Rise in expat voting expected to continue, creating new political footholds, say experts

Of note. One of the reasons that one of the former Chief Electoral Officer did not oppose expatriate voting was his expectation that most will not bother to vote which the 2019 election confirmed although that will likely increase slowly. And yes, riding breakdowns would be useful, but it is interesting to note the Conservative focus on Canadian expatriates in Hong Kong rather than the much larger living in the USA:

Expat voting tripled between the last two Canadian federal elections, and sources who recently spoke with The Hill Times say they expect numbers of those who cast ballots from abroad to continue to trend upwards, opening new opportunities for political parties.

But while a conservative group launched in January is working to boost registration of international electors, there’s no sign of a liberal equivalent.

“I think we’re the only Canadian kind of political-oriented expat group that’s trying to help Canadians get registered [to vote] abroad,” said Brett Stephenson, vice-chair and policy chair of Canadian Conservatives Abroad(CCA), which officially launched in January of this year with an aim, in part, to encourage registration of international voters, in a recent phone interview with The Hill Times from Hong Kong.

Involved in the group are a number of notable names: former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird, who now works for a number of international firms in Toronto; Nigel Wright, a former chief of staff to then-prime minister Stephen Harper who’s working for Onex in London, U.K.; Herman Cheung, a former manager of new media and marketing in the Harper PMO who now works for Philip Morris International in Hong Kong; Barrett Bingley, a former adviser to then-foreign affairs minister David Emerson who’s now working for The Economist Group in Hong Kong; Patrick Muttart, a former deputy chief of staff to PM Harper who’s now working for Philip Morris International in London, U.K.; Jamie Tronnes, a former Conservative staffer on the Hill who’s now working as a consultant in Oakland, Calif.; Georganne Burke, an experienced Conservative campaigner and organizer who’s based in Ottawa; and Ian Vaculik, who briefly worked as an adviser in the Harper PMO and now works for KBR Inc. in London, U.K. Mr. Stephenson is also a former Conservative staffer, including to Lisa Raitt during her time as natural resources minister. 

“I don’t think the … small ‘L’ liberals have come together to form an organization. I thought they would after we had formed in January, but there still hasn’t been any effort as far as I can see,” said Mr. Stephenson. 

Similar efforts have been underway by political parties in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia for decades, said Mr. Stephenson—for example, Democrats Abroad or Republicans Overseas—but similar outreach to Canadian expats has long been a “missing component.”

“We’re about 40 years behind our fellow English-speaking countries when it comes to having some sort of international space to engage with expats abroad,” he said. 

Citizens who had resided outside of Canada were barred from voting if they’d lived outside the country for more than five years in 1993, though it was seen as loosely enforced until 2011. In that year’s election, two Canadians who’d been outside the country for more than five years—Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong—had their ballots rejected, a decision they took to court, leading to a January 2019 Supreme Court decision that ruled expats have the right to vote in federal elections no matter how long they’ve lived outside the country. That decision came on the heels of a Trudeau Liberal bill, the Elections Modernization Act, which received royal assent in December 2018 and, among other things, amended the Canada Elections Act to scrap the requirement that only Canadians living outside the country for less than five consecutive years, and who intended to return in the future, could vote.

Subsequently, expat voting surged. In 2015, 15,603 expats were registered with Elections Canada as of that year’s election, with 10,707 valid ballots cast. In 2019, 55,512 Canadians were on the international register of electors come the October election, of which 32,720 cast valid ballots, an increase of nearly 206 per cent from the election prior. 

Even with the increase, that’s still a small fraction of the total number of Canadians living abroad. The Canadian Expat Association estimates some 2.8 million Canadians live outside the country (the number of eligible voters among that count though is unknown); registration with Global Affairs Canada is entirely voluntary, and only 352,245 Canadians are currently registered.

Graph courtesy of Infogram.

There are early signs that the number of expats registering to vote continues to rise.

