A little more about expat voting in Canadian elections

Democracy Thwarted

After blogging last week about being deprived of my right to vote as a Canadian citizen, I realized two things:

  1. I’m personally affected as far as the impending election is concerned because Elections Canada is now requiring international electors to declare an intended date of return—even those of us who have previously applied to be on the Register, and have not yet been abroad for over five years
  2. Wikipedia’s page on Elections in Canada lacked any mention of the expat situation, erroneously claiming (though it used to be true for 14 months) that “National voting is available to all Canadian citizens aged 18 or older.”

I rectified the second situation by revising those sentences and adding a section on expat voting to clarify the current state of affairs.

I believe my summary, which recalls the five-year limit’s origins in 1993, is the most compact summary of the whole picture, to date, in one place.

Of course, I humbly encourage others to contribute to Wikipedia and edit the article to continue improving its content, but I think the section I mentioned is worth quoting:

Canadian citizens abroad

Although Section Three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that “every citizen of Canada has the right to vote”,[9] in practice only those citizens 18 years of age or older, and who reside in Canada or have been abroad for fewer than five years, may vote.[10] Exemptions to the five-year limit exist for members of the Canadian Armed Forces, employees of the federal or a provincial government who are abroad, employees of certain international organizations, and their cohabitants.[10] The five-year limit was originally enacted as part of Bill C-114, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act, in 1993; these amendments extended the special ballot to certain prisoners, and Canadians “living or travelling” abroad.[11] In September 2005, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, then the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada for 15 years, explicitly recommended in his official report that Parliament remove the five-year limit by amendment, but no action was taken.[12][13]

In May 2014, a court decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice invalidated the five-year limit as an unconstitutional restriction on the right to vote, in violation of Section Three, leading to a period of fourteen months during which all Canadian expatriates could apply to be on the register of electors.[14] However, the decision was reversed 2-1 on appeal at the Court of Appeal for Ontario on July 20, 2015, in a judicial opinion citing Canada’s history of using a residence-based electoral district system and a justification based on social contract theory, which held that the five-year limit was a permissible limitation of the constitutional right to vote under Section One.[15][16] As of August 2015, Elections Canada has implemented changes to its registration process to comply with the latest court ruling, and will require expatriates already on the register to declare an intended date of return.[17]

Again, I really hope this is appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Unfortunately, with the federal election just having been called for October 2015, it is impossible for any ruling to take effect in time for the impending election. (A legislative solution is also possible, but a court ruling would be the most optimal outcome.)

Town of Greece v. Galloway

I’m in the middle of final exams, and I really don’t have the time for this, but I was blown away by the decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, 572 US __ (2014).

As Justice Kagan wrote in her dissent,

“A person goes to court, to the polls, to a naturalization ceremony—and a government official or his handpicked minister asks her, as the first order of official business, to stand and pray with others in a way conflicting with her own religious beliefs. Perhaps she feels sufficient pressure to go along—to rise, bow her head, and join in whatever others are saying: After all, she wants, very badly, what the judge or poll worker or immigration official has to offer. Or perhaps she is made of stronger mettle, and she opts not to participate in what she does not believe—indeed, what would, for her, be something like blasphemy. She then must make known her dissent from the common religious view, and place herself apart from other citizens, as well as from the officials responsible for the invocations. And so a civic function of some kind brings religious differences to the fore: That public proceeding becomes (whether intentionally or not) an instrument for dividing her from adherents to the community’s majority religion, and for altering the very nature of her relationship with her government.”

Unsurprisingly, this case was again decided on a 5-4 split, with the conservative justices in the majority. As the New York Times reports, “For Justices, Free Speech Often Means ‘Speech I Agree With’”.

Lowering the bar on education isn’t the answer

The following article was initially drafted with a guest author, Kirill Peretoltchine, at the end of July 2012.

A giant statue in the opening ceremony of the Athens Summer Olympics in 2004, onto which laser images of geometrical shapes and scientific concepts were projected, was a powerful reminder of a bygone era. Ancient Greece was a birthplace of logical thought, education, mathematics, science… and democracy.

The Renaissance was marked by an explosion in the diffusion of ideas, and the naissance of the scientific method that has allowed us to explore this world. This was the time of Copernicus, Galileo, Michelangelo, and da Vinci — the last of which, far from being just a scientist and artist, was also an engineer and writer: the stunning definition of a Renaissance man.

And one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin — also the founder of our alma mater — was a polymath himself. Politician, scientist, writer…

There is a reason we honour and respect figures like da Vinci and Franklin, even if we, enlightened with 21st century practicality, do not expect to educate the entire populace in their image.

