Expatriate Voting: National and Municipal

Rob Vineberg and I did a further refinement of our arguments against unlimited voting rights for Canadian expatriates in the Vancouver Sun:

With the Supreme Court of Canada hearing the challenge to the current five-year limit on expatriate voting rights, advocates for expansion continue to date their case.

One common feature to such advocacy: a reliance on anecdotes and assertions, completely bereft of any serious effort to assess available data on the strength of connection to Canada.

Common arguments emphasize connections to Canada, a recent example being that of Frédéric Mégret of McGill University. Long-term expatriates “may decide to come back” but is this for family reasons or to access Canadian medicare? They “are, in fact, affected by the laws and policies of Canada” but this is largely limited given that they don’t access or are affected by government services and policies that apply to residents. “Many expatriates, even though they do not reside in Canada, do a considerable amount for Canada, directly or indirectly” but is silent that equally “many” do not. And in a theoretical sense, citizenship can be defined by “how committed one is to its ideals, how ready to give back and to invest in its political life?,” in a practical sense governments can only use crude proxy measures to assess the degree of connection to Canada.

So what do these proxy measures tell us? If we take the Asia Pacific Foundation’s estimate of the number of expatriates, and adjust by voting age and citizenship, we arrive at a baseline of just under two million. Looking at government data, we know that the number of expatriates holding valid Canadian passports is approximately 630,000 adult Canadians who have lived abroad for five years or more. We also know that the number of non-resident Canadian tax returns, a deeper measure of connection, was about 112,000 in 2015 (the last year for which information is available). And while hard to assess the potential interest of long-term Canadian expatriates in voting, the data for those who qualify under the current rules suggest there is not widespread demand (about 16,000 in the 2015 election) although this number may be depressed by the difficulty in meeting current registration requirements. These more formal indicators, albeit imperfect, suggest a smaller number of connected expatriates than some of the arguments would suggest.

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

Moreover, first generation Canadians born abroad, entitled to citizenship, would similarly be able to vote, irrespective of whether they had ever set foot in Canada.

The government has understandably chosen to await the Supreme Court decision on whether the current five-year limit is constitutional. However, it signalled its intent in Bill C-33, tabled more than a year ago, to support unlimited voting rights for expatriates. This is more generous than the practices of the UK, the USA, Australia and New Zealand, all of which impose significant conditions in order to qualify to vote abroad. While France, Italy and Portugal all allow expatriates to vote, they have established overseas constituencies in their legislatures. This prevents the will of the domestic electorate being changed by expatriate voting. In our view, residency matters.

While one can argue for a minimum of three years (as required to obtain citizenship), five years as in the current electoral rules, or some other number, citizenship is not just a theoretical construct of connection and commitment: it needs to include some measure of physical presence. The longer one has lived in Canada, the longer one should have the right to vote if living abroad. For example, if one has lived in Canada for 25 years or more, the right to vote abroad could be permanent while shorter periods of residence in Canada could entitle people to a shorter period of voting as an expatriate.

However the Supreme Court may rule on expatriate voting, the government will have to decide whether it continues to favour unlimited voting rights for expatriates or take a more measured approach to providing expanded voting rights for expatriates without the unintended consequence of diminishing the value the votes cast by Canadians resident in Canada.

Source: Andrew Griffith and Robert Vineberg: What should the voting rights of Canadian expatriates be? 

The related but distinct issue of municipal voting rights for Permanent Residents was subject to this cautionary editorial in the Vancouver Sun. In my opinion, enthusiasm for municipal voting rights is misplaced given that Canadian citizenship, which provides the full panoply of national, provincial and municipal voting rights, is to be preferred than partial rights.

Moreover, the arguments in favour of municipal voting rights are more valid in European countries with long residency period requirements compared to Canada’s three years:

About 250 years ago, colonists in New England rebelled against the Stamp Tax that Britain had imposed to recover the cost of defending the colonies during the Seven Years War. Their complaint was that the tax was illegal because they had no say in the matter. “No taxation without representation” not only became a popular bumper sticker, but ultimately led to the American Revolution.