On Sept. 13, 2019, two days after the writs were issued and roughly one month out from voting day (Oct. 21) in the last election, the Huffington Post reported that, at that point, 19,784 people were on the international register of electors. That number rose 180.6 per cent to 55,512 by election day. 

As of July 25, there were 29,632 Canadians on Elections Canada’s international register of electors—roughly 10,000 more than were on the list one month out from the last election. (Elections Canada does a verification process after each federal election, asking those registered to confirm their continued registration and mailing address, and removes the names of those who don’t respond or have returned to Canada.)

Though it’s still not official that a federal election will happen soon, expectation seems widespread that an election call is imminent, with the vote seen as likely to be held this fall, possibly in September.

“The opportunity is there for expats to have an impact,” said Mr. Stephenson, adding he expects the number of ballots cast by expat voters in the next election to be on par with 2019 levels or to potentially go up. “I don’t think it will dip down.”

John Delacourt, a former Liberal staffer and now a vice-president with Hill and Knowlton Strategies, said the numbers “certainly suggest” expat voting is on the rise.

“If that is indeed the case … it would be viewed as an opportunity, and as an opportunity for outreach, and virtually every party, I think, is interested in growth to connect with members, whether they be beyond our borders” or in Canada, he said. 

Semra Sevi, a PhD candidate with the University of Montreal’s department of political science who has explored the subject of expat voting (her master’s thesis looked at the impact of such voters in Canada), said the fact that expat voting appears to be on the rise is “not very surprising,” given increased attention on the matter, and she expects it “will continue to climb,” as political groups increasingly turn their sights to such voters and awareness builds. 

Mr. Delacourt said he doesn’t know of a Liberal-equivalent group to the CCA, adding the Conservative effort is “a little ironic” given the party’s past position supporting previous expat voting limits.

The Hill Times asked the federal Liberal Party directly about the existence of any such groups, and none were noted in response, though senior director of communications Braeden Caley did highlight that the party “works both with volunteers and organizers on a series of initiatives to help encourage Canadians abroad to participate in our democracy and elections,” noting “particularly strong support from Canadian students who have been living abroad in recent years.” 

Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Bingley previously formed a Canadian Conservatives in Hong Kong group in 2019, on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision, similarly aimed at encouraging expats to register to vote. Through one registration drive event held a few days before writs dropped in 2019, attended by Mr. Baird, he said the group helped get between 150 to 200 expats registered. (The total number registered overall as a result of the group’s efforts is unknown, as expats have to register themselves.)

“That’s the kind of thing we’re hoping to replicate more on a global level” now, he said, with a particular focus currently on the Asia-Pacific region (Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia in particular), the European Union (France and Germany in particular), Israel, the U.K., and the U.S., with the latter two being “likely where most Canadian expats live.” 

A lot of the group’s work, said Mr. Stephenson, is about “information sharing” and helping expats understand the process of registering, a process that involves “a lot of clicking” and is “not very simplified.” For example, a question that often comes up among expats, he said, is how voting in Canada could impact their taxes (zero impact, he said, citing Canadian tax experts).

Along with expat registration, Mr. Stephenson said the CCA is working to build a conservative network across the globe and has plans to start advertising on social media “soon.” The group also has a third function: providing informal policy advice and feedback to the Conservative Party and caucus back home (as well as provincial conservative parties, “as it comes”—for example, they recently had an open forum discussion with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, he said). 

“Tapping into that network of experience and breadth of knowledge across sectors and countries can help to really inform policy issues back into Canada,” he said. “Canada sometimes gets a little bit isolated in international conversations … and sometimes we don’t read the newspapers in other countries about what’s going on, so we wanted to be able to have that policy feedback loop to improve the discussion back in Parliament a bit more.” 

To be on the international register of electors, you need to be a Canadian citizen, at least 18 years old on polling day, and have lived in the country at some point in your life. Elections Canada requires a copy of one piece of ID, either from a Canadian passport, birth certificate, or citizenship card/certificate. Expats also need to provide the last address they lived at in Canada (it can’t be a PO box). That address is used to determine the federal riding in which their vote will be counted. Registration can happen at any time, according to Elections Canada, but must happen before 6 p.m. on the Tuesday before election day (which is always a Monday) to have their vote counted in that election.

