Canada, a nation of immigrants, is quickly becoming a nation of emigrants. According to a study by the Asia Pacific Foundation, 2.9 million Canadian citizens – equivalent to 9 per cent of Canada’s population – study, live and work abroad. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants every Canadian citizen the right to vote and to be a candidate in an election. Until 1993, Canadian citizens living abroad were not allowed to vote at all except for civil servants and military personnel. The subsequent Bill C-114 introduced voting rights for Canadians living abroad for fewer than five-years. But why five years? Expatriate voting rights are now common in many countries. In the English-speaking world, the United States has the most generous provision for expatriate voters. Americans living overseas have the right to vote no matter how long they have been abroad.
The right to vote expires in the United Kingdom after 15 years abroad. Australian citizens abroad are allowed to vote so long as they intend to return to Australia within six years. After six years, citizens can renew their status by making an annual declaration of their intention to return “at some point.” The language of “at some point” is hardly conducive to the technical, narrow and legalistic approach that Canada has set at the five-year expiration.
The five-year limit in Canada is an arbitrary number. On the surface, it is a year less generous than Australia, but Australians can renew their status by expressing a mere intent to return to the country at some point in the future. Canadians, on the other hand, need to resume residency to regain their right to vote abroad.
Elsewhere, many countries with comparable citizens living abroad, not only grant their expatriates the right to vote, but they also have representatives for them like in France, Italy and Portugal. Countries across Europe have understood that in an increasingly globalized world, their citizens abroad should be seen as an asset and not a liability.