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Election 2015 and the Aboriginal Vote

Could Aboriginal voters actually influence outcomes in the upcoming election? According to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) riding-by-riding analysis, there are 51 ridings in which aboriginal voters could tip the balance if they showed up in greater numbers at the polls.

Census data indicates aboriginals constitute over 50 per cent of the population in four of the 51 ridings identified by the AFN and over 10 per cent in another 29 of those 51 ridings.  In the latter group, four ridings were decided in the last federal election by less than 1 per cent of the vote, which suggests there are at least eight ridings in Canada where Aboriginal voters could determine which candidate wins.

Given consistent polling pointing to a likely result of a minority government, if aboriginals do exercise their right to vote they could influence which party forms government.

This begs the question: Do Aboriginal voters tend to lean towards one particular party, or are their opinions mixed like the rest of the population? Voting patterns in recent provincial and federal elections show aboriginals tend to favour the NDP. An analysis of the 2011 election results undertaken by Éric Grenier from ThreeHundredEight.com showed that the NDP did 12 points better among voters on reserves than the national average.

This may explain why both Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau attended the Assembly of First Nations Annual General Meeting. Both vowed to call a national inquiry for the missing and murdered aboriginal women, and to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. The NDP and the Liberals are also proposing to roll back changes to environmental legislation that aboriginals allege will remove protection from rivers, streams and wildlife in favour of natural resources projects.

The difference between the opposition parties, however small, is one of emphasis. In his address to the AFN, Thomas Mulcair mentioned implementing the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and nation-to-nation treaty negotiations. The Liberals discussed a new fiscal arrangement which would return to the principles and objectives of the Kelowna Accord. This includes a new fiscal relationship starting with lifting the two per cent cap on funding for First Nations programs.

However, in order to have influence, Aboriginals need to actually go to the polling stations and vote. Voter turnout among Aboriginal Canadians is lower than among non-Aboriginal Canadians. In order to explore the reasons for the gap, Elections Canada conducted surveys with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal electors following the 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011 Canadian federal elections. The resulting analyses show the gap in turnout between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal electors can be accounted for by residence on or off a reserve, age (younger average age), education, income (poorer socio-economic footing),  fewer political resources and weaker sense of civic duty. The findings suggest that turnout among Aboriginals would increase by 20 percentage points if their profile on these determinants matched that of non-Aboriginals.

Can aboriginals make a difference on October 19? It would appear that Aboriginal voters could make a difference on October 19, at least in specific ridings. However, to exercise that influence they will need to actually exercise their franchise rights. No wonder Grand Chief Bellegard of the AFN has been so focused on working with Elections Canada to comply with the new Conservative Fair Election Act and get Aboriginals to vote.

NDP aboriginal commitments

  • Create a cabinet-level committee chaired by Tom Mulcair as prime minister to ensure that all government decisions respect treaty rights, inherent rights and Canada’s international obligations.
  • Call a national inquiry into the issue of the 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls within our first 100 days in office
  • Fix the treaty process and deal with unresolved land claims.

Implement the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

  • Reverse the CEAA 2012 changes to the environmental assessment process, to protect lakes and rivers and repealing Bill C-51
  • Take action on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations on a priority basis established in consultation with Indigenous communities
  • Improve essential physical infrastructure such as housing, roads and drinking water facilities

Liberal aboriginal commitments

  • Developing a Federal Reconciliation Framework, which recognizes Aboriginal title and rights, including Treaty rights;
  • Holding mandatory annual meetings between the Prime Minister and First Nations Chiefs;
  • Working to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by establishing a National Council for Reconciliation
  • A return to the principles and objectives of the Kelowna Accord; a new fiscal relationship starting with lifting the two percent cap on funding for First Nations programs;
  • Significant investments in education, including new funding to support and preserve Indigenous languages and culture; and an immediate national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls

Conservative aboriginal commitments

  • Continue to implement the Eyford report on reforming the treaty and consultation process
  • $215 million to provide skills development and training for aboriginal peoples;
  • $200 million to help support First Nations to achieve better education outcomes
  • $30 million for a land management scheme aimed at helping economic development on reserves.
  • Review the 94 recommendations released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • $500 million toward building and renovating schools on reserves