As much as I love the fact that Quebec’s university students seem to have discovered a renewed sense of civic duty, it’s a shame this turns out to be a case of the boy who cried wolf – or in this case discrimination.
According to Quebec’s Election Act, updated as of March 4th, 2014, in order to be qualified as a Quebec voter, there are three* main conditions that must be met:
Be a minimum of 18 years of age
Be of Canadian citizenship
Be domiciled in Quebec for a minimum of 6 months
As discussed in this fantastic opinion piece, the ambiguous definition of what it means to be “domiciled in Quebec” is at the centre of a debate pitting Quebec’s out-of-province university students against the provincial government. While the former are claiming that they are being denied a fundamental right to vote as Quebec residents, the latter are demanding students produce a Quebec health card and/or driver’s license as the domiciled residents they purport to be.
Now, add Pauline Marois, the incumbent premier and leader of the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ), to this already combustible mix, who has publicly declared her fear and disgust at the thought of Anglophone students “stealing” the election from Quebecers. With all that combined, you’ve got yourself a blazing clash of headstrong titans with both camps using allegations of fraud and conspiracy theories to fuel their impassioned flames.
The out-of-province students argue that this entire dispute is rendered void by the simple fact that, by spending eight of twelve months of the year in this province, they should be recognized as Quebec residents. They already contribute to Quebec’s economy by spending their money in local businesses, being employed, paying taxes, and composing a significant chunk of the province’s future stock of educated, human capital.
Then, there are the accusations of electoral profiling, where polling officers are “discriminating” against would-be student voters by asking for additional registration information. Rightfully so, Quebec’s university students are insisting that too much subjectivity is being brought into the electoral process. They view it as a corrupt attempt by the PQ to suppress those less likely to vote for them on April 7th.
When it comes to elections, it is necessary to understand the difference between the government and the Directeur Général Des Elections Du Québec (DGEQ). The former is a governing body run by the ruling party; the latter is both an institution and a formal position fully independent of the Quebec government. As a result, any claims that elections officers are corruptly working at the behest of the PQ are inherently false; they are employees of the DGEQ, not the government.
Second, the PQ’s position is predicated on the strong belief that Canadian voters – specifically those who do not hold Quebec permanent residence – are mobilizing in alarming numbers against them in anticipation of a referendum. To the PQ, this is a bit too reminiscent of the 1995 referendum for their comfort.
So, who exactly is right in this whole affair?
The answer lies within the contentious issue of the true meaning of being “domiciled.” Last Saturday, the DGEQ was kind enough to release a definitive explanation of what “domicile” really signifies:
“Evidence of domicile is first and foremost a question of law, and is demonstrated by intention […] evidenced by material facts […] The domicile is therefore the place with which a person’s important actions or “states” of civic life are associated.
The more evidence that is provided, the clearer the person’s intention to establish domicile becomes. It is important to note that some specific actions also provide more certain evidence of the person’s intention to establish domicile in Québec than the simple fact of signing a lease. Examples include the fact of paying income tax in Québec or obtaining a Québec driver’s licence.
This interpretation of the notion of domicile has been confirmed by the courts.”
Furthermore, when it comes to claims of officials profiling against out-of-province students by demanding a Quebec health card or driver’s license:
“The board of revisors has the power to inquire and obtain any information it considers relevant for examination of an application for entry on the list. To do this, it may ask the person to provide additional evidence, including […] a Québec health insurance card, a Québec driver’s licence […]”
There you have it. To be considered a “domiciled” Quebec resident requires far more than a lease and an intention to stay in Quebec during your studies alone. In fact, to receive the right to vote in a Quebec election, you have to give up your domiciled status in any other province you call home. Even if that implies giving up both your health card and driver’s license in exchange for Quebec’s, that’s the reality of choosing one province as your domicile while still maintaining residence in another. As harsh as that may sound, that’s been the law since 1994, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to change any time soon.
Therefore, the officers who have been requiring additional proof of residency are completely correct in their stringent application of the law. Though each and every single one of them should be consistent in said interpretation, their actions remain perfectly legal, and not a case of voter suppression.
Oh yeah, and when it comes to the slogan of these elections, the DGEQ had it almost right:
“Democracy wins, every time you follow the rules.”
*there is a 4th condition – not being under curatorship – but it generally isn’t relevant in this context of a university student population.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.