Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer‘s dual Canadian and United States citizenship prompted concerns and political attacks this week — but does a politician’s dual citizenship really matter?
The Canada Elections Act doesn’t have rules banning members of Parliament — or potential prime ministers — from holding dual citizenship. According to 2016 conses data, roughly 1.4 million Canadians hold more than one citizenship.
Stéphanie Plante, who works at the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Citizenship and Minorities, explained to Global News that that makes sense for a country like Canada.
“It’s kind of this idea that your patriotism is determined by where you were born,” she said. “I like to think that as Canadians, we’re really past that.”
The Globe and Mail first reported Thursday that the Tory leader’s father was born in the U.S. and Scheer and his sisters received American citizenship as a result. Scheer said he let his passport expire and met U.S. consular officials in August to begin the paperwork to renounce his American citizenship.
Scheer responded to the controversy on Friday, telling reporters he didn’t renounce the citizenship earlier because he was focused on other tasks.
“I was focused on other things. I was rebuilding the party, getting ready for the election, working on the platform. It was always my intention to do it before the election.”
Canadian politicians and dual citizenship
It’s not uncommon for Canadian politicians to have dual citizenships, since there are no rules prohibiting or limiting it.
Several politicians have them, including some high-ranking ones, such as Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef.
And it’s not just the Trudeau government. This has been common in the past among MPs and senators alike.
However, the issue has prompted controversy in the past — and even from Scheer.
As an MP in 2005, Scheer published a blog post about Michaëlle Jean, a few weeks before she was sworn in as governor general, asking his constituents how they felt about her dual citizenship.
“Does it bother you that she is a dual citizen (France and Canada)? Would it bother you if instead of French citizenship, she held U.S. citizenship?” he wrote, without mentioning his own double citizenship status.
Thomas Mulcair, the former NDP leader, was criticized by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper for holding dual citizenship.
“In my case, as I say, I’m very clear,” Harper said at the time. “I’m a Canadian and only a Canadian.”
The same thing happened with former Liberal leader Stephane Dion, who the Conservatives also attacked for his dual Canadian-French citizenship.
Controversy surrounding these claims is why many running for top-level leadership positions voluntarily renounce their citizenship, Plante explained.
“There’s sort of an understanding at this point that if you have a second citizenship somewhere, you will renounce it,” she said.
Associate professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance Phil Triadafilopoulos said he doesn’t believe dual citizenship affects a politician’s ability to do their job.
“I think that Canadians needn’t worry about whether someone is a dual citizen or not,” he said. “It didn’t affect the former governor general’s ability to exact her duties. This wasn’t an issue with other politicians.”
Other countries have strict rules
While Canada doesn’t have strict rules, other countries do — including the U.S.
In the U.S., the constitution states candidates have to be “natural born” citizens to run for president. And there has been confusion surrounding what exactly that means.
The issue came up with Sen. Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada but is the son of an American woman.
It also came up with Sen. John McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone, where his American father was serving in the military.
Australia also grappled with the issue and ousted several politicians in 2017 and 2018 who held dual citizenship. The country’s constitution stipulates that federal candidates cannot be dual nationals.
Plante explained that she doesn’t believe such limitations work for Canada because of the country’s relationship with immigration and multiculturalism.
She noted limiting the office of the prime minister to those who are only Canadian, or only born in the country, is “American-style politics.”
“Scheer has devoted his life to public service, he’s been in office since 2005 and he’s probably crisscrossed the country more than I can imagine,” Plante said.
Triadafilopoulos agreed that Canada’s history as “a country of immigration” means other countries’ rules don’t necessarily fit.
“We should be happy that people take the step of becoming citizens and should not be hung up on the fact that they came from somewhere else and they may maintain a tie to that other country,” he said.
Reaction from Scheer’s political contenders
While Scheer’s opponents chimed in on criticism surrounding his dual citizenship, they did not question his eligibility to become prime minister.
Instead, they claimed the Tory leader was dishonest with Canadians.
“I think there is nothing about having a dual citizenship that should disqualify anyone from being a politician,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Friday. “But I do think that you have to be honest with Canadians when you’re applying for a job to be prime minister of seven million Canadians.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the issue a “distraction” on Friday, saying there are several other more legitimate reasons for him to criticize Scheer.
Global News has reached out to the Green Party on its position regarding dual citizenship.
Scheer has said he was not trying to hide his U.S. citizenship.
“I was never asked about it from Canadians,” he told reporters on Thursday.
— With files from The Canadian Press