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


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

A potentially historic number of people are giving up their U.S. citizenship – The Washington Post

More on the increasing number of American expats renouncing citizenship for tax reasons (FATCA), not Trump. Again, while the increase is dramatic, still small in relation to the number of expatriates (State department estimates between three and eight million):

It can be difficult to become a U.S. citizen. A lot of people put a large amount of time, effort and money into the process of gaining an American passport or, failing that, the right to permanent residency.

But to some people, U.S. citizenship can apparently be a burden. And it’s a burden that people seem to be shaking off in increasing numbers. This week, the Treasury Department released its quarterly list of individuals who had chosen to “expatriate” — i.e., renounced their U.S. citizenship or gave up their rights to permanent residence.

The list is notable for a couple of reasons. First off, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is on it. This means that Johnson, a dual-national who was born in New York City, has finally renounced his citizenship (as he had long promised he would). Secondly — and far more importantly in the grand scheme of things — the list shows that Johnson is just one of a total 5,411 individuals to expatriate in 2016.

The number of people giving up their U.S. citizenship may in fact be higher. Ryan Dunn, a lawyer with Andrew Mitchel LLC, explained via email that his firm has suspicions that the lists released by Treasury are incomplete. However, this would not change the trend. America is seeing what is likely a historically high level of expatriation. And it seems only likely to rise further.

“Given that we’ve seen year-over-year increases in expatriation since 2012, we speculate that the trend will continue,” Dunn explained.

But why would anyone renounce their citizenship to the United States? Dunn said that in his firm’s experience, it wasn’t usually political. “We have not been contacted by anyone saying that they wanted to give up their citizenship because Trump won the election,” he said. Instead the motivation was simpler: money.

The United States is one of the only countries in the world that requires its citizens and permanent residents to file taxes even when they live abroad. Eritrea is the only other country to have a similar policy. This unusual policy a relic of the Civil War and the Revenue Act of 1862, which called for the taxing of U.S. citizens abroad — in part to punish men who fled the country to avoid joining the Union army.

This is no new policy — Americans abroad have always been covered by federal tax laws. However, things changed in 2010, when the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) was enacted. This law essentially requires foreign financial institutions to check whether an account holder is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. In some cases, Dunn said, they would ask for proof that the account holder is not a U.S. citizen.

The end result here is that whereas in the past a U.S. citizen abroad might be able to get away with not filing their U.S. taxes, that has become vastly less likely under these new circumstances. In some cases, this can be extremely costly: Johnson was known to have racked up a large U.S. tax bill for the sale of his home in London, even though he had not lived in Britain since he was a small child.

But even for those without Johnson’s wealth, it can be tricky. “FATCA is a dirty word to Americans abroad,” Peter Spiro, a Temple University law professor and the author of “At Home in Two Countries: The Past and Future of Dual Citizenship,” explained. “Think lots of extra forms that have to be filed even by citizens who aren’t wealthy by any standard. Americans abroad used to be able to do their taxes just like Americans at home. Now they have to hire expensive accountants.”

Giving up your citizenship isn’t necessarily cheap either. It can take a long time to get an appointment in some places, and the processing fee is around $2,350. More important, Dunn said, was the “exit tax” that some high-earning or high-net-worth individuals have to pay — and also some people who forget to file their forms correctly too. But evidently, for some people it’s worth it. (Green-card holders have a simpler and cheaper process.)

Source: A potentially historic number of people are giving up their U.S. citizenship – The Washington Post

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


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

What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options

My latest on expatriate voting by Canadians in IRPP’s Policy Options:

With the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the challenge to the five-year restriction on expatriates’ voting rights, it is timely to review the arguments in favour and against extending the time. In addition, we need a better idea of the number of Canadian expatriates abroad and the nature of their ongoing connection to Canada.

Starting with the number of Canadian expatriates, recent advocates have relied on the estimate from the Asia Pacific Foundation (APP) Canadians Abroad: Canada’s Global Assets of 2.8 million expatriates. This figure does not control for age or citizenship. When we do so (using the 2006 Census), the figure is just under 2 million (of whom 77 percent are aged 18 or over, and 78.1 percent of whom were immigrants had become Canadian citizens).

There is also a dearth of data on expatriates’ degree of connection to Canada, and what exists is based on anecdote rather than government data. Consular data for 2007 to 2015 show that approximately 20,000 expatriates annually accessed services for people who had been abroad for five years or more. The number of passports issued abroad was about 184,000 in 2015, and there were approximately 725,000 Canadian passport holders living abroad.

Looking at nonresident Canadians’ tax filing data, 136,310 returns were filed, which was 7 percent of the number of expatriates in 2013, the most recent year that complete data is available. While this figure may understate the proportion of nonresident Canadians filing taxes, as some may use Canadian addresses, it suggests that the vast majority of expatriates do not pay Canadian income tax. I have not seen any reliable data on nonresidents’ property taxes.

