Skip to main content

Pierre Poilievre, the minister of democratic reform, outside the House of Commons last week: The Harper government has tabled legislation that would tighten voting rules for expatriates casting ballots from abroad.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Last year, an Ontario Superior Court judge struck down a rule that barred citizens living abroad for more than five years from voting in federal elections. The government has rightly appealed that decision, while also introducing legislation that will enshrine expats' voting rights, but with a twist. Expats will get to vote – it will just be really, really hard.

So hard, in fact, that many of the 2.8 million expats around the globe may well not bother. Others will try but won't be able to meet the onerous new requirements in Bill C-50.

Under the bill, currently in committee after second reading, Elections Canada will eliminate the international register of electors, the long-established list of expat Canadians eligible to vote federally. In future, expats will have to re-register for each election, and can only do so after the writ is dropped.

Story continues below advertisement

That means an overseas Canadian would have about 36 days, the minimum length of an election campaign, to write to Elections Canada to request a ballot, wait while officials examine the extensive paperwork the bill requires, receive a ballot in the mail, make their mark, and then return the ballot by mail.

Critics say many long-time expats won't be able to produce the new documentation required, which includes proof of the voter's last Canadian address provided by a Canadian company or government office. The alternative is to find someone in the voter's last riding who will vouch that the person in question once lived there – a time-consuming process.

The Harper government says the goal of the new rules is to prevent voter fraud, the same canard that it used to justify the Fair Elections Act. There are widespread concerns that as many as 400,000 eligible voters will be unable to cast a ballot in the fall election because of the Fair Elections Act. If Bill C-50 is adopted before Parliament is dissolved, the franchise of thousands of expats could also be compromised.

We are not convinced that the right to vote extends to Canadian who have chosen to live outside the country for decades, or even a lifetime. The government was right to appeal, and we hope a higher court will side with it. But in the interim, that lower court's decision has to be respected. The bill should not be recognizing a right with one hand, while effectively taking it away with the other.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies