Give Justin Trudeau and the Liberals high marks for creative fundraising. On the prime minister’s Facebook page he has reached out to Canadians living abroad, inviting them to donate to his party and support “Canada’s most open and progressive movement.” But give them a failing grade for consistency. Even as the Liberals woo expatriates for money, they have failed to deliver on promises to restore voting rights to Canadians who have been out of the country for more than five years. More than a million Canadians living abroad were denied the right to vote in the last federal election. Rules prohibiting those who have been away for more than five years were adopted back in 1993, but they were only enforced by the Harper government starting in 2011. The rule needlessly excludes Canadians from remaining engaged with their country’s politics and is patently unfair. In the 21st century it’s easier than ever for people living abroad to keep up with events here, and many have a long-term commitment to the country even if they have been away for years.
Excluding expats is also out of step with the practice of many other advanced democracies, such as Britain, the United States and most European countries, whose citizens retain voting rights regardless of where they choose to live.
A group of expats has been pressing their case for voting in the courts, and the Liberals have at the very least given strong indications that they favour a change. During last year’s election campaign, the then-president of the federal party told the Canadian Expat Association that “we believe all Canadians should have a right to vote, no matter where they live, and we are committed to ensuring that this is the case.”
And last December, Trudeau himself gave expats hope when he was asked by a woman in London, England, whether he would “reinstate my right to vote.” He reportedly smiled and answered: “We’ll work on that.”