The Right to Vote
Nov 15, 2009

The old military saying goes: “We are here defend democracy, not practice it.” It is frequently a humourous reply to the conditions of service imposed on all who “earn the Queen’s shilling” under the requirements of universality of service and unlimited liability. The right to vote is recognized as the most basic right for all Canadians, but surprisingly, it is only partially available to members of the ­Canadian Forces (CF) whose service takes them away from Canada to live in another country for several years. Voting in federal elections and by-elections is an entrenched right, but this is not necessarily the case in some provinces for military personnel serving outside Canada and their families.

A Canadian enrolling in the CF, or employed as a teacher or administrative support staff for a CF school will complete a Statement of Ordinary Residence (SOR) form. The civic address listed on this form is considered the person’s ordinary residence for voting. This is also the case for members of the reserve force on full-time training or service.

Federal electoral legislation provides for voting by “a person who lives with… a member of the Canadian Forces.” The spouse and eligible dependents do not sign an SOR, but can declare an ordinary residence. ‘Ordinary residence’ is defined as the place he/she calls home, and the place where he/she resides and intends to return to when away. There can be only one place of ordinary residence at a time.

Like military spouses, voting-age dependents can vote in several provinces, but the privilege isn’t provided by all provinces (and you thought voting was a right).

Let’s take the fictional case of the hypothetical Corporal Bloggins who has just returned from a six-month posting in Afghanistan, during which the family maintained its normal address. If a provincial election or by-election were called in the province where his family still resides then he can vote as an absentee elector.

This may require the corporal to request an absentee voting package either through the provincial elections office or his/her family, complete it and send it back to arrive at the constituency returning office by election day. Normally, absentee ballots must be counted in the constituency on election day, and no later.

But Cpl Bloggins and his family face a completely different set of circumstances if the posting is for an out-of-country assignment for a normal posting cycle of three to four years at an embassy, a NATO posting, an exchange posting or to a multinational military organization. In this instance, the corporal, spouse and young children select the furniture and effects that will be shipped to the new location and the rest will be placed in local long-term storage. Bank arrangements change only slightly, with a change of address to the relevant CF post office box in Belleville, Ontario. But modern-day credit cards and debit cards make this almost irrelevant.

Cpl Bloggins and family decide to sell or rent their home and move to the new posting. Normally, for taxation purposes, the Canada Revenue Agency considers the Bloggins family “deemed residents” of the province which they left, where their banking arrangements remain and furniture and effects are stored. The result is that the corporal and any wage-earning family members pay provincial income tax to the province where they resided immediately prior to the posting, in addition to federal income tax.

Some have declared that their provincial “address of record” is Ontario, based on the CFPO postal address, to benefit from Ontario’s lower taxation rates, but there have been cases in which the “deemed province” has pursued them for the provincial tax revenue.

However, even though military members and their working family members are required to pay taxes to the provinces they left, voting in provincial elections is a separate, and often unrelated, issue. A review of provincial voting regulations for persons living outside Canada shows how divergent the provincial policies are. (View province by province below).

With such widely divergent rules, there is a case to be made for ­harmonizing provincial voting regulations across Canada, but the ­question is, who should take the initiative to address these needs?

The Judge Advocate General office issues a “CANELECTGEN” ­message when federal and provincial elections are called. The Department of National Defence (DND) is responsible for advising CF members when a federal election is called, and supports the delivery of ballots and the return of marked ballots to the relevant constituency returning officer. It stands to reason that it DND should advocate standardization of provincial voting regulations for all service personnel assigned outside Canada… and for their families, too.

British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec and Prince Edward Island:
The Election Acts of these six provinces allow for people who are living outside Canada to vote in provincial elections and by-elections in the constituency where they resided before they were posted, provided they intend to return to the province. However, generally speaking, the Elections Acts of these provinces take into account that military personnel, despite their intentions and wishes to return to the province, may be assigned to another part of Canada on their return, so even if they are posted to another province but ultimately intend to return, they may vote in provincial elections. However, they must choose whether they vote in their new constituency or in the former, but not both. In these six provinces, eligibility to vote provincially is determined by the address listed on the SOR or their previous addresses and intentions to ultimately return to the province.

Being a member of the Canadian Forces and assigned outside Canada does not affect the right to vote in Saskatchewan Provincial Elections unless the member is away for more than five years, when the voter loses his or her ordinary residence in Saskatchewan, regardless of the intention to return at some future time. However, the Report of the Chief Electoral Officer, Volume III – Recommendations for Changes to The Election Act, 1996 – Twenty Sixth Provincial General Election (November 7, 2007), which was tabled in the Legislative Assembly on 30 April 2009 recommends particular amendments pertaining to Canadian Forces ­Members. The content of these recommendations are not yet available.
Nova Scotia:
Since 1989, the Nova Scotia Elections Act has seen ­several amendments to remove obstacles and adapt voting procedures to meet the needs of the changing ­electorate, particularly people with disabilities. Chris ­McCulloch, the province’s Chief Electoral Officer, has identified a number of groups that merit special attention to ensure they can take full advantage of provincial elections, including Canadian Forces members and their eligible family members. However, at present, anyone living outside Canada and lacking a provincial address is unable to vote in a Nova Scotia election. The new provincial government under Premier Darrell Dexter, a former naval officer, has assigned Elections Nova Scotia to review the legislation and report back to the legislature, no later than December, with draft legislation to replace the current Elections Act.

New Brunswick:
Military personnel deployed on short term assignments, such as peacekeeping operations or Afghanistan are normally considered ordinary residents of the province, and may vote using special ballots. However, when assigned to long term postings on foreign soil, they are seen in the same light as soldiers posted to other bases within the country (when a soldiers’ family would normally accompany them and begin residence in their new province). After this point, ­neither the soldier nor the soldier’s family would be ­eligible to vote in the province for a provincial election.

Newfoundland and Labrador:
Military personnel and their ­families who are assigned out of country for an extended period are eligible to vote in provincial elections only if they retain their primary residence and intend to return to it. If the family sells the home before leaving, they, in effect, conclude residency in the province and surrender their right to vote in elections and by-elections in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Tim Dunne is the the former Military Affairs Advisor for Nova Scotia.
© FrontLine Defence 2009