Data on voting among those who have been abroad less than five years indicates the number of expatriates who register and vote is very low. (This also applies to Canada as a whole: in 2015, out of a total of 26 million eligible voters 17.6 million voted.) Figure 1 shows the number of nonresident electors, valid votes and percentage of voter turnout for the last six elections. This data suggests that relatively few of those who have lived abroad for five years or less are politically engaged (of course, some may return to Canada to vote, but we do not have data on this).

Canadian Expatriates Data Gaps.017

Figure 1

The data we have, imperfect as it is, suggests that of the 2 million Canadian citizens living abroad aged 18 or over, the number who have ongoing active connections with Canada is likely quite low. Even advocates of expatriate voting rights, after citing the APF number of 2.8 million expatriates abroad, go on to quote the figure of “over one million” who have active connections, but they do not explain the basis for that number.

Arguments in favour of expanding the expatriates’ voting rights are based on the Charter’s protection of voting rights without qualification. The main substantive arguments, by the plaintiffs, by academics such as Semra Sevi, Peter Russell, Alison Loat and John McArther), and by former Global Affairs director general Gar Pardy, can be resumed as follows:

  • 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;
  • Patriotism and civic engagement are not tied to location;
  • The internet and online communities make it easier for Canadians to remain in touch with Canada and Canadian issues;
  • As Judge Laskin said in his dissenting statement in the July 2015 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling, Canadians living abroad pay “Canadian income tax on their Canadian income, and property tax on any real property they may own in Canada,” and are subject to Canadian laws and foreign policy decisions;
  • As Russell and Sevi note, the expatriate vote will not “completely change the tide of an election.
  • The five-years-or-less limitation is more restrictive than those of other Western countries; for example:
    • United States: no limitation, but expatriates are required to file US tax return;
    • United Kingdom: the limitation is fifteen years;
    • Australia: the limitation is six years, and expatriates must file an annual declaration of their intent to return at some point;
    • New Zealand: the limitation is three years, and the clock restarts when citizens visit New Zealand.
  • The Canadian five-year limitation ignores the increasing globalization and population mobility, and it sends the wrong signal to young Canadians;
  • As Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former chief electoral officer, said when he advocated eliminating the five-year limit: “The right to vote is a fundamental right of citizenship that is protected by the Charter and does not depend on place of residence.” A parliamentary committee reviewed his report in 2006 and endorsed his position.

The principle arguments against are the following:

  • The “social contract” argument, used by the Ontario Court of Appeal to uphold the policy, states that voting “would allow them [expatriates] 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. This would erode the social contract and undermine the legitimacy of the laws.” Examples of policies and programs that are considered part of the social contract include economic and social policies and programs, at the federal level; health care and education, at the provincial level; and policing and transit at the municipal level;
  • While some expatriates may pay Canadian taxes and may own property in Canada, the data suggests over 90 percent do not, as they pay tax where they work and live;
  • Interest in voting among expatriates appears to be low;
  • Apart from consular and passport services, most Canadian government economic and social programs are tied to residency;
  • In general, the longer the time spent abroad, the looser the bond with Canada, as family, work and local connections become more meaningful. Over time, day-to-day living — work, education, raising a family, consuming media — predominate important for expatriates, whether in the United States, Hong Kong or the Mid-East;

The Supreme Court will have to rule whether the right to vote is qualified by residence and the degree to which the social contract argument justifies certain limits.

Some of the advocates of expatriate voting, for example, Gar Pardy, argue for no limits, which Loat and McArthur also imply. Sevi and Russell imply limits, but ones that are more in line with those of other countries, but they do not indicate their preference.

To cite an extreme example of the “no limit” argument, Canadian expatriates born abroad (citizenship by descent) who have never lived in Canada would be entitled to vote, even if they had never set foot in Canada. A less extreme example is that of people born in Canada who move abroad as children and remain outside Canada. In both cases, it is hard to justify non-residents having voting rights when they have spent no time or extremely limited time living in Canada.

The “comparability” with other nations argument is more reasonable and convincing, and opens the discussion as to which option — taxation, as in the United States, extending the limitation to 15 years, as in the United Kingdom, or renewable voting rights, as in New Zealand — makes the most sense from a policy and implementation perspective. I suspect most Canadian expatriates would not welcome linking voting to filing tax returns. It would go against long-standing Canadian tax policy, and judging by US expatriates’ opposition to the over-reach of Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, this option is likely a nonstarter.

If the Supreme Court rules against the five-year limit, my preference, would be some variant on the Australian and New Zealand approach, i.e., allowing voting rights to be renewed but requiring some action by expatriate voters to extend their right, perhaps through a written declaration or periodic visit to Canada. This does not seem to be an unreasonable obligation, and it allows for mobility but requires a concrete and a relatively easy to administer test of the expatriates’ connection to Canada.

Source: What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options

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 |

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