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NDP Takes Another Crack at Letting Expats Vote

'It's an act of fairness' says MP behind bill that would restore voting rights to some Canadians abroad.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 16 Jun 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here./

This coverage of Canadian national issues is made possible because of generous financial support from our Tyee Builders.

The New Democrats are aiming to lift a restriction that disqualifies expatriate Canadians from voting if they have lived abroad for more than five years.

If passed, the private member's bill, tabled Wednesday by NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, could give the more than 1.4 million expat Canadians the ability to vote in the next federal election.

"It's an act of fairness," Mathyssen told The Tyee. "It's the right thing to do."

Last year, the Conservative government faced criticism for spending a reported $1.3 million fighting long-term expats living in the United States who were trying to win the right to vote from there.

The appellants in the case wanted to win the ability to vote in Canadian elections for those who have lived abroad for more than five years, arguing they have families and other connections to the country, including sentimental ones.

The government won the case in the Ontario Court of Appeal, with the judge saying it would be unfair for Canadians abroad who are not subject to the majority of the country's laws to be allowed to elect lawmakers.

But Mathyssen said that if expat Canadians want to vote so badly that they're willing to endure the often-difficult process of doing so abroad, they shouldn't be denied the chance.

"If they go to the trouble to vote it's for the right reasons; it's because they care about the country and they want to see something positive happen," she said.

Mathyssen said that many Canadians abroad are doing things to help Canada, such as facilitating business and making contacts for international trade, so they do have a stake in the country.

Always Canadian: NDP MP

Of the 1.4 million estimated Canadians living abroad, only 6,000 chose to vote in 2011, according to media reports.

Last year, the Conservative government also came under fire from expats who said the government was discouraging expat voting by instituting rules that were hard to meet, such as requiring identification with the voter's last Canadian address.

At the time, Canadian expat groups in Hong Kong, which hosts thousands of Canadians as residents, told The Tyee they would like to see an approach similar to Australia's for expat voting, which encourages citizens abroad to show up and vote at embassies.

It's not the first time the NDP has tried to pass such legislation.

In 2014, former MP Megan Leslie tabled the same bill put forth by Mathyssen on Wednesday, and it was voted down in Parliament.

Mathyssen said she is more optimistic the bill will pass this time around, and is hoping that famous Canadians abroad will help bring the issue into the spotlight.

In her press release she pointed out that legendary Canadian actor Donald Sutherland was vocal about the issue during the 2015 election.

"I think those feelings of being part of Canada never really go away," Mathyssen said.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Elections

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