Evidence of meeting #5 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was policy.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Roxanne Dubé  Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  • Alain Tellier  Director, Treaty Law Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  • Isabelle Martin  Deputy Chief of Protocol and Director, Diplomatic Corps Services, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Order, please.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we're going to do a briefing on the policy regarding absentee and extraterritorial voting in Canada.

This is meeting number five. I want to welcome the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade today.

Thank you very much for taking the time to be with us, once again on short notice. It's unfortunate that there are never weeks and weeks of notice. You're always very accommodating. We appreciate that.

We have a number of individuals here from the department. I know that Madame Dubé is going to speak. She is the director general at the geographic strategy and services bureau.

Madame Dubé, maybe you can introduce your colleagues. Then, of course, you have opening statements--I'm assuming you guys know how this works--and we'll then have a chance to ask some questions. We have about 40 minutes left.

Once again, we apologize for being a little bit delayed, but our original delegation was a little late, so the domino effect does ensue. That's where we're at.

Welcome, Madame Dubé. We'll turn the meeting over to you.

10:05 a.m.

Roxanne Dubé Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Indeed, I am here today accompanied by Mr. Alain Tellier, and I would prefer him to give you his proper title.

10:05 a.m.

Alain Tellier Director, Treaty Law Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Thank you.

I'm the director of the treaty law division at Foreign Affairs.

10:05 a.m.

Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Roxanne Dubé

I am also joined by Isabelle Martin.

10:05 a.m.

Isabelle Martin Deputy Chief of Protocol and Director, Diplomatic Corps Services, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

I am the deputy chief of protocol and director of the diplomatic corps services.

10:05 a.m.

Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Roxanne Dubé

I will make a very short statement, to begin, to clarify the Canadian policy, and we'll be very delighted to take your questions.

We're here today, as you know, to present to you on Canada's policy on absentee voting and extraterritorial constituencies.

Canada is an active proponent and supporter of democracy around the world. The government is proud to assist in the promotion and protection of free and fair elections. Indeed, Canada encourages foreign states to allow their citizens residing permanently or temporarily in Canada to exercise their right to vote in elections in their country of origin--namely, by absentee vote.

In 2010, Canada approved the establishment of polling stations in 25 elections. To date in 2011, Canada has facilitated absentee voting for 12 countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and South America. The minister approved yet another absentee vote on Wednesday, October 4, 2011.

Canada will continue to support absentee voting; however, Canada will not accept requests for foreign polling where Canada is an extraterritorial constituency. Simply put, Canada is not a riding of a foreign country; this is an issue of sovereignty.

On February 12, 2008, Canada established a policy to refuse all requests by foreign states to include Canada in their respective extraterritorial electoral constituencies. This principled policy has been applied consistently since it was instituted in 2008. The policy does not target any particular country or region, and I would emphasize that.

Allow me to repeat this in French.

This principled policy has been applied consistently since it was instituted in 2008. The policy does not target any particular country or region. The policy is aimed at upholding Canada's sovereignty and reducing foreign interference in Canada's domestic affairs.

No one should represent Canada as a constituency in a foreign elected assembly. Having a foreign country unilaterally include Canada as part of its own voting districts could lead to the election of candidates who would be perceived as representing fellow Canadian citizens in a foreign elected assembly.

It may also lead, in some cases, to importing foreign political disputes to Canada. Foreign electoral campaigns in Canada have the potential to focus on domestic Canadian political issues or bilateral disputes, and to undermine social cohesion, inclusiveness and identity.

We have made this policy very clear. As I said earlier, we have applied it consistently. We expect foreign states to ensure that any voting planned in Canada is in full accordance with Canadian policy.

Canada expects foreign governments to respect Canada's laws and government policies concerning their activities on Canadian territory, as we respect theirs when in their countries.

As always, Canada stands with the people of all nations who aspire to a stable and prosperous democracy, and we believe that in safeguarding our sovereignty we are leading by example.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much, Madame Dubé.

We're going to start with our first questioner, the critic for the NDP, Madame Laverdière. The first round will consist of seven minutes for questions and answers.

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to my former colleagues for being here this morning to talk to us about this situation.

