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Will B.C. Elect John Kerry?

More Americans live in Canada than in Wyoming. Democrats, stung by their razor thin defeat last time, say every B.C. vote counts.

Scott Deveau 20 Aug 2004TheTyee.ca
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Diana Kerry's round up this week through Western Canada confirmed one of our worst fears; that we are indeed the 51st state - or at least when it comes to the federal election we are.

With an estimated 600,000 American expatriates living north of the 49th, Canada has a higher population of Americans living within its borders than either the District of Columbia or Wyoming.  Which explains why John Kerry's younger sister has been making the rounds addressing hundreds of Democratic supporters in Calgary and Vancouver this week to try and drum up support for her brother's run for presidency. 

"We learned in the last federal election every vote is really important and this is a very close race in more states than just Florida," Diana Kerry said in an interview with The Tyee yesterday before her appearance at the Roundhouse Community Arts Centre in Vancouver.

"One of the things that is generally true about a lot of American voters is that we're a little bit apathetic.  We don't have a great of turn out in the United States itself.  So, we're working very hard to increase the number of registered voters in the United States and we're working very hard to make sure we get out the vote outside of the country."

Kerry has been through Mexico earlier this month, and will be headed to Central and South America before heading to England to target pockets of U.S. expat populations. "I personally am, of course, very committed to my brother as the leader the country needs right now in these challenging times and I think he's going to make a great president.  I also think that a lot of people are very energized by what they see in the current policies of which they are not in favour of and I think also that there is a lot of feeling that the election was frustratingly close last time and we want to make sure that it doesn't happen again."

Millions of Americans overseas

The organizations rounding up B.C.'s draft dodgers and immigrants have been working since the election started.  Both the Republicans and Democrats have been collecting those who have left for love, money, cheap prescriptions, and Canada's comparatively more liberal ideals.

BC Stats estimates nearly 60,000 US expats live in the province. An officer with the U.S. consulate general in Vancouver puts the number much higher: an estimated 250,000 Americans living in B.C. and the Yukon, with the vast majority of that total living in B.C. There are at least 5 million U.S. citizens living overseas, according to U.S. State Department figures based on two or three years ago, Diana Kerry said.

Playing to Canada's internationalism

John Kerry appreciates Canada and knows that Canada is the most important trade partner of the United States, Diana Kerry told The Tyee. "He's going to work together with other nations, especially with our neighbours," said the candidate's sister, who spoke to about 200 people who filled a room at the Roundhouse Community Arts Centre in Yaletown.

In her talk, Diana Kerry frequently described how her brother would work with the international community. "I know that his pledge to return to the community of nations, and work within the framework of international alliances, and international law and diplomacy will be something that he will really deliver on," she said.

John Kerry was a decorated Vietnam veteran who returned home to protest that war before going to become a liberal U.S. senator for the state of Massachusetts. Diana Kerry lived abroad for many years, teaching at schools in Iran, Paris, Bangkok and Indonesia. John Kerry, said his sister, "understands that there are better ways of fighting terrorism than alienating the whole world."

First time expat voters

Some people at the event had not voted regularly in past U.S. federal elections, but their feelings about the Bush administration's policies motivated them to vote this year.

Nancy Bailey didn't vote in the 2000 U.S. federal election, but is now volunteering for Democrats Abroad Canada. Bailey has two sons who are U.S. citizens of draft age, and fears that Bush might reinstate the draft if he's reelected.  Like many others who attended at the event, she opposes the war in Iraq: "You don't solve people's problems with by going in with guns and bombs."

Originally from Pennsylvania, Bailey has lived in Canada for 27 years. She now lives in Surrey, and teaches at a day care centre in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. She had once considered giving up her U.S. citizenship, but the way that Bush came into office and the September 11 attacks were two events that motivated her to keep her citizenship and vote. "I like being in a country that's not a world power," Bailey told The Tyee.

J.W. Goodhue will vote in a U.S. election for the first time this fall. The 20-year-old University of British Columbia student has lived in Canada his entire life. But as the son of an American, he has U.S. citizenship. Goodhue has one reason for voting in this election -- to help defeat Bush. "I do not like Bush. That's why I came" to the event, he said.

