OTTAWA — A new group headed by some prominent Conservatives aims to mobilize right-leaning Canadians living overseas — and marks a changed attitude toward longtime expat voters after the Supreme Court of Canada significantly expanded their voting rights.
“It’s one of the last truly untapped areas of the electorate,” John Baird, former Conservative cabinet minister, told the National Post. Baird is the honorary president for the new group, called Canadian Conservatives Abroad (CCA).
Baird said expats “overwhelmingly” don’t vote in elections, and noted the estimated three million Canadians living abroad is equivalent to about 30 electoral ridings. About 20,000 expat voters were registered ahead of the 2019 election.
The push to form the group is in part motivated by a 2019 Supreme Court decision that ruled it was unconstitutional to bar Canadian citizens from voting if they’ve lived outside Canada longer than five years. That prohibition had been in place since 1993 (though sometimes enforced loosely), but the Liberal government lifted it with Bill C-76 in 2018.
Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Conservatives fought against allowing longtime expats to vote and cracked down on the practice, alleging people were using loopholes to get around the five-year rule. Embracing the expat vote is somewhat of an about-face, but it’s also a recognition that the prohibition isn’t coming back and the Conservatives are missing an opportunity by not organizing among this population.
The CCA will be modelled after similar organizations for Americans (Republicans Overseas), Britons (Conservatives Abroad) and Australians (Australian Liberals Abroad). Democrats Abroad, which organizes overseas for the U.S. Democratic Party, is another well-known example.
Nigel Wright, a former chief of staff to Harper, will chair the CCA’s executive committee. The group is based in London and the leadership team includes Conservatives spread around the world, according to a news release.
The CCA will operate independently of political parties, but look for supporters of both federal and provincial conservative parties. “We’re starting with a solid base in the U.S., U.K., the Middle East and Asia,” Wright said in a statement.
Baird said he expects the CCA will be primarily focused on voter education, mobilization and assistance with administrative hurdles, but it will also organize virtual events and other forms of networking for overseas Conservatives. Another goal is to help drive Canadian policy discussions on global affairs from a right-wing perspective.
“We’re a group of volunteers that are just getting started, so we’ll see what form it takes,” Baird said. “It’s an exciting opportunity.”
The CCA’s first event will be a discussion on the establishment of a “CANZUK” alliance between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom that would aim to coordinate matters of migration, education, free trade and foreign policy between the countries. The event will be held to coincide with the upcoming Conservative policy convention in March.
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