Elections Canada begins the process of mailing out special ballot kits to those on the register “immediately after the drop of writs” and it typically takes two to three days to mail all of them out, said spokesperson Matthew McKenna. 

“This time around, we have done what we can to prepare kits in advance so we are ready to go as soon as possible,” he said. 

How long it takes to reach international voters varies by country, he said, noting the agency uses DHL, a private courier service, for “many destinations.” Completed kits have to be received at Elections Canada’s Ottawa distribution centre by no later than 6 p.m. on election day.

Since 2015, Elections Canada has run a “paid advertising component” to reach out to international electors online; prior to then, it did “some smaller-scale targeted advertising” along with “non-paid outreach and organic communication,” explained Mr. McKenna. The agency also works with Global Affairs Canada to share information with Canadians living abroad about how to register and vote, and has a dedicated section on its website.

Impact of expat voters hard to gauge, says Sevi

In the 2019 federal election, 18.4 million Canadians cast valid ballots. International voters accounted for a small fraction of that, rounded to just 0.2 per cent. 

But Mr. Stephenson said he thinks there’s still potential for expats to make an impact. In his understanding, “many of the Hong Kong Canadians,” for example, are from B.C.’s Lower Mainland, the Greater Toronto Area, and Calgary and Edmonton. If “even just 10 or 20 per cent” of Canadians in Hong Kong vote, he suggested “it could tip the scales in a lot of close election races in the GTA and Lower Mainland.” Both areas are seat-rich and seen as target regions by Canada’s major political parties. 

Gauging the impact expat voters have had in federal elections is hard to do, said Ms. Sevi. The riding-by-riding vote breakdown currently provided by Elections Canada lumps together all votes by special ballot as one category; that includes international electors, but also captures votes cast by prisoners, members of the military, and people voting domestically by mail-in ballot. (Elections Canada is anticipating mail-in ballot use to rise considerably in the next federal election as a result of COVID-19.) 

“It’s hard to disentangle the patterns to say that you know expat votes would make a difference in a specific constituency historically,” said Ms. Sevi. The Conservative Party has in recent elections gotten more votes by special ballot than any other party, she said, but that’s special ballots as a combined group. A Maclean’s piece penned by Ms. Sevi and Peter H. Russell in 2015, notes that in 2008 and 2011, Ontario saw the highest share of expat voters, followed by Quebec, then B.C., then Alberta, with expat votes spread “increasingly in urban ridings.”

However, separate research she’s done into voting by Turkish expats (in Turkey’s elections)—information on which is “disentangled” as a separate category—indicates that while turnout is lower than among domestic voters in Turkey, expats “tend to vote along similar lines as domestic voters.”

Ms. Sevi said she hopes Elections Canada provides a riding-by-riding breakdown of the types of special ballot votes in the future. 

Source: Rise in expat voting expected to continue, creating new political footholds, say experts

John Baird, Nigel Wright head up new group to organize right-leaning Canadians abroad

Of note. Canadian political parties to date have been inactive compared to the parties of other countries where expatriate voting rights have been longstanding such as the US and UK:

A new group headed by some prominent Conservatives aims to mobilize right-leaning Canadians living overseas — and marks a changed attitude toward longtime expat voters after the Supreme Court of Canada significantly expanded their voting rights.

“It’s one of the last truly untapped areas of the electorate,” John Baird, former Conservative cabinet minister, told the National Post. Baird is the honorary president for the new group, called Canadian Conservatives Abroad (CCA).

Baird said expats “overwhelmingly” don’t vote in elections, and noted the estimated three million Canadians living abroad is equivalent to about 30 electoral ridings. About 20,000 expat voters were registered ahead of the 2019 election.

