With just months until the federal election, the Canadian government has proposed legislation to restrict Canadian expat voting.
The proposed legislation would eliminate the international register of voters held by Elections Canada that identifies eligible voters abroad. Instead, Canadian expats would be required to re-register for each election, but not until the writ is dropped, meaning that they could have as little as 36 days, which is the minimum length of a Canadian election campaign, to request a ballot from Elections Canada, wait for it to be approved, receive the ballot, and return in by mail. Given that mail-delivery in many parts of the world can be slow and unreliable, 36 days is unlikely enough time to complete the process in many countries.
New documentation requirements would mean Canadian expat voters would have to be able to prove their last address in Canada with documentation from a Canadian company or government office, unless they can find someone in their last riding who can vouch for them—a difficult task if the expat voter is half a world away.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hampering of voters abroad is decried by the opposition. “This is just the ‘unfair elections act,’ part 2,” said New Democrat MP David Christopherson, referring to the controversial Fair Elections Act that many say will disenfranchise up to 400,000 eligible voters due to new voting restrictions.
“It seems the government is paranoid about our elections,” said Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux.
This isn’t the first time the Harper government has attempted to restrict Canadian expat voting. The government is waiting for a verdict in its appeal of a decision by the Ontario Superior Court last spring that said preventing Canadian citizens who’ve been living abroad for more than five years from voting was unconstitutional.
The Canadian federal election is expected to take place Oct. 19. Early polling shows a tight three-way race between the New Democrats, Liberals, and governing Conservatives.