On Friday, Mathieu Vandal, head of the election revision board for a downtown Montreal riding, resigned over concerns that large numbers of non-francophones were registering to vote in the upcoming election without proper screening. At a press conference on Sunday, Parti Québécois (PQ) candidates accused “people from Ontario and the rest of Canada” of trying to “steal” the election. Amid these accusations were reports that McGill and Concordia students who appear to qualify as voters according to the minimum registration requirements are being disallowed from registering to vote. Later on Sunday, Québec’s chief electoral officer said there was no evidence of an “irregular increase in voter registration.”
Each time there is a provincial election in Quebec, there is a discussion on campus as to whether or not McGill students should vote in it. This election has raised a more heated discussion than usual, as a result of our widespread opposition to the PQ’s Charter of Values. Passions aside, there are two questions at work here: can we vote, and should we?
On the first question, there are certainly some of us that can—people originally from Québec, for example (though the specific riding in which they should vote is still at issue). For the rest of us, it is much less clear. There are three specific requirements for registration: Canadian citizenship, residence in Québec for at least six months, and intention to make Québec your principal residence. The first two are straightforward; the third is not and needs clarification.
This aside, the more interesting question is “Should we vote?” If you plan on living here permanently, you absolutely should. How about those of us that don’t?
The main argument I’ve heard in the past weeks for students voting regardless of long-term residency is keeping the PQ from a majority government. This isn’t a very good argument, if only because it is currently far from clear that the PQ will form a government at all. Polls are giving the Liberals an edge that varies from two per cent to double-digits.
Moreover, the ridings in downtown Montreal where students who weren’t already residents of Quebec tend to live are basically decided—two are solidly Liberal, two are PQ, and one is held by Quebec Solidaire. These ridings seem unlikely to change hands. Ultimately, whether the PQ forms a government will be decided in the 97 ridings outside the Liberal-dominated island of Montreal. Considering the vote distribution, student-voting won’t make a difference in the ability of the PQ to form a government.
You could also argue for students voting in order to increase the budget of their preferred party through Quebec’s per-vote subsidy of $1.50 (which increases to $2.50 in an election year). While this reasoning has some logical merit, in reality, the impact on any party would likely be fairly small because there are relatively few of us. In my mind, this makes moral considerations more important. Simply put, it is immoral for a person to vote if they will not have to deal with the consequences of that vote. Doing so is unfair to those who will.
We allow people the right to vote because we believe that people should be able to make decisions about the character and the quality of the society in which they live. If they reside in or are leaving to another, with no plans to return, they have no right to a say in this one.
If Quebec is your permanent residence, you should vote. If you are planning on making Quebec your permanent residence after you graduate, you should vote. If you are a first- or second-year student and you will be studying at McGill for the rest of your degree, you too should vote as you will be living here for several more years. But if, like me, you’re an upper-year student from elsewhere in Canada with a distaste for xenophobic populism, it’s not your choice to make.