The push to form the group is in part motivated by a 2019 Supreme Court decision that ruled it was unconstitutional to bar Canadian citizens from voting if they’ve lived outside Canada longer than five years. That prohibition had been in place since 1993 (though sometimes enforced loosely), but the Liberal government lifted it with Bill C-76 in 2018.

Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Conservatives fought against allowing longtime expats to vote and cracked down on the practice, alleging people were using loopholes to get around the five-year rule. Embracing the expat vote is somewhat of an about-face, but it’s also a recognition that the prohibition isn’t coming back and the Conservatives are missing an opportunity by not organizing among this population.

The CCA will be modelled after similar organizations for Americans (Republicans Overseas), Britons (Conservatives Abroad) and Australians (Australian Liberals Abroad). Democrats Abroad, which organizes overseas for the U.S. Democratic Party, is another well-known example.

Nigel Wright, a former chief of staff to Harper, will chair the CCA’s executive committee. The group is based in London and the leadership team includes Conservatives spread around the world, according to a news release.

The CCA will operate independently of political parties, but look for supporters of both federal and provincial conservative parties. “We’re starting with a solid base in the U.S., U.K., the Middle East and Asia,” Wright said in a statement.

Baird said he expects the CCA will be primarily focused on voter education, mobilization and assistance with administrative hurdles, but it will also organize virtual events and other forms of networking for overseas Conservatives. Another goal is to help drive Canadian policy discussions on global affairs from a right-wing perspective.

“We’re a group of volunteers that are just getting started, so we’ll see what form it takes,” Baird said. “It’s an exciting opportunity.”

The CCA’s first event will be a discussion on the establishment of a “CANZUK” alliance between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom that would aim to coordinate matters of migration, education, free trade and foreign policy between the countries. The event will be held to coincide with the upcoming Conservative policy convention in March.

Source: https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/john-baird-nigel-wright-head-up-new-group-to-organize-right-leaning-canadians-abroad

I don’t live in Canada anymore. I shouldn’t have the right to vote in its elections

Valid arguments but less relevant now with court decision:

With a week left until election day, I want to let the various contending parties know that my vote is still up for grabs. How can they win it? Easy. By promising that I will no longer be able to vote for them. In other words: Take my vote! Please!

I am an expat Canadian, and I haven’t lived in my home country for well over a decade. Under the previous voting regulations, I lost my franchise after five years of living outside of the country. That changed with legislation passed under the Trudeau government, a move affirmedby the Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision.

I am the kind of voter the Supreme Court described in that decision as “non-resident citizens [who] maintain deep and abiding connections to Canada through family, online media and visits home.” It was for people like me that they invalidated the premise of the previous law, which was enacted in 1993. By doing so, they enshrined as a right what the Trudeau government had allowed by law when they re-enfranchised myself and legions of other expatriate Canadians.

Investment in outcomes

In my view, both decisions were wrong, and anti-democratic. The notion that every citizen should have the right to vote in all circumstances is intuitively appealing. That said, true democracy depends on its participants being equally subject to its outcomes.

Citizenship requires investment. Democracy is people together deciding how they, within the boundaries a mari usque ad mare, should govern ourselves. Giving non-residents the vote is roughly akin to giving people the right to tell their former roommates how to set their thermostats. It is the difference between deciding with and deciding for.

To be clear, the few thousand expatriates who might vote in the upcoming election are unlikely to change the results in any riding. Election outcomes will not be tainted by the participation of non-residents.

What suffers is the fundamentals of the system itself. What good is a right to vote, when the vote bears no connection to the system that gives the right its meaning?

In their decision, the judges wrote a great deal about fairness and proportionality, but nothing about what the vote in Canada actually is: citizens within a specified geographic area choosing who their representative in the Canadian House of Commons will be.

Whatever might be in voters’ minds when they vote — be it for a specific party or policy —  the actual act of voting is choosing a person to represent a place in parliament. Whether that person takes his or her seat in the opposition, in the cabinet or in the backbenches does not change his or her primary appellation.

