The decisions that Canadian voters make in the forthcoming election will affect me personally, both as an international student in Toronto over the next few years, and as an Indian. The same could be said of any international student in Canada, or indeed of any citizen of any country that has economic or political, or really any kind of, relations with Canada.Canada is of course not alone in restricting voting in federal or any other type of elections to its own citizenry. It is, after all, a concept enshrined within the structure of democracy. Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois, uses the American Revolution-era slogan “no taxation without representation” as a tenet of sovereignty, but its reverse applies in this case: no electoral rights if you do not pay taxes. Since I do not (yet) pay taxes in Canada, it seems only logical that I cannot vote in its elections.
Elections tend to be framed in relatively narrow domestic terms. Though the campaign for the May election is still in its infancy, the key issues that have been framed front and center relate to matters within Canada. The Liberals’ constant emphasis on Stephen Harper’s flouting of the principles of democracy, for example, is aimed squarely at the electorate’s trust in their Prime Minister. Similarly, Conservative attack ads have attempted to portray Michael Ignatieff as unpatriotic or as un-Canadian. Fair enough, you might say; this is a domestic election after all.Well no, not really. So called “domestic” elections have repercussions far beyond the borders of the nation in which they take place.In areas such as economics and foreign aid, areas vital to the ability of people all over the world to subsist, the policies of individual governments have a significant impact. Consider, for example, the decision last year by the Conservative government to freeze international aid at five billion dollars a year rather than as a set percentage of Canada’s GDP. This effectively means that the “real” value of Canada’s international aid will drop year-to-year, because though the dollar value of aid will remain constant, the price of goods and services for the countries receiving the aid will increase with inflation. Whether or not you agree with the decision, the economic impact to the beneficiaries of Canadian international aid is undeniable.Furthermore, consider foreign military intervention. Canadian planes are currently involved in the Western coalition that is enforcing a “no-fly zone” over Libyan airspace. The ethics of intervention in Libya aside, the decision of the Harper government to commit military resources to oppose the Qaddafi regime has repercussions mainly for non-Canadians, particularly, not only Libyans. What of the civilians killed by misdirected coalition bombs, or the damage to property? These losses can be dismissed as “collateral damage”, but the fact remains that they have occurred, and crucially at the hands of governments that the Libyan people did not elect.These examples are, of course, oversimplifications of the complex interconnected world in which we live. But the idea that elections have broader repercussions than the domestic has some precedent, most notably in the “Give Your Vote” initiative run during the British general election last year. The “Give Your Vote” campaign involved British votaries committing to vote by proxy for people in Afghanistan, Ghana, and Bangladesh, who the initiatives’ website says “are directly affected by UK policies.”The actual electoral impact of the campaign was minute — though “thousands” participated, the number of votes cast by the proxy voters was too small to affect the outcome in any one constituency, let alone the election outcome as a whole. Symbolically though — since election results matter to people far beyond a country’s borders – ‘Give Your Vote’ was an important step.My “leftie” opposition and distaste for the Harper Conservatives notwithstanding, I am not calling for you to vote for one party or another this May. What I am asking, though, is that when you vote, you consider someone beyond your own personal or national interests. When Canadians elect a government, they elect a Canadian government for the world.