The Board of Democrats Abroad Canada invites you to attend your
Annual General Meeting
To report to the membership the accomplishments and financial status of the Canada country committee during 2019.
Sunday, March 22, 2020
Via WebEx and possibly in-person at some chapters. Watch for announcements from your chapter or contact your local chapter chair.
All Members of Democrats Abroad Canada
Via WebEx online or through the iOS or Android WebEx app. Access instructions will be emailed to registered attendees the week prior.
Chair, Democrats Abroad Canada
“The majority of us aren’t making millions or trying to hide our money in secret Swiss bank accounts. We just want to live simple, ordinary lives. The amount of stress that comes along with the U.S. tax system is overwhelming. It is extremely complicated and expensive to navigate. We live with a real burden that Americans living in the U.S. simply don’t understand.” – Michigan voter living in the UK
Seven members of the Hamilton/Burlington/Niagara and Toronto chapters drove to Buffalo in late January to meet with the staff of U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins, 26th District of New York. (Close to 200 DA members in Ontario vote in his district.) The subject: taxes, taxes. At a round table with Bonnie Kane Lockwood, Higgins’ director of special projects, and Chris Fahey, the congressman’s deputy chief of staff for special projects, DA members presented their case. Weighing in via teleconferencing from Australia was Carmelan Polce, chair of DA’s Taxation Task Force.
Ken Sherman, past chair of the Hamilton/Burlington chapter and member of the Democratic National Committee, explained that Americans living abroad must file taxes both in the U.S. and in Canada. “There are over 6.5 million Americans like us who are suffering serious personal and financial harm because we are subjected to taxation both in the United States – even if we have no U.S.-sourced income – and in Canada were we live. Most of us are filing zero-dollar tax returns in the U.S.”
Of particular concern is the Repatriation Tax Law which has had unintended consequences for Americans living abroad. As well, Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 – which gave corporations a wonderful advantage, not so for small businesses – “has thrown people’s lives into an uproar. None of us saw this coming, but it has been terribly destabilizing,” said Sherman. The much-heralded bill is forcing many American small business owners abroad to close their companies. Another challenge faces those whom Steve Nardi, chair for DA Canada, calls Accidental Americans. These are people born in the United States to foreign parents, but who moved away as infants or young children, and those born outside the U.S. to at least one American parent. “According to numbers from the U.S. Consulate, there are between 1-2 million Accidental Americans living in Canada,” said Nardi. With no legal or cultural connection to the U.S., these people still bear U.S. tax-compliance obligations.
Other points of contention discussed at the meeting was the imposition of a new minimum tax on Global Intangible Low-taxed Income (or GILTI), further fall-out from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Again, this has had a negative impact on overseas Americans, explained Ron Barrett, member-at-large for DA’s Hamilton chapter. Barrett and his wife, Susan Hill, the chapter’s membership secretary, came to Canada twelve years ago as part of a NAFTA initiative and bought a Canadian company. Their U.S. tax return numbered 70 pages last year with $40,000 in what are called “transition taxes” owed to the U.S. government.
These iniquities make a compelling case for what Democrats Abroad has been lobbying hard for in recent years: Residency-Based Taxation (RBT). The U.S. and Eritrea are the only two countries in the world which employ Citizenship-Based Taxation (CBT). “We would still be required to report U.S.-sourced income if we had any, but not the income we make and pay taxes on as residents of Canada,” Sherman explained to Rep. Higgins’ staff.
Two bills are currently in development in Washington that would greatly support Americans’ tax rights. The first, which argues for RBT to replace CBT, is now before the Ways and Means Committee. The second (HR 4362), the Overseas Americans Financial Access Act would exempt Americans living abroad from disclosures of their financial accounts in their countries of residence. Sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (12th District of NY) and Rep. Don Beyer (8th District of Virginia), the hope is that Rep. Higgins will join them as a co-sponsor of the bill.Both pieces of legislation promise greater tax justice for expats. While the reception with Rep. Higgins’ staff was supportive and encouraging, Polce urges Democrats Abroad everywhere to talk to their respective members of Congress. “There’s push and there’s pull. We pull. We need everyone else to push!”