It is not for nothing that even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is addressed in parliament as the Honorable Member for Papineau. That is the role to which he was elected: it happened to be him, but it could equally have been any one of his neighbours.

Many Canadians still prefer their representatives to have personal stakes in the riding they represent. Time spent living in a community is often the measure of a prospective office-holder’s authenticity (one exception is party leaders in search of a safe riding in order to earn a seat in the House of Commons, as was the case with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh; voters are not immune to having their sense of importance flattered).

It’s fundamental to the legitimacy of the Commons: every man and woman in it was chosen by and from their equals, and that equality extends to the degree to which they are qualified to speak for their respective communities. It’s a fraternity borne from navigating the same potholes, jostling one another on the same sidewalks, breathing in the scent from the same trees.

Politicians who show up without paying those dues are dogged by questions about if they are really here for Canadians, as we saw with then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in the 2011 campaign, and reality TV star Kevin O’Leary in the Conservative leadership campaign in 2017.

I want the best for my former riding of Dartmouth-Cole Harbour in Nova Scotia. I miss Shubie Park, Sullivan’s Pond and the lovely old houses of Dartmouth’s downtown. But the people that live there aren’t my neighbours.

To have respect for one’s fellow citizens is to refuse the exercise of unreciprocated power over them. This remains true even if that power only comes in the form of a consequence-free vote.

Once the communities are removed from the Commons, the legitimacy of parliament will drift away from the citizens, and there will be no end of party operatives willing to grasp it for themselves.

Source: I don’t live in Canada anymore. I shouldn’t have the right to vote in its elections

Registered voters abroad near 45K, almost triple from 2015

When I was arguing (unsuccessfully) against expansion of expatriate voting rights, I used a number of measures to estimate the degree of connection to Canada, the and the experience of other jurisdictions to estimate the likely percentage of expatriates that would vote (see What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options).

I was clearly wrong in my estimate of between 200 to 300,000 based upon Australian and US experience:

Elections Canada figures show 44,843 Canadians living abroad are on its International Register of Electors as of Oct. 6. In the 2015 election, 15,603 Canadians living outside of the country registered to vote.

While not all Canadians residing abroad will cast ballots, chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault estimated last month that 30,000 citizens outside of Canada would vote in the coming election, up from almost 11,000 in the 2015 election.

When he offered that estimate on Sept. 17, he said about 20,000 Canadians living abroad were signed up to vote.

“At this point, it seems the numbers are what we thought they would be, but it may of course change,” he said.

This election will be the first where all Canadians residing abroad will be eligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been away.

In January, the Supreme Court ruled on a case brought by two Canadians residing in the United States who were barred from voting in the 2011 election because of legislation passed in 1993.

That legislation had been only loosely enforced up to that point, and barred Canadians who had lived outside the country for more than five years from voting in Canadian elections.

The country’s top court ruled the restriction unconstitutional and the Canada Elections Act was subsequently amended to adjust for the change in Bill C-76.

The international register of electors show 19,094 Canadians living in the U.S. are signed up to vote, making up almost 43 per cent of all registered abroad.

The second jurisdiction with the highest number of registered voters was the United Kingdom, with 5,176 Canadians. Hong Kong is third with 2,389 Canadians signed up to vote.

Australia, Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan and mainland China capped off the top 10 list.

Elections Canada spokesperson Matthew McKenna said it’s important to note that the international register is a permanent database.

“Once a name is added, it remains there year over year, unless the elector requests that it be removed, or passes away,” he said.

Canadians living abroad can vote by mail-in ballot. The deadline to apply to vote by mail is Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6 p.m. E.T.

Perrault cautioned that voters living abroad must also account for the time it takes for an application to be mailed, processed, and for the ballot to be sent back to Canada. On Sept. 17, he said those Canadians should register within the next week to 10 days.

Elections Canada is not accepting ballots it receives later than 6 p.m. on Oct. 21.

