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

Why is Ottawa still defending disenfranchisement of expats? – Sevi and Frank

The usual weak arguments by Semra Sevi and Gillian Frank.

Starting with the evidence-base on the number of expatriates. The Asia Pacific Foundation number of 2.9 million is composed of 58 percent Canadian-born and 42 percent foreign-born. For the latter (1.2 million), it does not distinguish between those who became Canadian citizens (who can vote) and those who did not, as the purpose of their study was not related to voting rights. Nor does the APF study provide an overall age profile to determine how many are of voting age.

Sevi and Frank admit as much by then later on just referring to ‘over a million’ rather than the higher figure (Canadian-born expats in the US total about 900,000 according to the OECD, total OECD figures are 1.2 million, which exclude major expatriate centres such as China, Hong Kong and the Gulf countries, but these lower figures do not include naturalized Canadians).

Moreover, none of these numbers do not measure the degree of the connection to Canada. Sevi and Frank assert that ‘many’ are connected. How many of the ‘many’ pay Canadian taxes and own property? How many have substantial business ties to Canada? Social ties? I have not seen any such data but readers may correct me.

We do have a sense of how many seek consular services (about 20,000 per year for those who have been abroad for five years or more) and the number of passports issued abroad (about 184,000 in 2015, with about 725,000 passport holders living abroad). These numbers suggest a smaller yet nevertheless significant number of ‘connected’ expatriates.

We also have voting data, for those with under 5 years abroad, that show very small numbers, as in the table below, suggesting that relatively few of those who have lived abroad for this period are politically engaged (of course, some may return to Canada to vote, but again, data is lacking).

Canadian Expatriates Data Gaps.017.png

But beyond the weak evidence base, and the challenges of determining – and implementing – a ‘connection’ test, living outside of Canada for extended periods of time invariably weakens the connection to the day-to-day reality of living in Canada, whether from the perspective of government services such as healthcare, education, transit and the like, or the related political debates and discussions.

Interestingly, neither Sevi nor Frank propose a new number if five is considered too short. 10 years, 15 years, indefinitely? Should those born abroad to Canadian parents be allowed to vote even if they have never lived in Canada?

In the hands of the Supreme Court now, for better or worse.

Despite claims of expat apathy towards Canada, many Canadians living abroad continue to maintain close ties with the country, visit family and friends regularly, pay taxes, own property, follow the news, seek consular services, and desire to continue voting in spite of the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent them from doing so. Many of these Canadians do not hold dual citizenship and cannot vote elsewhere.

The current lawsuit before the Supreme Court reflects the strong ties Canadians abroad maintain with their country, as well as their belief that the democratic process should be modernized to reflect a globalized world with a large Canadian diaspora.

In 2012, Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong, two Canadians living in the United States, filed a lawsuit to restore the right of Canadians abroad to vote. In 2014, Ontario’s Superior Court struck down the law and re-enfranchised expats. The Conservative government responded by appealing this decision and in July 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal, in a split decision, accepted the attorney-general’s argument.

It’s 2016 and our new Prime Minister recently visited the United States where he rubbed elbows with expat celebrities and met with Canadian business leaders in Washington and New York, lauding their accomplishments while encouraging them to invest in our economy. Prime Minister Trudeau sent a message that he values citizens who reside outside of the country. As much was clear during the 2015 elections when Anna Gainey, the president of the Liberal Party, wrote to 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 that this is the case.”

In early 2017, the Court will hear arguments about the rights of Canadians abroad to vote. Mr. Trudeau has an unprecedented opportunity to welcome many of these citizens back into our democratic process. One way he could do this is by not defending the litigation before the Supreme Court. Will the Liberals live up to their much-anticipated campaign promise to restore democracy to citizens living abroad? The voting rights of over a million Canadians hang in the balance.

Source: Why is Ottawa still defending disenfranchisement of expats? – The Globe and Mail

Reframing the debate over expat voting: Russell and Sevi, Globe editorial

Reframing_the_debate_over_expat_voting_-_Macleans_caTwo contrasting views on expatriate voting.

The first, by Peter Russell (a former excellent and insightful professor of mine) and Semra Sevi (who has written before Canadian expatriates should never lose the right to vote), provides useful data on the number of expatriates who actually vote.

The number, as shown above, is minuscule compared to the estimated almost three million Canadian expatriates. The article also has the following international comparisons:

The five-year limitation, as opposed to some other limit, is overly drastic and Canada’s provision is not comparable with similar democracies around the world.

Americans living outside of the country have the right to vote no matter how long they have been abroad providing they pay taxes. The right to vote expires in the United Kingdom after 15 years abroad. To put this into perspective, this is three times longer than what Canada permits even though Canada is part of the Commonwealth.