Both of us were shocked to read a real proposal by an educator at the City University of New York for the lowering of educational standards and the removal of mathematics from standard curricula.

We agree that there are serious deficits in the North American educational system that are in need of redress. We also concur that it is impractical to teach higher math effectively to every high school and college or university student. But we are firm in our belief that lowering the bar isn’t the answer. Andrew Hacker has a limited view of mathematics that fails to appreciate its value, and his solution of removing math from standards is flawed.

Continue reading “Lowering the bar on education isn’t the answer”

My experience with American health care

Right now*, I stand among several dozen patients at Health Center #3, operated by the Philadelphia city government to provide clinical care to residents in a way that is available even to those without insurance or wealth. I’ve nearly been waiting for two hours for a quick skin test.

My alternative is Student Health Service, on another edge of campus, where there is a comfortable environment, shorter waiting times, and probably better trained personnel.

Instead of taking advantage of the benefits afforded to me by my student health insurance plan, a consequence of my attendance at the University of Pennsylvania, I chose this clinic because I could get the test done on an earlier date. I imagined it wouldn’t be as great of a place as SHS, or the expansive, top-tier hospitals of Penn Medicine, but what I am experiencing has convinced me, even more so than I thought before, of the epic failures of the American health care system.

* This post has since been revised and reformatted, although it was initiated during my time in the clinic.

[acm-tag id=”468×60″]

A comparison

Those who are fortunate enough to have employer- or school-sponsored health insurance may have access to HMO hospitals, clinics, and doctors.

Those who attend a comprehensive university like mine may have access to the combined resources of a student health clinic and a set of university hospitals merely a block away.

Those who are in the lower strata of income and status, or whose recent unemployment leaves them uninsured, are relegated to public institutions such as these health centers, left to understaffed clinics, long wait times, and expensive, unaffordable medications. Some of these people are also caught outside the eligibility criteria of governmental programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

I’m from Canada

If timing weren’t an issue, I would just do this skin test back at home in Ontario, Canada. Sure, the skin test itself might not be covered by the provincial OHIP program, but at least every resident (after a certain number of months of residence) has access to physicians and walk in clinics at no basic charge beyond their taxes; those who are below the low-income cutoff might even pay $0 in federal and/or provincial taxes.

There is no such thing as a general practitioner who will turn you away because you “belong” to another unaffiliated insurance company. Low income citizens do not have to go to a crowded government “health center” for basic medical care; any privately-operated walk-in clinic, or a family doctor who is accepting new patients, will do. The UK also demonstrates how access to prescription medicine can be broadened.

Even those who are insured in the US are shocked when they find the cost of health care to be much higher than budgeted.

  • Students on our private university-organized insurance plan still must pay a $100 co-pay to go to the emergency room, although the co-pay is waived under restrictive conditions
  • There’s a co-pay of $35 for an X-ray diagnostic test. I had a chest X-ray done as a matter of an annual physical examination over the summer in Canada, and it was covered by OHIP.
  • Flu vaccinations are $24 (at least) in the vicinity of this university. While private health insurance may cover the cost, it’s surprising that this basic tool of public health isn’t free; municipal governments in Ontario almost universally administer them at no charge, and they are available through doctors’ offices, public health clinics, walk-in clinics, and even some pharmacies.

Even if we forget entirely about how much this sucks compared to medical care in Canada—which admittedly has its own issues—the disparities in access to, and quality of, health care between classes here in the United States should be appalling.

Dr. David Himmelstein of The Cambridge Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues, authored a paper in the International Journal of Health Services in 2004 on the inefficiencies in the American health care system. One of the most potent conclusions is summarized in the abstract:

The United States wastes more on health care bureaucracy than it would cost to provide health care to all its uninsured … Only a single-payer national health insurance system could garner these massive administrative savings, allowing universal coverage without any increase in total health spending.

He also concludes that, in the US in 1999, “administrative spending consumed at least 31.0 percent of health spending… [i]n contrast, administrative costs in Canada… are about 16.7 percent of health spending.” I imagine some people are profiting from this spending.


I am a student, who, as a matter of circumstance (i.e. parents’ hard work) and fortune, have access to one of the top hospital systems in America. Not everyone is as fortunate. And it takes a bit of altruism to be able to stand up in a position like this and advocate on behalf of those who can’t.

Experience has shown that a weak populace is easier to rule over. One wonders if the goal of weakening the populace, especially the poor, is the reason that America continues to fail at reforming health care.