Saturday, July 2, 2011

True Expatriate Love

There are plenty of reasons a Canadian citizen might want to leave Canada for an extended period of time. Perhaps they picked up a sweet gig teaching English in Japan, like I aimed for but never quite hit, or perhaps they're just looking to understand life in some other part of the world before they come home. No matter where they live, though, they're still Canadian citizens. Hell, many expatriates are still subject to paying Canadian taxes if they're living and working abroad, depending on how long they're gone and if they left residential ties behind - the situation is a bit complex. It's also something a lot of people don't tend to think about, because really, how many expats do you know?

Recently I've been seeing news clippings about expatriate voting issues on the SkyTrain platform screens. The Globe and Mail recently reported on the results of a survey among Canadians dealing with attitudes about expats' right to vote. This isn't something I hadn't really thought about either, even though this was still the Land of the Constant Minority Government when I'd been trying to get out to Japan - but if you're a Canadian who's been out of the country for five years, you're no longer eligible to vote in Canadian elections. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed say that this is BS - that expats should have the same voting rights as citizens within the borders.

I've been thinking about the logistics of that, though. When you get right down to it, voting is a fundamentally democratic thing, and the MP you vote for is meant to represent you. But if you're teaching kids the difference between "they're" and "their" in a country school in Hokkaido, how capably is the Member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park going to be able to represent you and deal with your issues as a Canadian citizen?

So here's an idea - give expats representation of their own. I mean, is there any real reason why our ridings shouldn't just end at the borders?

There are something like 3 million Canadians living abroad; many of them, unsurprisingly, in the United States, but there are populations scattered across the world. So give them their own representation! Add the United States to the riding map - create the ridings of United States of America—East and United States of America—West so those expats have seats specifically responsive to their problems. Create similar ones for the expats living in Europe, Asia, Oceania, and so on, and so we'd have a bunch of new MPs dealing with the interests of Canadians overseas.

Governments, after all, are responsible to the people - and just because they live outside its direct authority, that responsibility doesn't go away.

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