The Canadian Expat is disappointed and perplexed by the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision to uphold federal voting restrictions that deny Canadians the right to vote in a federal election if they have been living abroad for more than five years.
This decision is bad for democracy, bad for Canada and bad for improving voter participation. We offer four reasons as to why this is the case.
First, democracy is based on allowing all of its citizens to engage in the process of electing its representatives. By dismissing those Canadians living overseas as not “living with the consequences of their decisions” does not adequately reflect the fact that a citizen of a county is a citizen no matter where they may live for a period of time. We know this because our membership is actively engaged in maintaining strong ties to Canada through their family and friends and through various cultural, educational and business institutions. Our research illustrates that anywhere between 75 percent and 85 percent of Canadians living abroad intend to return home within 6 years – this number increases to 90 percent within 8 years.
Second, federal governments throughout the last century and the beginning of this one have continually stressed the necessity of Canada becoming an important and influential contributor in the global arena. Free trade, military and aid agreements have been signed; our cultural, academic and social institutions are global participants; and we continue to export and import a vast amount of products and talent. Canadian expats are directly and indirectly responsible for billions of dollars in trade between Canada and the rest of the world. If it were not for Canadians wanting and willing to live and work abroad it is not clear how this could be achieved. Denying Canadian expats their right to vote cheapens their contributions and certainly means they will not have to live with the consequences of their decisions.
Third, Ontario Chief Justice George Strathy cited that denying expats the right to vote after a period of time is in line with other Westminster democracies such as The United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. This is a poor comparison. In New Zealand and Australia, governments are elected based on a combination of proportional representation and a first past the post system. Australia also makes voting compulsory and the United Kingdom is part of the European Union making it easier to live and work within the 28 member states where residency is broadly defined. Compare this with France and Italy in which they actively encourage voter participation and representation from their expat communities. One wonders then, why Canada, with voter turnout rates at historic lows would implement a law that would seek to deny a segment of the Canadian population the right to vote.
Fourth, the majority of the 2.8 million Canadians living abroad are subject to and continue to pay federal tax. Therefore, they should have a say in how and where that money is spent. To quote the 18th century American Jonathan Mayhew: “No taxation without representation”. Canada can only benefit by being inclusive of Canadians living abroad. Rather than deny them a fundamental democratic right, participation should be encouraged.