Revoking the Vote Creates A Second-Class Citizen

Erin Alice Cowling

(A Response to the Globe and Mail Editorial “No, Canadians living abroad shouldn’t get to vote” published 21 July 2015)

As a Canadian who has lived abroad on and off for almost a decade, I am appalled at the idea that I should not be allowed to vote. Yes, the Canadian system is based on residence in a particular district, which is why I still vote in the district that I began voting in at age 18. This is because, as the original editorial assumes but tries to deny, I have a connection to that district. I resided in it for most of my formative years, including while attending the university in my hometown. My parents still live there, I visit at least two to three times a year, and I have not given up my residency—which means I still also pay taxes. I keep up via social media with Canadian news.

Does my semi-permanent status as a Green Card holder, married to an American, somehow compel me to stop caring about what is going on in the country of my birth? Hardly. In fact, it has become almost more important to me, as I reflect on what my experiences in countries both near and far from it have been like. I’m very proud to be from Canada, and have not given up my residency. That means that I pay extra tax dollars to Canada, a country I have lived in for only one year out of the last 9, on my world income. As the tax rate for my income level is higher in Canada, I take into account the money I’ve paid to the US in terms of taxes and then figure out how much more I would have paid to Canada. I then have to write a cheque or transfer money from my Canadian bank account, which I really only hold on to for this purpose.

The second point of the article, that we are subject to other laws is true, except that we likely return to Canada at times, and the laws would still apply. Likewise, should we be in trouble in distant lands, Canada could intervene on our behalf—unless of course we have another citizenship, which, under Bill C-24, would allow the Canadian Government to abandon us. This reversal of the limitless voting is in the same vein as that of C-24: it creates a class of second-citizens who are not given the same rights or responsibilities under the law. If I cannot vote, why would I continue to pay taxes? I could give up residency, but I continue to pay, in part, out of a certain sense of duty to those things that I believe Canada does right, like health care, public education, and support for families and children, and in part because I still feel a sense of connection to the place I was born and raised.

Finally, the third point is almost too ridiculous to address, but I’ll try to do so anyway. That a “reasonable” person might disagree with me is possibly true of anything and everything I might do. Would a reasonable person disagree with my choice to go to graduate school outside of Canada? Maybe. At one point in my life that reasonable person has even been myself. But I did it… and for that I have realized that, at least for my current chosen profession, there’s no room for me back in Canada. I taught, briefly, at Queen’s University, but it wasn’t a permanent, or even full-time, position. Back in the United States, I’m finishing a two-year, full-time, Visiting Assistant Professorship, moving on to a tenure-track Assistant Professorship this summer. Unfortunately, the opportunities for me have just been greater in the United States. I say unfortunately, not to disparage the wonderful institutions that employ me, but for myself, who would love nothing more than to pass on my passion for language and literature in my home country. Should I be punished because those opportunities just haven’t been available? Should I be discouraged from maintaining contact with my homeland? Because that is what this limit on voting from abroad does: it turns the impassioned, informed Canadian away from their home, making them disconnect from the current issues. It means that well-educated, well-trained Canadians might stop trying to come home. For all the talk I hear about brain drain, it doesn’t seem that much is being done to lure those brains back, and this latest limit on how long we’re supposed to care is just another push further away.

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