TORONTO - Participation in Italian election shouldn’t abet separation.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Fifteen years ago, Italy accorded its citizens abroad the right to vote, in their country of residence and for candidates emerging from the Diaspora. For Canada, a great potential benefit: an MP or a Senator in the Italian parliament whose democratic duty it would be to represent the interests of constituents on our sovereign territory.
Imagine, if you will, the additional boost to our International Trade and Foreign policy objectives such representation could develop. Could we afford to overlook that potential, given that the Italian political scene is dominated by a Party-acracy where the balance of power can literally be shaped and wielded by small grouping of Parliamentarians?
Pie in the sky, you say? There are more than 1.5 million Canadians of Italian origin in Canada, according to Stats Canada. 320,000 of them still use the Italian language primarily or frequently in the conduct of their daily business. Approximately 150,000 still hold their Italian citizenship and are registered to vote.
The largest concentrations of North Americans with that ability are resident in Two Canadian cities – Toronto and Montreal, followed by New York then Vancouver, Ottawa and Thunder Bay.
There are more Torontonians (circa 74,000) eligible to vote in the upcoming election (March 4) in Italy than there are residents in Sault Ste. Marie. In the referendum vote (2016) Constitutional Reform, Italians resident in Canada turned out in the greatest proportion outside of Italy (save for Brazil) and voted soundly for Constitutional change (67.1%). Is the picture beginning to unfold?
Italy is the second largest manufacturing economy in Europe, with which we have just signed a Comprehensive Trade Agreement (CETA). Its economy, though faltering of late, is 1.5 times the size of Canada’s and the third largest in Europe. Recently, Italy should have served as an incubator for plans to respond to “forced immigration” for Europe and North America. Between June of 2015 and June of 2017 approximately 400,000 hapless “migrants” – people enslaved and smuggled by warlords primarily from Libya – landed on Italy southern shores. An estimated further 5,00 per month were either rescued on the high seas or recovered dead in the waters. Canada in the same period amid much ballyhoo “welcomed’ 35,000 “qualified migrants” from Syrian refugee camps. The opportunity for exchanging approaches, plans and integration strategies went by the wayside
Still, we are each other’s significant trading partner outside of the orbit we live daily: North America and Europe, respectively. There is no shortage of cultural, political and economic history or future in which we cannot see a productive partnership, regardless of Partisan political persuasion.
Except where parties and cynical leadership wrap themselves up in “movements” that feed off uncertainty, fear, Xenophobia, racism and unemployment that in some Southern provinces exceeds 50% among youth and women.
Extremists find fertile ground, ironically, in the more economically secure North where Right-wing separatists are now allying with other Rightist parties to achieve electoral control of Parliament.
Together, thanks to Italy’s partial “rep by pop” system for representation in both Houses, they may even succeed in achieving a majority in Parliament. Italy’s “unitary” political system is premised on negotiations between and among parties. Canada, its “first past the post” system notwithstanding, values “compromise” between the legislative jurisdictions to maintain unity in the federation.
What should concern all of us is the fact that the electoral process may see a “Canadian” aiding and abetting a separatist party – Salvini’s Lega- in a country whose allegiance and partnership we value.
A few years ago, when the Bloc Quebecois dominated opposition in Canada’s parliament and at a time when South- Central Europe was disintegrating into smaller states, an MP from Slovakia said to me after a committee appearance:” the separatists were at 15% and we did not take them seriously, now my beloved Czechoslovakia is no more”.