Since Kimberly Johnson took over as chapter chair of DA’s Edmonton chapter last March, it’s been one surprise after another. First, that students at the city’s post-secondary schools – Edmonton boasts two main universities, plus tech and community colleges – would become the chapter’s base. “We have a fair chunk of international staff and students,” explains Kimberly, who teaches a unique combination of art, science and medical history at the University of Alberta. “We basically do voter registration all year long on campus.” Also surprising, she says, has been “finding out how many Canadian-born kids with American parents we now have as members who didn’t even realize they were able to vote. The worse things get, the more excited people are to discover this!”
Realizing after the 2016 election that “there were no sidelines left to sit on any more,” Kimberly stepped up as chapter chair after serving as head of communications. “I’m still running our Instagram account. With only three of us in leadership, we run Edmonton with a skeleton crew.” Even so, the chapter hosts an ambitious roster of events from regular debate watches to postcard-writing sessions to Thanksgiving dinners. “We also do what we call Sanity Sessions,” Kimberly explains. “We had one right after the Kavanaugh nomination.” Held in a campus pub, these are a “big source of relief and comradeship. People just want to talk to somebody, for someone to say, ‘No, this is not normal. We’re all worried.’”
That camaraderie has been another pleasant surprise for the chapter, with many American students coming by every week to say hello to volunteers at the voter reg table. “Some show up out of homesickness,” guesses Kimberly. “But we’re building a community and that’s rewarding.” The community has spread beyond Americans. “We have such luck finding Canadian volunteers. They push their American friends over to our table, take flyers to people they know are American. If you’re having a horrible day because of too many Trump tweets, one of these folks will thank you for what you’re doing. They restore our faith in common purpose.”
The rewards come with challenges, of course. With the chapter’s leadership in their thirties, Kimberly sometimes longs for members with a longer perspective and experience. And then there’s the challenge of the province itself. “Alberta is so conservative, with big oil interests here. There’s direct Trump support. We’ve had difficulty finding friendly venues,” she admits, adding that a campus bar, one she hung out in as an undergrad, has opened its doors. “It’s vital to have safe, welcoming spaces for our members.”But it would take more than this to derail DA Edmonton. There’s the upcoming GPP to prepare for and debate watches to organize, not to mention balloons to blow up. “Everywhere we go, we carry red, white and blue balloons. If you have a balloon, you don’t look like a dangerous liberal!” Kimberly laughs.
After moving to Halifax from Coral Springs, Florida, six months ago to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, Riley Nielson-Baker emailed Democrats Abroad, asking, “Hey, is there an active chapter here?” When told there wasn’t, Riley answered, “Well, there’s going to be.” Since the reactivated chapter hosted its first debate watch last August, it’s been all systems go. “There was no shortage of pubs to choose from for a debate watch,” laughs Riley. “Halifax boasts the largest number of pubs per capita in North America!”
Six months in, DA’s Maritimes chapter now numbers 620 members in all four Atlantic provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, and Newfoundland. “We’re all one chapter,” Riley explains, “though most of us are in and around Halifax. We’re working on adding representatives from the other regions.” It’s adding up in terms of participation, too, with high attendance at meetings and new volunteers stepping up in new positions. Riley’s especially encouraged by the “big spike in our chapter’s membership, beginning on New Year’s Day,” and with the response to a panel the chapter held in December at Dalhousie University on political culture under Trump.
For sure, there are hurdles, especially getting on the radar of local media, “getting our voice heard.” Personally, there’s the work/life balance challenge since Riley is not only chapter chair during an election year, but also a full-time grad student and a volunteer for both the national and provincial chapters of the NDP in Halifax. “It’s hard to not do everything.”
What propels Riley is a passion for politics that started as an undergrad studying biochemistry at the University of Florida. But what became more compelling, more inspiring, than this field of study were the people Riley saw being elected to public office. Then came the Parkland shooting. Riley’s younger brother was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the same school Riley had graduated from in 2015. “My former marching band lost two people, my ROTC team lost three. I knew some of the teachers who were killed.” Riley spent the months following the shootings working as a volunteer with band members and ROTC students.
Two years later, Riley’s pouring that formidable energy into Democrats Abroad. “What keeps me going is feeling we don’t do quite enough to find expats. There are so many Americans here. People just don’t know we exist.” Riley and the new Maritimes chapter are turning this around.