Votes from abroad will be counted in ridings of their last permanent address.

Source: Registered voters abroad near 45K, almost triple from 2015

Elections Canada expects 30,000 expat voters in this election, Perrault says

In other words, a 50 percent increase from 20,000 to 30,000, suggested that former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley was right that the vast majority of expats would not be interested in voting in Canadian elections (or about 3 percent of the estimated one million Canadian expatriate citizens 18 years or older):
Elections Canada says it is on track to see the number of expats it initially expected to register and to take advantage of new rules that allow Canadians living abroad to vote no matter how long they have been out of the country.

—-

With Canadians living abroad now able to vote no matter how long they have been outside the country, Canada’s chief electoral officer says Elections Canada expects 30,000 expats to register, but he is urging expats to register soon.

Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault said after a January 2019 Supreme Court ruling that expats now have the right to vote in federal elections no matter how long they have lived outside the country, the agency predicts about 30,000 voters to take advantage of the opportunity. With now just over a month until election day on Oct. 21, the agency has seen “just above 20,000 who have registered,” he told reporters on Tuesday at a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa.

Previously, non-resident citizens could not vote if they lived out of the country for more than five years.

“It’s hard to know exactly how many Canadians are living abroad—the estimate is between one to two million,” Mr. Perrault said. “At this point, it seems the numbers are what we thought.”

But Mr. Perrault urged those living away from home to register to vote sooner rather than later.

“If you look at the next week or 10 days, it’s pretty much the final stretch for most Canadians abroad to register because of the time it takes for them to return their ballots,” said Mr. Perrault.

As for election-readiness, Mr. Perrault said Elections Canada is expected to recruit 300,000 people to work the polls across the country and he encouraged Canadians who are at least 16 years of age to apply to work at polls.

“That is a very significant workforce,” he said. “I’d never say recruiting 300,000 people is not a challenge.”

This year, Mr. Perrault said, voting hours for advance polls will span four days and have extended hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Oct. 11 to Oct. 14.

Mr. Perrault also said the agency is also reinforcing its efforts to reach younger and first-time voters, opening 121 offices at 109 post-secondary campuses spanning 86 electoral districts.

A 2015 pilot project saw 39 campuses host a similar service and more than 70,000 electors cast their votes.

Source: Elections Canada expects 30,000 expat voters in this election, Perrault says

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

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)

Supreme Court of Canada appeal on expatriate voting rights – February 16 schedule

Will be interesting to see if the SCC accepts federal government arguments that the case is now moot given the provisions in Bill C-33. Unlikely that their will be any change due to the Cabinet Cabinet shuffle and the replacement of Maryam Monsef by Karina Gould, the new Minister for Democratic Institutions:

A federal law barred Canadians from voting in federal elections if they have lived abroad for more than five years. In Gillian Frank, et al. v. Attorney-General of Canada, two Canadian academics at Ivy League universities say that law violated the constitutional right of all citizens to vote. One judge of the Ontario Court of Appeal agreed, saying the law turned them into second-class citizens, and that even federal prisoners have a constitutional right to vote; but two judges said the government had put a reasonable limit on that right, because expatriates don’t live with the daily consequences of their voting decision. The Liberal government has since introduced a law to repeal the legislation barring voting from abroad, but it has not passed yet. The government argues the case is now moot; the court has not decided yet whether it is.

Source: A preview of the Supreme Court of Canada’s winter session – The Globe and Mail

Supreme Court should let long-term expats vote: Pardy

Gar Pardy joins the extend the expatriate vote advocates.

Like most advocates, they appear to argue for this right to be indefinite, no matter how long outside Canada, no matter how little the connection.

All – unless I have missed it – are silent with respect to those born-abroad but who are able to ‘inherit’ their citizenship, and who may never have lived in Canada:

Two Canadians living in the United States started the right-to-vote case now before the Supreme Court nearly five years ago. They filed a constitutional challenge with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice when they discovered they could not vote in the 2011 federal election.

