Persuasion and Voting from Abroad

When Norman Spector and I debated the disenfranchisement of Canadians abroad on the CBC’s The 180 a couple of weeks ago, he pointed to the fact that some expatriates ― such as Americans he met in Israel while he was Canada’s ambassador there ― vote on the sole basis of the candidates’ policies towards their current country of residence. I replied that there are plenty of single-issue voters in Canada too, and that there is no good reason for treating expatriates differently from them. Life has come up with an ironic twist on this particular argument: an effort is underway in Israel to “to send a small group of Canadians living currently in Israel that will go back to Canada in order to vote in the coming elections [and] encourage the Canadian Jewish Community to go out and vote for him.” The project’s founder, Dan Illouz, claims that “Stephen Harper is Israel’s greatest friend amongst world leaders,” and deserves the Israelis’ help and support.

Mr. Illouz is, clearly, not very well acquainted with Canadian election law, if he thinks that the missionaries he proposes to send to Canada will be able to vote here. They won’t, since they are not registered to do so. He also appears to be unaware if the fact that “[v]oting through absentee,” as he puts it, is not an option available to those Canadian citizens who, like him it would seem, have resided abroad for more than five years. And, while I cannot be sure of that, I somehow suspect that he is equally unaware of Mr. Harper’s government not only having vigorously defended the disenfranchisement of Canadians abroad in the courts, but also having introduced a bill, C-50, that would have made it well-nigh impossible for any Canadian expatriate to vote.

Those Israelis who are contributing to Mr. Illouz’s effort might also want to consider the fact the Canada Elections Act provides that a person who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and does not live in Canada may not “during an election period, in any way induce electors to vote or refrain from voting or vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate.” Mr. Illouz and his hypothetical emissaries are within their rights, being Canadian citizens, to induce others to vote for Mr. Harper. But to the extent that financial contributions that enable their efforts are themselves a form of “inducement,” those of their contributors who are not Canadian are not. (If you think that’s unjust, consider that the Canada Elections Act also prohibits people who are not citizens or permanent residents from contributing to political parties, and ― after amendments enacted under Mr. Harper’s government ― provides that people who are not citizens or permanent residents and do not live in Canada are not allowed to run third-party election advertising. For my part, I’m not quite sure whether any of these prohibitions are justified, but there they are.)

Anyway, I am writing about this not in order to educate Mr. Illouz and his contributors about Canadian election law, but rather to highlight the inconsistency in that law’s relationship to Canadian citizens who live abroad. They are allowed to contribute to political parties, to advertise during election campaigns (subject to the same, admittedly excessively stringent, limits that apply to all Canadians), and otherwise to seek to influence the outcome of Canadian elections. Yet they are not allowed to vote themselves. Frankly, I don’t see how that makes any sense.

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