I listened carefully to Ms. Dubé's explanations. I understand that this policy was established in 2008. So, I assume that was after Italians voted in 2008, when Canada was a constituency in the Italian election.

I have a hard time understanding something. Let's take Tunisia as an example. Tunisia made a fairly similar request to 28 countries. Canada is part of a group of many countries. Canada is not a constituency in the Tunisian election. Tunisia created constituencies in certain locations and also designated a large region that covers all the other countries where Tunisians live.

This situation is similar to that of the French, who always vote to elect the assembly of French representatives abroad.

Among other countries, Tunisia made that request to the United States, whose situation is similar to ours and who willingly accepted the Tunisian proposal. Tunisia declared Germany a constituency, and Germany willingly accepted the request. There are a number of constituencies in France, which willingly accepted the Tunisian request.

Actually, out of the 28 countries Tunisia made the request to, Canada is the only one that refused. I am wondering what makes us so different in this matter from our very close allies, such as the United States, France or Germany.

10:10 a.m.

Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Roxanne Dubé

Ms. Laverdière, you raise a number of points. Let me try to answer as quickly as possible.

On the one hand, I would like to focus on what happened in 2008. The Italian authorities sent Ottawa a request for Canada to be one of the foreign electoral constituencies. We received that request a few days before the Cabinet discussions. The government of the day approved the implementation of a policy to not allow foreign electoral constituencies. However, it decided that Canada could be an electoral constituency in the Italian election one last time, since it was only a matter of days. So that was not an exception, as some insist.

On the other hand, you mentioned the unique Tunisian reality. I am glad you did, since it allows us to clarify the government's position on that extremely important and extraordinary election, which is about to take place. On September 21, the Canadian government sent a diplomatic note to the Tunisian authorities to specify that we fully agreed with and approved of establishing balloting stations for absentee voters at Tunisia's diplomatic or consular missions in Canada.

In addition, we even allowed a private location to be set up in Quebec City, so that Tunisian nationals, be they permanent or temporary residents, could also exercise their right to vote. We are currently discussing that with the Tunisian authorities. We sincerely wish to arrive at a solution that will enable Tunisian nationals to vote. We are confident that we will reach an understanding, while explaining that Canada cannot be a foreign electoral constituency in the Tunisian election—and it needs to be understood that this is a firm policy. We really hope to accomplish that.

I want to explain one more time why Canada, for its own benefit, wants a different policy from what some foreign governments have in place. What is a foreign electoral constituency? It is a voting district or riding whose boundaries are unilaterally determined by a foreign state—and this is the most important part—to include territory in Canada. The expression “extraterritorial electoral constituency” is often used. In this scenario, an elected candidate would represent people living or residing in Canada in a foreign legislative body. That foreign representative would hold a seat in a foreign legislative body, and his or her constituents would live or reside in Canada. We don't think that this kind of a situation is desirable. We have decided against this policy for reasons of social cohesion and national identity.

If I have any time left, I would like to raise another point about the French National Assembly. You are right to say that there is the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad, which is separate from the French National Assembly and the French Parliament. It is an assembly whose members are elected by French nationals abroad, and it advises the foreign affairs minister. However, that assembly holds no seats in the Senate or in the French National Assembly.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Allow me to add something quickly. Unless I'm mistaken, that assembly elects senators to the French Senate.

10:15 a.m.

Director General, Geographic Strategy and Services Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Roxanne Dubé

It elects senators, but not on a regional basis. Actually, the website of the French Senate specifies that the 12 senators representing French nationals abroad do not represent French citizens of a specific country or region. We are talking about the global French population. That is what's most important to understand about our policy. What we take issue with is Canada, alone or as part of another delimited area, being seen as a foreign country's electoral constituency.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

Mr. Dechert, sir, for seven minutes.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for being here.

Sorry?

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Hold on a second, please.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

I don't mean to interrupt my friend, Mr. Dechert, Mr. Chairman, but

His Excellency the Ambassador of Tunisia is here. I don't know if it's the will of the committee, but since this is a very interesting discussion, I am prepared to perhaps let him use my seven minutes of floor time. Since the ambassador is in attendance, I would like to allow him to explain his government's position, if the committee wishes.