What social contract exists between Canadians living in Hong Kong, and the faraway nation which provides them a passport? Is geographical proximity an essential component of that contract, if the passport holder wants to enjoy the full privileges of Canadian citizenship – say, by voting in the upcoming federal election?
It’s no abstract debate. Last month, the Ontario Court of Appeal issued a ruling that eliminates federal voting rights for long-term expats, including an estimated 190,000 of the almost 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong. The basis of the ruling, which upholds a voting ban on those who have lived outside Canada for more than five years, was summarised by Chief Justice George Strathy, who described Canada’s political system as based on “geographically defined districts”.
Allowing all non-resident citizens to vote “would allow them to participate in making laws that affect Canadian residents on a daily basis, but have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives”, Strathy said in the July 20 ruling. “This would erode the social contract and undermine the legitimacy of the laws. The legislation [prohibiting voting by five-year non-residents] is aimed at strengthening Canada’s system of government and is demonstrably justiﬁed in a free and democratic society.”
That political rights should hinge on geographical presence grates with Yuen Pau Woo, the former president and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation, now a distinguished East Asia fellow with the think tank. Read more