Members of Democrats Abroad were invited to join a call last month with Stacey Abrams from Fair Fight. Abrams fought to become the first Black female governor in the U.S., running against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp in 2018. Kemp also just happened to be in charge of the Georgia election, a state rife with instances of voter suppression. State voting roll purges, poll closures, four-hour lines at the polls, strict voter ID laws twisted the results of that extremely close election and “disproportionately prevented black and brown citizens from their constitutional right to vote,” explained Angela Fobbs, chair of DA’s Global Black Caucus.
But one needn’t live in states like Georgia to face voting obstacles. Americans living abroad may find that their vote-from-states frequently block voters from viewing their state’s election pages, which can lead to missed deadlines and misunderstood voting instructions. Some states block voters from abroad from reaching their state’s ballot download pages, “effectively blocking ballot access from all but the most determined voter,” according to Julia Bryan, Democrats Abroad Global Chair. Another obstacle could be requiring voters abroad to send their ballots back home via postal mail. Not only can this be expensive, but for Americans living in countries with limited postal service, this makes voting nearly impossible. Then there are notorious misinformation campaigns which spread incorrect information via social channels.
Democrats Abroad works with the Democratic National Committee to stay informed on state voting purges and negotiates with Secretary of State offices regarding access to ballots and election sites, explains Bryan. “And we provide a 24/7 help desk that runs 365 days a year, answering voting questions via email, chat channels and social media channels. If you try to access an election site and it doesn’t work, don’t assume it’s your connection,” Bryan advises. “Get in touch with Democrats Abroad and let us know about the problem.”(Email: email@example.com)
One last bit of advice: “If someone says you can’t vote, or that you have to provide a photo ID, or register in person, know your rights (that someone is wrong.) Point to Federal voting law and make sure others know their rights, too!”[Suppressed: The Fight to Vote tells the story of Georgia’s 2018 mid-term election. The 38-minute documentary is available for viewing from Brave New Films free of charge, according to Angela Fobbs, who encourages Democrats Abroad members to view this powerful, galvanizing film. See the trailer, then request the film: https//www.bravenewfilms.org/screensuppress]
Democrats Abroad Canada will have the honour of hosting the 2020 Global Convention in Toronto from May 15-17 at the MaRS Discovery District. The convention is expected to attract 300 attendees from around the world, as well as dozens more participating virtually via teleconference. Thanks to Toronto’s proximity to the U.S., it’s likely that DNC staff and possibly a candidate or two will also be attending, notes Steve Nardi, chair for Democrats Abroad Canada.
What happens at a global convention? Along with determining the 2020 platform for Democrats Abroad, delegates elect members to the Democratic National Committee, as well as candidate delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this coming July. Training sessions on topics such as running effective Get Out the Vote (GOTV) initiatives and managing communications and media strategy will also be presented.
“This is an opportunity for DemsAbroad Canada to put on a great show for our global friends,” says Nardi. “But it’s going to take a lot of resources. We’ll need enthusiastic volunteers – mostly from chapters throughout Ontario and Quebec – to show off our hospitality skills.” Volunteers can pitch in with the registration team, lunch and coffee-breaks team, reception team, the Gala Dinner team (Sat. May 16) and the IT/WebEx team. Nardi adds that volunteers do not need to be members of Democrats Abroad. “Family and friends are welcome to volunteer also.”
Since Democrats Abroad is 100% volunteer-powered, and since some members will be travelling to Toronto at their own expense from a considerable distance, home-stays with DA members living in the GTA will make it more possible for these members to attend. As Nardi says, “Hosting a fellow Democrat from another country can be a fun and educational experience. If you have a spare room, please consider offering it up for a home-stay option to a convention delegate or convention volunteer.”
Please click here if you are interested in the travel details to attend, or click here to complete the Volunteer/Home-Stay Survey.
Ask an American to Vote is a lively new podcast for anyone who can vote from abroad in American elections—and for those who know someone who can. Launched by David Schellenberg and Rachel Eugster (chair and vice chair of DA Canada’s Capital Region chapter), the podcast can be heard at http://anchor.fm/demsabroadca or through Spotify or Google podcasts.