Close calls

One woman who has only recently joined the Democratic party has made it a personal mission to get all the expats on Vancouver Island registered and out to vote in the next election. Susan Mullen moved from Chicago to Victoria five and half years ago to marry a Canadian. 

"This is the most important election in my lifetime," Mullen said. "This is the election that is going to decide what kind of America we are going to have."

After contacting the Democrats Abroad chapter in Vancouver to see if she could volunteer on the Island, Mullen was shocked to find out not only was there not a chapter on the Island, but that because of logistical reasons, the Vancouver chapter would not be holding any registration drives in the Capital Region.

Six states were decided by less than 7,500 votes in 2000. Five other states were decided by less than 50,000 votes. If a majority of Americans residing in Canada were to vote in November, it would represent a larger turnout than the combined votes cast in eight states and the District of Columbia, Mullen said, so she decided to bring out Islanders to vote.

Confusion over voting rights

When she and a likeminded American, Charlie Meadow, decided to hold a registration drive in Victoria, the two were shocked by misunderstandings among the 150 expats who showed up for an event.

"People believe that because they have become a Canadian citizen they can't vote. That's not true," Mullen said. "You would have to renounce your citizenship in writing to the State Department before you lose the right to vote."

Mullen said Democrats Abroad's message is starting to resonate. "I'm here to tell ya, they're here and they're coming out the woodwork.  I'd say 80 to 90 per cent of those coming out haven't voted in 20, 30, or 40 years" Mullen said adding that she and her chapter have registered 700 people on the Island at drives in Duncan, Nanaimo and Salt Spring Island. 

"I have even registered Republicans," Mullen said, "because that's my idea of how democracy works."

Republicans focus on Alberta, Ontario

Contacted by The Tyee, Kelli Wight co-chair of Republicans Abroad Canada said they have no chapters in B.C. and that they have been concentrating their efforts in Alberta and Ontario where they have a higher, and more conservative population. She also said that Canada has the highest US expat population behind only Mexico and that unlike most other countries, Canada has a much higher Democratic population.

To loud applause at the Vancouver event, Diana Kerry said the Democrats put people first, while the Republicans put a very privileged few first. Kerry quoted a line from Michael Moore's film, Farenheit 9-11, in which Bush said at a fundraiser: "I'm here with the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.""

"That to me was utterly shocking," Diana Kerry said, adding that it shows a huge, important difference between the philosophy of the Democratic Party and the philosophy of the Bush administration.

B.C. could make 'huge difference'

The B.C. vote could make a huge difference in the U.S. election, according to Karen Funt, chair of the B.C. chapter of Democrats Abroad Canada. She noted that the 2000 election was won by only 537 votes in Florida.

Former Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote in the 2000 U.S. election but Bush was declared the winner because he had more electoral votes. In the U.S., each state has a certain number of Electoral College votes. The party that wins the most popular votes in each state sends the assigned number of electors to vote on its behalf.

How Americans in B.C. can vote

Registering for the vote has been made a lot easier this year for expatriates with an extremely user friendly website at http://www.overseasvote2004.com/. American citizens living abroad must register as an absentee to receive a ballot. Democrats Abroad Canada is urging Americans to register by Sept. 15 to meet absentee voter deadlines.

The following is a list of some of the voter registration events Democrats Abroad Canada will hold the following voter registration events in B.C.:

Vancouver Island:Duncan: Sat. Aug 21; Downtown Duncan Farmers' Market, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Courtenay:

Sat . Aug. 21; Community Action Centre; 407 5th St. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Parksville:

Sunday,  Aug. 22; Arts Council; 133 McMillan St. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sidney and on Denman and Hornby Islands:

Weekend of Aug. 29-30

Vancouver:UBC:  Sept. 10SFU: week after Labour Day - TBA

The B.C. chapter of Democrats Abroad will campaign in Whatcom County in Washington, a swing state. The trips will begin Aug. 28 and will run every second Saturday. For more information, e-mail bcdemocrats@hotmail.com

Scott Deveau, based in Victoria, and Kathleen Haley, based in Vancouver, are regular contributors to The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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