Perhaps it was in the spirit of that principle that Vancouver city council this week unanimously passed a motion to ask the province to “make the necessary changes” to allow permanent residents to vote at the local level.

Vancouver has an estimated 60,000 permanent residents (based on 2011 statistics) — those who have gone through the immigration process but are not Canadian citizens. Permanent residents must live in Canada for two out five years to maintain their status. Although they work, own homes, pay taxes and are entitled to social benefits, including health care coverage and protection under Canadian law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they do not have the right to vote. The authors of that restriction had their reasons.

Coun. Andrea Reimer said extending the right to vote to permanent residents would advance Vancouver’s ability “to be a welcoming and inclusive city.” Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson added that “a local government … keen to do more engagement in our democracy is a good thing overall.” A few other municipalities, including Halifax and Toronto, have also asked their provincial governments to change the rules.

The argument that people who pay taxes should have the right to determine who is managing the money and implementing policies that affect them is compelling. Besides paying income, property and sales taxes, permanent residents are part of their communities, send their children to nearby schools, shop in local stores and put their garbage out for collection like everyone else. But if permanent residents are granted the right to vote in civic elections, why wouldn’t the same principles apply to federal and provincial elections? And if they do, what then is the value of citizenship? Is it nothing more than a passport and a guarantee against deportation?

Besides, the notion that permanent residents would rush out to exercise their newly acquired right to vote in civic elections might be wishful thinking. It seems more likely their voting patterns would mirror those of the population at large. Turnout for the last civic election in 2014 was 44 per cent, up from 34 per cent in the 2011 election. Engagement is not top of mind for a majority of Vancouver’s citizens.

Advocating for the vote for permanent residents is a feel-good initiative for city council, but the provincial government must consider the serious implications of such a move. Although many permanent residents have lived in Canada for a long time and know the ropes, many are newcomers, some from countries where social norms are quite different from Canada’s, particularly on matters of gender equality and free speech. Some may not appreciate the sanctity of the secret ballot or freedom from duress in casting a vote.

The provincial government should respond to the city’s request cautiously. Its deliberations will require all-party committee work and extensive debate, which probably cannot be completed on time to take effect before the October 20 civic election. Fortunately, Minister Robinson has not committed to having legislation in place before then. She should not rush the changes council has requested.

Source: Editorial: Take time to consider extending right to vote 

Why expatriates should be able to vote

Frédéric Mégret, an associate professor of law at McGill University, trots out the usual assertions in making the case for unlimited voting rights for Canadian expatriates, no matter how tenuous or distant the connection. Completely bereft of any data or serious evidence to support his arguments.

Moreover, he appears to favour a citizenship with no connection to residency, no matter how short. Or even no residency in the case of the first generation born abroad (for my previous arguments, see What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options):

Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the barring of expatriates who have resided away from Canada more than five years from voting in Canadian elections. The Ontario Court of Appeal had earlier found the restrictions democratically justifiable because they preserved the “social contract” between voters and lawmakers. Whether it is the case that the social contract depends on denying voting rights to non-resident citizens is highly dubious. More importantly, often overlooked in the debate is the broader issue of how Canada – and other countries – should relate to their diasporas in an age when significant numbers chose to live abroad while retaining deep emotional and political bonds to their country of citizenship.

The argument against long-term expatriate voting often portrays non-residents as essentially free riders, voting on laws that will not affect them. The reality is considerably more complex. First, long-term expatriates may decide to come back and so arguably continue to have a vested interest in their country of citizenship. To the extent that they do not have voting rights in their country of residency, they are deprived of their only opportunity to exercise political rights. Second, long-term expatriates are, in fact, affected by the laws and policies of Canada, especially to the extent they have international ramifications. They are often the only point of contact that foreigners will have with Canadians. All expatriates share the experience of having been called upon to account, informally at least, for the policies of their home country. They may be targeted as Canadians. Third, many expatriates, even though they do not reside in Canada, do a considerable amount for Canada, directly or indirectly. It goes without saying that Canada is very well represented by its expatriates, many of whom do great honour to our country.