Judge Michael Penny of the Ontario court ruled in May 2014 that Parliament could not take away the voting rights of non-resident Canadian citizens. In doing so, Judge Penny struck down sections of the Canada Elections Act since they violated Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedom.

The Harper government appealed this decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal. In a split decision (two to one) last July, it overruled Judge Penny. The majority ruled that while Section 3 of the charter had been violated, the “pressing and substantial” standard of Section 1 provided enough reason for the violation.

The dissenting judge, Justice John Laskin, strongly and substantively took issue with the majority decision. He argued that Judge Penny’s judgment was a “thorough and well-reasoned analysis of the issues.” He went on to argue that the majority’s use of the “the pressing and substantial objective of preserving the social contract at the heart of Canada’s system of constitutional democracy” was not valid.

The introduction of the “social contract” element in the case was not reflected in the government’s arguments before Judge Penny nor was it reflected in the documentation presented before the appeal court. Rather, the government’s lawyers did so only in oral arguments to which Justice Laskin disagreed. He concluded that Parliament did not have a “social contract” objective in mind when it passed the “five-year non-residency limitation in 1993.”

The majority decision of the appeal court in using the gaseous concept of “social contract” to deny a fundamental right of all Canadians to vote is without precedent. It does reflect many aspects of policy-making by the previous government where reason, evidence, and attention to detail were discarded. In the words of Judge Penny, the government’s arguments demonstrated that “there is simply no evidence of a problem. Rather, the government’s objectives are rhetorical, vague, and generic.”

Social contracts between the state and its citizens have long been an idea that philosophers have argued over far into the night without adding much useful light. Rather, as Justice Laskin concluded, the deprivation of the right to vote solely on the basis of residence turns Canadians abroad “into second-class citizens and so undermines the values of equality and inclusiveness…underlying our charter rights.”

In due course we can all hope the Supreme Court overrules this aberrant decision by the Ontario appeal court and in doing so establishes the charter right for some one million Canadians to vote.

Source: Supreme Court should let long-term expats vote |

Expats may have Harper Tory restrictions on voting dropped, Liberals say

To be watched – I think the current 5 year rule is appropriate (it was instituted in 1993 and the social contract reasoning of the Court decision makes sense). Moreover, not clear how many expats would in fact vote (see earlier Reframing the debate over expat voting: Russell and Sevi, Globe editorial for the numbers):

The new Liberal government wants more Canadians to vote in elections and won’t be reviving measures proposed by the former Conservative regime that critics said would have the effect of suppressing voting, the Prime Minister’s Office said Wednesday.

At the same time, a spokesman for the PMO said the government had made no decision on an existing law currently subject of a court battle that effectively disenfranchises expats abroad for more than five years.

“We will be able to clarify our intent in the coming months,” Olivier Duchesneau, deputy communications director in the Prime Minister’s Office, said in an email.

“But we believe that more Canadians should have the ability to vote, not the opposite.”

Two expat Canadians in the United States launched a constitutional challenge to rules in the Canada Elections Act that bar them from voting from abroad. They were initially successful in Ontario Superior Court in 2014, but the province’s Court of Appeal sided with the Conservative government in July.

The two are now waiting to see if the Supreme Court of Canada will take up their case. In the interim, they have called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to withdraw the government’s defence of the legislation if the top court does agree to a hearing.

The PMO said no decision has been made on the litigation or the existing legislation, but made it clear the Citizens Voting Act or Bill C-50 proposed by the former government would stay dead.

Among other things, it tightened ID and registration requirements for voters living abroad. The Conservatives argued it was aimed at preventing fraud, but critics said it would make it harder for expats to vote.

The bill, introduced last December by then-democratic reform minister Pierre Poilievre in response to the initial court decision, passed second reading in May and was being debated in committee. The legislation died on the order paper when the election was called.

“The government is committed to scrapping the Citizens Voting Act,” Duchesneau said.

Source: Expats may have Harper Tory restrictions on voting dropped, Liberals say