Eugster and Schellenberg hope to reach people—particularly in Canada – who have never exercised their right to vote. “Everyone in Canada knows an American,” says Schellenberg. “We want to find those people through their friends and motivate them to vote.”
“It’s a way to cut through the noise to explain issues of interest to American citizens living outside the U.S.,” says Eugster. “We’re trying to anticipate questions and demystify the process of voting from abroad.”
The first episode, posted December 11, focuses on DA’s Global Presidential Primary. “We wanted to help explain its importance, especially in anticipation of the deadline for candidates to qualify for DA’s ballot,” says Schellenberg. The second episode, posted January 23, focuses on requesting one’s ballot early and the hows and whys of doing this through Vote From Abroad. “We’re recommending that you do so annually on the ides of January,” says Eugster. “If you make your request by January 15 through votefromabroad.org, you will get ballots for all elections, primaries, special elections and recounts in that calendar year.”Schellenberg and Eugster have an easy chemistry in the studio, each bringing professional skills to the project. In his day job, Schellenberg is a host for a popular morning radio program. A theatre artist, Eugster is no stranger to voice work. The first episodes are polished, engaging, and informative. “I hope so!” laughs Eugster. “We were aiming for something a little bit wonkish and a whole lot of fun.” Schellenberg adds that the duo have a rapidly growing list of topics for future episodes, “but we’d be happy to entertain suggestions.”
The issues matter. Getting out the VOTE matters. It all matters because we can’t afford to lose. So much has already been lost, trashed and discredited. The Toronto and Canada Women’s Caucus Groups have an opportunity to have a big impact in 2020. It is also a big job. Sometimes the news and noise from across the border is deafening, but we intend to power on. Our goal is to break some records with the numbers of women registered and voting in the upcoming election.
Most important, we are going to vote our issues and those that impact every American. We know from our Women’s Marches, potluck dinners, actions like #WeBelieveWomen in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, debate-watch events, and fun nights like the Second City all-women show we attended together in Toronto that we have women voters who care. We have to continue to engage them.
These are some of the issues we are fighting for (sadly some many decades old!):
· ERA -- #ERANOW – We’re hopeful the ERA finally passes before the election. We are not yet in the U.S. Constitution and won’t rest until we are.
· ABORTION – Our support of #STOPTHEBANS – is unwavering and consistent with our goals as activists and feminists. Women’s reproductive rights impact all of us. With the wave of legislation criminalizing abortion being passed we need to keep pushing that issue:
· VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN – Earlier this month we honoured the 14 young women killed in the Polytechnique Massacre in Montreal in 1989. Those women – killed by a young man because they were women and feminists – are a stark reminder of the danger women face in our culture and in cultures around the world.
· CLIMATE CHANGE -- This is the crisis that is everyone’s issue. Many of us are participating in the #ClimateStrike events in solidarity with youth. We need to protect our children and our children’s children.
These issues and many more require that our GOTV efforts be doubled and tripled this year. The impeachment in the House will not solve it. Trump has the biggest pulpit in the world. But WE have the numbers to win. That’s our Trump card.
For more on how to join or start a Democrats Abroad Women’s Caucus in your chapter email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The geography covered by Canada’s Capital Region chapter is best marked by the rivers: the Gatineau, St. Lawrence and the Ottawa. “It’s a huge territory,” explains Rachel Eugster, the chapter’s vice-chair, “reaching all the way east to southwestern Quebec, then stretching west to Kingston. We’re trying to hold debate watches in these different areas.” At the hub, of course, is Ottawa and environs, where nearly 80 percent of the chapter’s 860 members live. It’s a challenge, admits David Schellenberg, chapter chair, to organize over such a large area. “We have endless discussions about how much we need to find and bring in more Americans. They’re out there.”
While Eugster was a member of an earlier incarnation of the CCR chapter – organizing events such as inauguration balls after Obama was elected and re-elected – Schellenberg was spurred to join Dems Abroad as Trump’s candidacy was heating up. “I remember sitting on the couch watching TV and realizing he might just win. I knew I had to do something.” Five people, including Lissette Wright, treasury chair for DA Canada, as well as treasurer for DA Global, came together in 2015. “We were all thinking the same thing,” says Schellenberg.
