OTTAWA — More expatriate Canadians than ever before have registered to vote in this federal election, HuffPost Canada has learned.
Nearly 20,000 expats are now part of the international register of electors, and those who live abroad have until Oct. 15 to add their names.
The boost — from 15,603 in 2015 to 19,784 so far — comes as a new law kicks in granting those who have been out of Canada for decades the right to vote. An estimated 1.4 million more Canadians may now be able to cast a ballot.
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The change was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in January which ruled an old law that stripped Canadians of their voting rights if they had lived abroad for more than five years unconstitutional. It had been in place for 25 years.
“We have nothing to gain from disenfranchising such citizens,” wrote Chief Justice Richard Wagner in the judgment. “Indeed, our democracy is manifestly strengthened by such demonstrations of civic commitment.”
The impact of the ruling was rendered moot after the Liberal government’s election modernization bill was passed a month earlier, removing the five-year rule that dissolved voting rights.
The Conservatives had opposed the move, arguing expats would be able to pick which riding they wanted to vote in, suggesting they might be able to sway certain contests.
But Allan Nichols, founder of The Canadian Expat, a Victoria-based association for the expat community, dismissed that claim in an interview with HuffPost.
“We have nothing to gain from disenfranchising such citizens.”
“From our research, we’ve seen that the Canadian expat community really mirrors that of the rest of Canada,” he said.
Nichols, an ex-expat himself after having lived in Japan for a decade, said a “vast majority” of members are “delighted” to have voting rights extended to long-term expats.
“It’s just really critical to remember that they are impacted by the laws that are passed in Canada,” he said.
Which riding an expat votes is determined by where their last physical address was in Canada. Post office boxes don’t count and neither do rural routes. And once an expat voter’s name is on the international register of electors, their registered riding cannot be changed while they’re abroad.
In 2015, Elections Canada counted 10,707 valid ballots cast from Canadians living abroad.
Concerns of foreign interference
The Liberals’ proposal to change expat voting rules garnered pushback, particularly from Conservative senators Linda Frum and Denise Batters, who argued the change could also open new avenues for foreign interference.
During a Senate legal committee’ meeting last year to review the bill, Frum invited her brother, U.S.-based journalist and political commentator David Frum, to testify. He suggested expat votes could be used as a mechanism by foreign non-democratic governments to influence Canada’s elections.
“Given the inevitable defects of ballot security outside of Canada, ... if you expand the population from the current few tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands or millions of ballots being cast outside of Canada … [you] create an opportunity for governments ...to use pressure on voters, maybe even fraud on their ballots,” Frum told the committee in November.
Although an estimated 2.8 million Canadians live outside the country, according to the Canadian Expat Association. The country’s chief electoral officer, Stéphane Perrault, predicted only about 30,000 more Canadians would vote.
List of eligible expat voters growing
Elections Canada doesn’t disclose which federal ridings have the highest number of registered expat voters.
HuffPost’s analysis of special ballot voters in 2015 suggested Canadians living abroad might favour Liberal candidates in urban ridings.
Elections Canada spokesperson Ghislain Desjardins told HuffPost that it’s too early to say if recent changes in federal law will have any impact on the election.
Number of voters on the international register of electors:
2019 election - 19,784 (as of Sept. 11)
2015 election- 15,603
2011 election - 10,733
2008 election - 11,561
2006 election - 15,083
2004 election - 11,719
More than 750,000 Canadians live in the United States, according to 2016 data collected by the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute. The South China Morning Posts reports approximately 300,000 expats live in Hong Kong.
There are sizeable populations of Canadians who live in other parts of Asia.
“There are approximately 6,500 Canadians living in Thailand, most of which are eligible to vote,” said Erin Haubrich, a spokesperson for CanCham Thailand, an organization that promotes Thai-Canadian business.
Canadians head to the polls on Oct. 21. Expats vote by mailed-in special ballots.
With files from Althia Raj