The prioritizing of residency over citizenship, in this context, is problematic in several respects. Although the nation state may be a primarily territorial concept, citizenship is not. Citizenship is measured not by how long one spends on the territory of one’s state, but how committed one is to its ideals, how ready to give back and to invest in its political life. The idea that long-term expatriates are distant and disconnected citizens is belied by their voting record and the intensity by which some of them have, precisely, been willing to protest, including before the courts, against the denial of their rights, invoking their “deep and abiding” connection to Canada. Moreover, citizenship is what you make of it: Treating the diaspora as if it had no connection to Canada is surely to contribute to severing that link. One is also a citizen because one is provided with meaningful opportunities to exercise one’s rights as such. Finally, one should be wary of attempts at fragmenting citizenship, part of a worrying trend that includes fighting less hard for dual citizens abroad or threatening to withdraw citizenship from those convicted of certain offences. Attacks on the indivisibility of citizenship suggest that some Canadian citizens are less citizens than others, and are therefore attacks on the citizenship of all.

The debate deserves to be put in its global context, where it clearly transcends the particulars of any theoretical social contract. How to deal with expatriate populations has become a defining issue of our globalized age, whether it comes to voting rights or how aggressively countries protect their nationals abroad when they are, for example, threatened or prosecuted. Canada has not always made the right choices. Today, however, many countries positively court their diasporas, and for good reason, not only as a source of remittance, but as a source of soft power, and as part of a deep commitment to the free flow of people and ideas. Many countries not only allow, but positively encourage, their diasporas to vote back at home. Although the Harper government once objected to this, Canada is actually part of a variety of French, Italian or Tunisian electoral constituencies.

It may not come as a surprise that Canada, a country that traditionally conceived itself as a place of immigration rather than emigration, has given relatively less thought to this question than other countries. The absence of specific constitutional arrangements for the representation of its diaspora, for example, sets it apart from others that have thought more creatively about this issue. In an age where people are increasingly on the move, making residency a condition of citizenship may not only be unfair to those affected; it may fail to do justice to Canada’s diversity.

via Why expatriates should be able to vote – The Globe and Mail

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

Britons abroad for longer than 15 years denied vote in general election | The Guardian

While as I and Rob Vineberg have argued against indefinite voting rights (Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights), it is nevertheless somewhat amusing that the May government made this commitment, tabled legislation, and then failed to implement, perhaps fearing that most non-resident Britons, particularly those resident in the EU, oppose Brexit and thus likely may be less likely to vote Conservative:

Campaign groups accuse Tories of breaking promise made in October to scrap time limit

Up to 3 million Britons living overseas are to be denied a vote in the general election, the Cabinet Office has confirmed.

In a letter sent to the New Europeans campaign group on Friday, the Cabinet Office said that “unfortunately” British citizens who had lived abroad for longer than 15 years would not be entitled to vote on 8 June.

The letter has prompted a furious reaction from Britons living abroad, and in Europe in particular, with campaign groups accusing the Conservatives of breaking yet another promise.

Nathan Lappin of the constitution group in the Cabinet Office told New Europeans that “there is no sufficient time to change the relevant primary and secondary legislation to enfranchise all British expats, scrapping the 15-year time limit, ahead of the dissolution of parliament before the general election”.

“The people most affected by the referendum were not allowed to vote in it, simply because they exercised their right to live in another country,” said Dave Spokes, one of the founders of the support group Expat Citizen Rights in EU. “Now it seems they will miss out again as their government has repeatedly failed to honour repeated promises to repeal this unjust and unfair rule.

“These people spent their lives working in the UK and many still pay taxes there. It is quite disgraceful that any government can so disregard so many of its citizens.”

Jane Golding, a British lawyer living in Berlin and campaigner for the rights of Britons abroad, said the promise has been broken twice as it was in the Conservative manifesto in the 2015 general election and the Queen’s speech that followed.

“So that is twice we have been denied the right to vote and to participate in the democratic process when this had been promised on an issue, leaving the EU, that directly affects our personal and professional status,” she said.

Last October the government promised to scrap the current 15-year time limit as part of a bid to strengthen ties with emigrants following the decision to leave the EU.

The plans followed a court battle spearheaded by the second world war veteran Harry Shindler, who fought in the Battle of Anzio in Italy in 1944. The 95-year-old, who moved to Italy to be near his grandson in 1982, has been unable to vote in the UK since 1997 but cannot vote in Italy either.

As recently as February, the constitution minister Chris Skidmore assured Shindler and others the government was on track, telling them “their stake in our country must be respected”.

In a written answer on the topic to the New Europeans founder Roger Casale, Skidmore promised “this government will not deny them the opportunity to have their say in how the country is governed”. He also revealed that the government estimated “a further 3 million British citizens resident overseas will be enfranchised”.

Samia Badani, director of New Europeans, said the decision not to expedite legislation was devastating for Britons desperate to have a say on their own futures in Europe but it was not too late to get them on the electoral register. “The time for legislation is now. When there is a will, there is a way,” she said.

Badani said: “We are very disappointed – this is another broken promise. We have been campaigning for the removal of the 15-year rule – which is very arbitrary – for years. We were promised that at the next general election all UK citizens could vote, but it now looks like a double-whammy: they couldn’t vote in the referendum and now can’t vote in the next general election.”

Source: Britons abroad for longer than 15 years denied vote in general election | Politics | The Guardian

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

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

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

 By ANDREW GRIFFITH, ROBERT VINEBERG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberal appeal for expat donations offends those still barred from voting

Not the brightest move given the inevitable backlash from some. For my analysis of expatriate voting, see my earlier What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options:

An appeal by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Canadians living abroad for donations to the Liberal party has struck a sour note with disenfranchised long-term expats.

The cash solicitation on Trudeau’s Facebook page calls on Canadians living abroad to be part of “Canada’s most open and progressive movement,” and says under a picture of the prime minister that “your donations help fuel our party.”

Various comments reflect the displeasure of those unable to vote in federal elections because of a law — only enforced by the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper — that strips voting rights from those who have lived outside Canada for more than five years.

“Asking for my donation after removing my right to vote is just offensive,” wrote Ian Doig, who lives in Houston.

Another commenter, Angus McGillicuddy, offered a similar sentiment.

“Not going to waste my money until our constitutionally guaranteed right to vote is restored,” McGillicuddy said.

The disenfranchising of an estimated 1.4 million long-term expats has been a running legal battle since Canadians abroad found they could not vote in the 2011 election. While the rules were first enacted in 1993, they had not been enforced until then.

Two Canadians living in the U.S. went to court to argue the relevant parts of the Canada Elections Act were unconstitutional.

In May 2014, an Ontario Superior Court justice ruled in their favour. However, the Harper government appealed on the grounds that it would be unfair to resident Canadians to allow those abroad to elect lawmakers. Ontario’s top court sided with the government. The Supreme Court of Canada is slated to hear the expats’ appeal of that decision in February.

“Canadians living abroad should be able to vote with more than their pocketbooks,” Gillian Frank, one of those who launched the constitutional challenge, told The Canadian Press.

The voting issue became a flashpoint for many expat Canadians during last year’s election that propelled Trudeau to office. He has since indicated a willingness to review the ban, and a spokesman has said the government believes “more Canadians should have the right to vote, not the opposite.”

However, nothing has changed and the Supreme Court case remains pending.

“You have some gall asking for expats’ money when you’ve done nothing to restore our vote, despite promises during the election by your members that you would rectify the situation,” Kate Tsoukalas wrote in a post.

Source: Liberal appeal for expat donations offends those still barred from voting – The Globe and Mail