As 2019 federal election approach, Elections Canada finding ways to support Indigenous voters
By: Brandy Bond, Staff Writer
With the 2019 federal election approaching, Elections Canada has begun to develop better ways to support voters. Using multiple new initiatives and cultural training programs, Elections Canada hopes to better serve Indigenous voters. This spring, returning officers in 28 electoral districts will contact leaders of Indigenous communities in order to collaborate on how electoral services will be delivered in the 2019 election. Additionally, in ridings with significant Indigenous populations, returning officers will be given “cultural competency training.” The training will cover topics such as: terminology and definitions involving Indigenous people, socio-demographic information on Indigenous peoples in Canada, the historical experiences of Indigenous people, and the addressing of numerous stereotypes and misconceptions.
Although the main goal of these initiatives is to enable voters to feel more supported, Stephane Perrault, Canada’s acting chief electoral officer, tells CBC news that the mission is to improve access to polls—not to persuade people to vote. Perrault says, “Indigenous voters may decide to participate, or not, and they have all kinds of historical reasons that will inform their choice.” He continues, “It’s not for us to be a player in that, but we want to make sure that when they do choose to participate, that there’s no administrative barrier.” Perrault hopes that by beginning the initiative 18 months prior to the election that they will hopefully be able to recruit more Indigenous people to work as recruiting officers.
According to Elections Canada, turnout for on-reserve polling divisions in the 2015 federal election increased to 61.5 percent from 47.4 percent in 2011. This was considered a historical increase, as was the significant increase seen among many young Canadians. However, despite these increases and new initiatives posed by Elections Canada, there are still many challenges in regard to voting for Indigenous communities. The challenges that Indigenous individuals and communities face in terms of voting include identification barriers as well as physical barriers. Furthermore, these challenges have been noted in the past but continue to remain prominent today.
Historically, Indigenous individuals could use their status cards as a form of identification, or could also have chiefs vouch for them as members of their Nation. But, on June 19th, 2014 Bill C-23 otherwise known as the Fair Elections Act these forms of access to the polling stations was withdrawn. Bill-C 23 introduced changes to the identification requirements at the polling stations so that in order to vote, all voters are required to have two pieces of ID and one of which must include their address, such as a driver’s license or an address on a utility bill. However, although the intention of this act was to supposedly provide consistency and “fairness”, this act ended up revoking the right to vote from a number of Indigenous individuals due to their lack of “proper” identification. In addition to the identification barrier, specific Indigenous groups also face many physical barriers to accessing the polls. Many reserves are extremely remote and are sometimes fly-in only or boat-in only, thus often denying entire communities’ access to polling stations.
There is still a very long way to go in regard to enabling those who want to vote to have access to the polls. And as Perrault mentioned, there are many current as well as historical reasons why Indigenous individuals choose not like to vote. However, many are hopeful that these new initiatives will provide support for Indigenous individuals who would like to participate in elections to do so.