Australian citizens abroad are allowed to vote so long as they intend to return to Australia within six years. After six years, citizens can renew their status by making an annual declaration of their intention to return “at some point” thereby voting for an indefinite period. In New Zealand, there is a three-year limit but the clock restarts every time citizens visit the country. Moreover, New Zealand extends the right to vote to non-citizen residents from other Commonwealth countries.

The United Kingdom extends similar voting rights to citizens of Commonwealth countries and citizens of the Republic of Ireland. The five-year limit in Canada is an arbitrary number and is unnecessarily onerous. On the surface, it is a year less generous than Australia, but Australians can renew their status by expressing a mere intent to return to the country “at some point” in the future. Canadians, on the other hand, need to resume residency to regain their right to vote abroad.

The right to vote is a fundamental right of citizenship that is protected by the Charter and does not depend on place of residence. The five-year limitation does not conform to the 21st-century demands of globalization. While there is currently an NDP-sponsored bill to repeal the provision that limits voting rights for Canadians abroad as unconstitutional, it is possible that the unconvincing judgment of two Ontario appellate judges could be overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada—but, alas, not in time to restore democratic rights to the close to a million and a half Canadians living abroad for the fall election.

Reframing the debate over expat voting – Macleans.ca.

Expatriate Voter TurnoutThe Globe editorial takes, correctly in my view, takes the opposite view:

We think the decision is the right one, for three reasons.

First, because our electoral system, based as it is on residence in a particular electoral district, assumes a connection between residence and voting, governors and the governed.

Second, because we live in a world of national borders and laws that do not apply extraterritorially, which means the lives of non-resident Canadians are largely not governed by Canadian law. As Ontario Chief Justice George Strathy put it, “permitting all non-resident citizens to vote would allow them to participate in making laws that affect Canadian residents on a daily basis, but have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives.”

And third, because reasonable people can disagree, reasonably, over how long a citizen should reside outside of Canada before having her vote suspended. Should the limit be five years? Ten? Two generations? Never? The practical question of setting reasonable limits is best left where the Ontario Court of Appeal left it, in the hands of Parliament.

The Canada Elections Act says that Canadian citizens are entitled to vote in the riding in which they typically reside. However, the Act also says that Canadian citizens living abroad for more than five years cannot vote. There are exceptions for people sent overseas in service to the country, such as members of the Armed Forces.

All of which is not unreasonable. Justice Strathy noted that “residence is a determinant of voter eligibility in all provinces and territories.” If you move from Nova Scotia to Alberta, you can’t continue voting in Nova Scotia in perpetuity.

He also pointed out that “residence is a requirement of the electoral laws of the other Westminster democracies. The U.K., Australia and New Zealand limit the voting rights of non-resident citizens to those temporarily resident abroad.” The maximum time overseas before one loses the vote is 15 years in Britain, six years in Australia and three years in New Zealand. Canada’s current law is fair.

 No, Canadians living abroad shouldn’t get to vote 

Canadian expatriates should never lose the right to vote

The problem with Semra Sevi’s argumentation like that of others is that it relies on anecdotes and generalizations:

Canadians abroad are connected to global networks that Canada can benefit from. Instead of using derogative labels like “Canadians of convenience” or “Foreigners holding Canadian passports,” Canada needs to take a proactive approach to engage Canadians living abroad. People have many different reasons for moving away, and to label them as less Canadian for doing so is troublesome. There are many cases of Canadians studying in the United States who find work in the United Kingdom before coming back to Canada a decade later yet under the current system they would be disenfranchised after five years. Many of these Canadians working abroad do so for Canadian companies, yet these businesses are not facing the same dilemma as Canadians abroad.

Immigrants who decide to leave Canada for whatever reason and return to their native countries are not less Canadian as their compatriots who live in Canada. They may not be residing in the country but they are nevertheless subject to Canadian law and foreign policy decisions. Many of them actively retain connections to Canada. Questions like are expatriates “real” Canadians, is unconstitutional and un-Canadian in themselves. Canadians living abroad are significant global assets who deserve the same rights as those living in Canada. The world is as interconnected as ever, and is only becoming more so. Isolating citizens based on their current geographic placement, which is based on many factors, runs counter to the way the world operates in the twenty-first century.

The reality if varies by community, it varies by individual, and it varies by country of residence. My anecdotal experience with Canadian expatriates when I worked in the foreign service was mixed; some maintained a strong ongoing connection, others did not.

We do not have enough survey and other information to know, beyond the usual anecdotes, how many expatriates have a meaningful ongoing connection to Canada.

Generally speaking, the longer the time outside of Canada, the looser the bond as family, work and local connections become more meaningful.

I suspect if we applied the US approach of taxation based on citizenship, some of the enthusiasm for unlimited voting rights (no representation without taxation) would decrease.

Canadian expatriates should never lose the right to vote – The Globe and Mail.