candidates fight for the remaining voters — often the vast majority — is something that can’t happen with ranked balloting, Meslin says.

In the 2014 municipal election, of all winners, Brampton Coun. Martin Medeiros received the least number of votes — 4,188, or 22 per cent of the votes cast in his ward. He beat Shan Gill by 100 votes. There were 15 candidates in total who ran for the council seat Medeiros now occupies. With a city-wide turnout of 36 per cent of eligible voters, applying the same rate, Medeiros received the support of about 7 per cent of eligible voters in his ward.

He did not respond when asked to comment on his decision not to support ranked balloting.

The provincial government was asked if its new legislation under Bill 181, which gives cities the option of using ranked balloting for elections, falls short because it leaves the ultimate decision to the very politicians who might get defeated by the new system.

“We feel that municipalities are responsible levels of government and are in the best position to make decisions in the best interest of their communities,” said Ministry of Municipal Affairs spokesperson Conrad Spezowka.

McGrail says low voter turnout is another problem with first-past-the-post. “The central problem of first-past-the-post is divide and conquer while appealing to your base. People become so disenfranchised they don’t even bother to vote.”

Sukhjot Naroo, a Brampton resident and co-founder of the social network Brampton Beats, which has almost 4,000 members who focus on municipal issues, says he doubts Brampton council will accurately reflect the city’s population as long as vote splitting continues. He lists an increasing number of issues accompanying Brampton’s rapid demographic shift, from zoning for places of worship to funding for a variety of culturally specific activities, that don’t get proper representation on council.

“Everyone on council will benefit from vote-splitting. The incumbents don’t want change. They’re just trying to protect the status quo. Out of eleven votes, not one even considered ranked balloting. Not even Gurpreet Dhillon, the only South Asian member of council, because he now has his base of supporters and can grow that through his growing political connections.”

Dhillon did not respond to questions emailed to him.

Toronto’s Katherine Skene says she’s dismayed, but not surprised by Brampton’s 11-0 vote. “I would hope that councils, before voting on the issue, there would be broad public consultation to find out what the voters actually want.”

Skene is co-chair of the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, where councillors last year voted 25-18 against a provincial option to allow for ranked balloting, a reversal of that council’s earlier position to bring ranked ballots about. Mayor John Tory supported the idea during his election campaign and maintained his support in last year’s vote.

Source: Brampton council says no to electoral reform despite ethnic mismatch with residents | Toronto Star