A sign of that collective energy was election night 2016, when the chapter organized an event at the Heart & Crown, an Irish pub in Byward Market. “It became the place in Ottawa to watch the returns,” says Schellenberg. “The entire bar was watching CNN. Both CBC and CTV hosted national shows that night and used our event, with reporters doing live hits back to both networks. It grew from just being a Democrats Abroad thing to being a big, non-partisan thing.”
Media is something Schellenberg, who also serves as communications chair for DA Canada, understands well. As co-host of the Morning Start-Up show on Live 88.5 FM, an alternative-rock radio station, for the past 11 years, he knows how important exposure is and how challenging it can be to get that exposure. Another challenge: how to juggle it all. Like Schellenberg, Eugster works more than full time as a theatre director, musician, actor, writer, choir director and editor. “My professional life is multi-streamed,” she says. “DA got added in as an extra layer.” “We’re all people with full-time jobs already,” Schellenberg says of the chapter’s board. “We don’t have enough hours in the day for all the ideas we have.”
Those ideas will carry the chapter into 2020. “I just want people to vote, to be involved in the political process,” says Schellenberg, a goal he shares with his co-chair. “Canada has this unique challenge, with so many ‘hidden’ Americans,” says Eugster, “but how do we find those people? Most would vote if they knew they could.” Globally, she’s hopeful “we’ll flip the Senate, change presidents and pass the ERA.”
It'll be accomplished through the efforts of hundreds of volunteers across Canada educating Americans on their right to vote. If you're interested in volunteering in 2020 please contact the DemsAbroad Canada Volunteer Manager through this email.
Stephanie Perry has one piece of advice for Dems Abroad members lying awake at night stressing about U.S. politics: Get up and make some phone calls. Perry, member-at-large for DA’s Toronto chapter, should know. She was second in phonebanking calls from Canada in the lead-up to the 2018 mid-terms and number one for the Toronto call centre. “When I get up in the middle of the night to phonebank, it gives me hope and resolve. That’s a good use of my time.”
Perry, a former tax attorney in the U.S. Treasury Department, who moved to Canada 25 years ago, has been using her time to speak out since she was an eleven-year-old Pennsylvanian protesting the war in Viet Nam. She became active in the women’s movement and served as president of the gay alliance in university, even though “I’m a flaming heterosexual,” she laughs. In Toronto, her five-year term leading the Cabbagetown Tour of Homes raised money for many local charities, including women’s and Canadian newcomers’ literacy initiatives, Casey House (HIV care), art therapy for at-risk children, and a shelter for homeless LGBTQ teens.
Then came the 2016 election. Perry flew from Phoenix to Los Angeles for that city’s massive Women’s March. “I’d always appreciated Democrats Abroad for its access to voting from Canada, but I wasn’t actively involved until I saw the hundreds of thousands of potential volunteers in the streets,” she remembers. Perry also realized she “wanted to do more than march for the next four years.” She’s been all in with Democrats Abroad since then, helping organize local debate-watch parties and attending the Americas meeting in Costa Rica this past October. Perry found it invaluable “having the perspective of people from twelve other countries, many of whom face different, tougher challenges than we do in Canada in terms of getting out the vote.”
GOTV is where it’s at for Perry. “The most important thing I can do is register voters and get their ballots to them. I’ve registered hundreds, if not thousands, of voters.” All those calls have helped hone her approach. “I ask first, ‘Are you registered? Have you voted before?’ Then I walk them through the Vote From Abroad form.” Perry has found that the number one determinant for someone registering is personal contact. “People mean to vote, but … ” She’s found, too, that once people follow through they feel good saying, “‘Yes, I did vote and it’s in the mail. Aren’t I wonderful?’ And I say, ‘Yes, you are wonderful!’” Perry also tries to take it to another level, asking about other family members and friends living abroad.
With 2020 on the horizon, she hopes more Democrats Abroad will join her on CallHub. “Phonebanking is like video games or a slot machine. You’ve got that addictive pull of the handle, plus a display showing your ever-increasing score of calls made in the past hour. You get a little dopamine hit and each time you ‘win’ it makes it more likely you’ll ‘play’ again.”